Comparison Or Romeo And Juliet Essay, Research Paper
Comparison of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the 1996 remake by Baz Luhrmann
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet was written in the late 1500’s. Critics tended to disparage this play in comparison to the four great tragedies Shakespeare wrote in the first decade of the seