My aim of this essay is to compare the two versions of Romeo and Juliet that are directed by Baz Lehrman and Franco Zeffirelli. Lehrman set his in modern times with modern clothing and buildings. He still uses early modern English but with some lines changed, so the modern audience can understand the story a little easier. It was created in 1996. It is given a Miami beach setting with loud music and super-artsy sets, reviewers said “Natural born killers meet Stratford-Upon-Avon, a kind of Shakespeare MTV”.
This version definitely helped younger people with the understanding of the play, and to appreciate the works of Shakespeare, simply because Lehrman could keep to the main basis of the story, yet modernise it to suit these recent times, and keep the audience interested throughout the whole of the film. It was certified as a twelve.
Zeffireli’s version is set in Elizabethan times in Italy. At the time that this film was created it was the first version of Romeo and Juliet where the two main characters were played by actual teenagers (seventeen and fifteen).
He created the latest action, humour and romantic film version of Romeo and Juliet yet. It was shot in Italy in three main cities of Tuscany, Umbria, and Lazio, but all the scenes of riot and duelling were shot in Gubbio. It was certified as PG.
Both of the opening scenes begin with the famous chorus “Two households both alike in dignity…” This gives you a basic outline of the story although it isn’t clear. Zeffirelli had a male voice talking with the same tone of voice throughout it, it was a fairly plain tone but had the hint of sadness as well. On the screen all you can see is a border surrounding the town at the edge of the screen in orange and yellow swirls giving it an ornament look. There is a birds eye view moving across the town then through it, the camera moves very slowly and appears almost like an introduction to the town and gives a sense of romance and anger.
The romance because of when the shot is in the town centre it pivots towards the sun it makes you think of happiness and love. Anger, because of the mist right at the beginning and the dark shadows of the walls when the camera goes down fairly dark alleyways. There is folky and old aged music throughout it, this gives you a head start in knowing there will be old fashioned buildings and costume, this creates an image of the Shakespearian times and recall over the whole story of Romeo and Juliet.
Lehrman begins with a television set and a pitch black background with the T.V screen fuzzy at first then with someone channel hopping giving you the directors name an the production team name. It is completely silent with only the sounds of the remote control flicking over the channels. Then there is a newscaster announcing the news/story of Romeo and Juliet’s death. She is reading the chorus which is read at the beginning of Franco Zeffireli’s version. As she is talking the camera very slowly zooms into the screen. Then just as she reads the last line the camera zooms in very quickly into the blue background on the T.V screen.
Then very loud opera music is played. This gives you a sense of danger maybe violence, the camera zooms down a long road through the town, I think this might have been influenced by the last line “Is now the two hours’ traffic of our stage” as the word “traffic” stands out. Then there are flashes of the scenes throughout the movie mainly of violence. The chorus is repeated this time by a male voice. There are pictures of newspaper articles and main words like “Two star crossed lovers take their life” this is to point out main themes of the story. There is also displays of the white dove and sacred heart labelling Catholicism.
The party scene in Zeffireli’s in some ways is different but also similar to that in Lehrman’s, like when the pair talk to each other there is a solo being sung in the background or on-stage both romantic songs to set the scene for when the pair fall in love. In Lehrman’s you have the vision of Romeo who is on drugs, so there is a lot of spinning camera work to show the works of ecstasy also it changes from one thing to another like when Romeo is talking to Lord Capulet then the next moment he sees him singing also the appearance of Mercutio singing and dancing. Later he is looking into the fish tank and there he sees Juliet on the other side of it. He instantly takes an interest in her beauty and follows her over.
Then Juliet dances with Paris but keeps an eye out for Romeo. When the dance is over there is a huge celebration when Romeo grabs Juliet’s hand and they begin to talk then the camera shows what Juliet is seeing when Paris turns around ands laughs. Later when they are in the lift together the camera slowly moves around them whilst they kiss to get all sides of them both, it does this about two times I think they do this because its such a passionate moment that Lehrman wanted to make it last as long as possible. In fact its done twice once when they get in the lift and then again when they run out of the lift then back in. When the nurse comes to get Juliet she gives Romeo an evil look, which he doesn’t understand at first until he realises that she is Capulet, the music quietens and the camera holds long time shots at both their faces also when Juliet finds out Romeo’s a Montague, this creates a lot tension.
In Zeffirellis he chose to get Romeo to see Juliet before she sees him whilst she is dancing. Soon Juliet spots him and she takes an interest. Zeffirelli chose to get them to meet through a dance called the moreska. Here they dance together they don’t actually talk but you can see in their faces they begin to fancy each other. At this section just like in Lehrmans there is a lot of spinning camera work especially when there are two circles dancing it shows flashes of Lord Capulet, Romeo, Juliet, and of the entire room which they are in.
When it finishes a soloist comes on stage and every one creates a circle round him, Romeo and Juliet try to find each other and when they do Romeo grabs her hand and talks to her. Later they kiss and the camera pauses on them whilst there is no singing in the music this makes it fairly romantic but I think it would have been a bit better if the camera looked up and down them to show they are really falling in-love. When the nurse takes Juliet away she asks the nurse to find out who Romeo is. Also Romeo finds that Juliet is a Capulet here, as well as Juliet finding out that he is a Montague.
Both directors chose to hold the camera on the couples first kiss. I think they chose this because it really creates a romantic atmosphere this helps people to see the passion between each other. Also they chose to get Romeo to grab Juliet’s hand from behind a column, this makes him appear like the no fear type, the type who are not scared to jump into things like here he instantly tries to impress her with “holy palmers kiss…”. This keeps up Romeos personality on what he does for love, like at the end killing himself for Juliet.