Many people do not like Shakespearian plays, this is because of the use of old English language, a language so different from our modern language it would seem something totally different. Lots of people would be instantly put off by the words, which they often wouldn’t understand, like when watching a foreign film. Shakespearian plays are usually played out in the traditional dress of the day, over four hundred years old.
The clothes worn and language spoken makes most Shakespearian plays quite a challenge to watch. Baz Luhrmann the director of “Romeo & Juliet” faced a very difficult dilemma when creating the film version of the Shakespearian Play; firstly he wanted it to appeal to viewers, especially the younger generations who probably never before watched or read a Shakespeare play. However in wanting it to get audiences to like it and appeal to them, would he ruin the adaptation.
What he has done has in some ways met a compromise, he retains the old English text from the play which although people don’t totally understand, with a modern setting in the United States and modern music, clothing the audience are not so much drawn on the different language. The leading roles are played by actors and actresses that the public recognise, this encourages many people to come see the film, for those reasons Baz Luhrmann has attracted not only Shakespeare fans who want to see their play in film, but also people who have never read or seen Shakespeare’s plays.
The film opens with the prologue being read out by a black female newsreader, she is in the familiar setting of a television studio backdrop, she speaks slowly and clearly reading out the old English prologue, the opening scene warns the viewer that the film does retain the original text, yet is set in the modern age. In the original play the prologue would have by read like a letter to the public, in the modern age such a statement to the public would be on television.
The news story features an icon, a broken ring. The prologue shows what a tragic and scandalous Story “Romeo & Juliet” is. The scene darkens and the words in white, attracting total attention reads, “In fair Verona” and the camera pans around the sunny city of Los Angeles and to Verona Beech, the films setting of the play. In the original the Italian city of Verona was the setting, Luhrmann has chosen the American city as it is modern and English speaking, attracting a wider audience.
We immediately see on the Arial view of Verona beech the large statue of Christ, symbolising the immense religious society present at the time of Shakespeare, but somehow symbolic Christ is over shadowed by the two larger towers, the highest points across the city of “Montague” and “Capulet”. The great irony is that although religion is important, hence the Statue, it is not as important as the families of Montague and Capulet.
While the camera flies through the city, Italian operatic music plays loudly and gives a powerful opening, the music continues and a series of several dozen shots are seen, in rapid succession of a variety of things; a choir boy singing, fireworks, gun fire, people, violence. This dramatic and quite attentive shocking scene gives the viewer almost a preview of the story and shows that the story contains such a variety of events, emotions and people.
Then the music stops instantly and the dramatic opening ends, the screen darkens and then the title appears “Romeo & Juliet” ending the opening credits. The start of the opening sequence is much calmer than the opening credits, the Montague boys are shown driving in a yellow open top car, they are wearing open multicolour shirts; they are very casual and radical, their hairstyles are each unique, one has pink hair, the other has the word “Montague” shaved onto his head.
We hear the music from their car radio, modern rock music, which is familiar to many viewers and gives an impression of the type of character they are. They then are introduced, “The Montague Boys” in a freeze frame, it is proof that that the director believes we will identify with the Montague boys based on their clothing and appearance.
The boys have little concern for safety, sitting up on the seats of the open top car, they are hurling abusive language out of the car, directed at anyone; this social adolesant problem is familiar in most communities and to most viewers, the director wants us to be able to identify the Montague’s with adolesants. The film portrays them as stereotypical adolesants, who cause trouble and are foolish; he shows this through their childish and immature behaviour, like them swearing out of their car.
The Montague characters are very modern, and would appeal to a wide audience as these types of characters are in society today, the fact they wear modern clothing, do modern things and listen to modern music compensates for the language difference, however the viewer will be able to understand that the language was very common, it wasn’t a language just spoken by the upper classes, here are a group of boys who are speaking it, and that would make many viewers appreciate the language more as they understand it was nothing special about it.
The camera stays with the car as it moves through the streets of Verona Beech, we are in front of them looking back, and it is very effective in seeing all of them together, how they all are listening to music and shouting out at people. The camera begins to change, we get close ups of the boys in the car, then a back close up of one of the boys hair, which reads “Montague”, the camera moves back to its original position, the car is now in the centre of the city and we see a large building with the words “Montague Construction” showing the families wealth that they own a construction company and their pride in calling it after them.
Then the Montague’s yellow car drives into the petrol station, “Phoenix Gas” the camera moves down and has a close up of the registration plate, which reads, “MON 005” showing that the boys have an identity as the Montague’s, something they are very proud of and want to display. As soon as the number plate is shown the camera zooms out to get a view of the whole petrol station, which the landscape shot of the two towers of “Montague” and “Capulet” and the statue of Christ.
Then while showing the whole petrol station, only moments after the Montague’s arrived, a large blue sports car speeds into the station, braking quickly; The engine of the car sounds powerful and strong, an image the director wants us to give of the people inside, the Capulet’s. The camera looks to the ceiling of the station, an advertisement reads, “add more fuel to your fire” referring to the sale of petrol but ironic to the family feud between the Montague’s and the Capulet’s who are intent on causing trouble.
Then the camera moves down in the same zoom and shows the bottom of the Capulet’s car door, the door opens and we see a spur heeled boot appear he gets out, the camera stays focused on his boot, then the car door shuts, all sounds and silenced out as the sound of the man lighting a match is loud, tension is created by the director, as we haven’t yet seen the face of any of the men; then the match drops on the floor, regardless of the obvious danger near petrol.
Then the camera shows the car, and even though we haven’t yet seen any of them, they are introduced “The Capulet Boys” in a freeze frame; Showing that there identity can be revealed not by their appearance like the Montague’s but by the atmosphere that they create, evidence In the change in music, to a western scene where the music signifies the “calm before the storm.
” The match on the floor is then stumped out by the spur heeled man, the sound echoes around the station, and he then walks away, the sound of the heels giving an impression that he is powerful and important, there is a great sense of ease about the man who walks slowly and appears in no hurry. The camera then zooms up to the face of the spur heeled man, he is tanned and looks Hispanic and looks much more mature than the Montague Boys, then camera freezes and in large white text he is introduced “Tybalt Capulet” he is wearing more mature, expensive clothes than the Montague’s.
Then the camera moves away and shows a group of nuns at the station laughing and being relaxed, then the Montague’s harass them laughing at them, evidence of their foolish immature character, then as the nuns door shut and they drive away, the camera shows the Montague’s very pleased at their “achievement” and then the camera turns one hundred and eighty degrees to show another of the Capulet’, the camera freezes and he is introduced, “Abra Capulet” the shot is filled by his face, and he opens his mouth and his top teeth are missing and replaced by a gold frame with the word “Sin” engraved into it, he scares and humbles the Montague’s who fall back in terror into their car; exposing their true childishness.
The Capulet’ then laugh at the Montague’s for their foolishness. The calmer scene ends when the Capulet’s get back into their blue sports car and reverse at speed and stop in the petrol station, they get out and the music has sped up adding more tension to the scene, the audience are prepared for action. The Camera focuses on the Montague’s as they try to run around looking for cover, making them look much less professional than the Capulet’s who are at ease walking around their car.
Abra Capulet walks up and the camera zooms out showing his surroundings in a petrol station, he says in a calm and polite manor, “Do you bite your thumb at us sir? ” to the viewer they without needing to know the meaning of the phrase can tell it is a negative and insulting thing, the viewer can see that the composure of the Montague’s has been lost as they struggle to answer Abra who is very calm, without a clear answer from the Montague’s who have fallen back against their car in fear of Abra, he asks again this time more annoyed, “Do you bit your thumb at us, Sir! ” The director demonstrates the difference in the Capulet’s and Montague’s very well in this scene, showing how Abra can ask questions calmly while the Montague’s for all their insults cannot even answer him.
When the Montague boys see that Benvolio is coming out of the toilets and as he can back them up, they change their mind after answering “no” to Abra and say “yes” that they did bite their thumb at him. To which Abra get very angry and him and Tybalt draw their guns simultaneously the Montague’s too draw out their guns. The music stops and a freeze frame happens as Benvolio comes out of the toilet, he then says out loud, “Poor fools you know not what you do. ” This is very ironic as he himself has drawn out his gun. The audience are at this stage on the brink of a fight, and the music has ended and we can hear the wind, it seems the entire city which was much noisier before has stopped waiting on this fight.
The camera zooms in on the barrel of Benvolio’s gun, which reads “Sword 9mm” which is important as the original play did not have guns, and therefore the film has retained the text therefore refers to guns as swords. The wind can be clearly heard, demonstrating the unease and confusion of the situation. One of the Montague boys is crouched by a car with his gun, the women in the car hits him with her handbag, adding a little comedy to the tense scene; his response to her is to out of fear point his gun at her. His hand cannot hold the gun steady and he looks very uneasy about holding the weapon, an image totally contrary to that he demonstrated earlier.
The director wants us to see the Montague’s for who they really are, young boys, whom aren’t able to use a gun. In the silence the only sound is the creaking of the sign above, “add more fuel to your fire. ” This reminds the audience of what ironically this fight will do to the feud. The camera focuses on the sign and then lowers to the scene, the camera then has extreme close-ups of the eyes of each of the boys on both families, the difference is evident in their facial expressions. Tybalt then calmly takes out a lighter and lights his cigarette, demonstrating his composure and calmness. He then drops his match to the ground the camera follows the fall of the match and watches it set fire to the pool of petrol.
He has two guns, showing his skill as he must be well able to fire his weapons, he then when taking off his jacket revealed a waistcoat with the image of Christ on, highlighting again the religiously focused society the play was set in, but also shows the irony as the image he projects from wearing his waistcoat is very different from the image projected from holding two guns, showing the hypocrisy. The camera then moves to Benvolio who we know the Montague’s look to as their leader from their decision to admit to Abra that they did “bite their thumb at him” after they saw him, showing that they have huge confidence in him; he is however sweating showing his unease of situation which has got out of hand. The camera moves to Tybalt who in comparison is not sweating very calm and focused.
Benvolio then says, “I do but keep the peace” showing his effort to avoid the conflict. The camera moves to Tybalt who the comment was directed at, there is now no background noise; the cars have stopped signifying the importance of this moment. Tybalt says, “Peace? Peace! I hate the word, like I hate hell and all Montague’s” This shows in contrast his determination for the fight, and his utter hatred of the Montague’s. This signifies the beginning of the fight as in essence, Benvolio’s call for peace was turned down by Tybalt. The music and noise picks up as the fight begins, in a demonstration of character as Tybalt moves back to his car he points a gun a young boy in front of his mother saying, “Bang.
” This shows his disturbed mind at being able to point a gun at a child, while the Montague’s weren’t able to point a gun at the women hitting them. Then we see Abra pointing the gun and fire at the Montague’s car, who are panicking and unable to fire the gun, hitting the sign above them repeatedly. The director wants us to see the Montague’s as inexperienced fighters, and although they posses guns, they are not familiar with using them. The camera lifts and gives a Arial view of the scene which allows the viewer to understand where the people are positioned, the road behind the petrol station is grid locked with traffic; symbolising the importance of the event taking place.
We see Tybalt, kneel down and kiss his gun, almost ceremonially showing his adoration of weapons. The Montague’s with the exception of Benvolio have hurriedly driven off, as they leave the station, Tybalt calmly, taking his time stands up puts and aimer onto the gun and raises it slowly and aims and fires the gun at one of the Montague’s. In one shot he has hit his intended target showing his skill as a gunman, he shows little guilt at shooting the Montague, instead shows delight. The noise from the cars then starts to be heard, we hear around us the traffic which reminds the audience of the bigger issue of the family feud. The camera lifts off the ground showing the city and Italian operatic music is played, adding drama to the scene.
Several Police helicopters are seen around the back of the towers, showing the importance of the brawl and how the authorities take the incident seriously. The camera moves into inside one of the helicopters giving an Ariel view of the city, noticeable is the presence of a religious icon, showing that the state are religious not just the people, again proving that the society Shakespeare lived in was very religious. We see American S. W. A. T teams assembling showing again the importance to the city this family brawl will have. The camera looks below on the city, giving views of riots between people, arguments and fights; the operatic music reaches a high highlighting the huge significance the brawl has had upon the city of Verona Beech.
The camera is then on the ground looking at the two, Tybalt and Benvolio who are pointing guns at each other, and a helicopter lowers with the side open, we can see the Black Chief of Police, which in itself is important as in wasn’t until the mid twentieth century that black people had equal rights in the United States to whites; highlighting the modern setting. He shouts to the two, “Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground” Showing their respect of his authority they both drop their weapons to the ground, the camera follows them on their fall and when they hit the ground the sound is magnified; ending the opening of the film. I believe that Baz Luhrmann has successfully adapted this sixteenth century play into a modern film. This success can be seen by the huge audiences who watched the film; and the large numbers of people who had before this film never read or seen one of Shakespeare’s plays. Therefore Luhrmann has been successful.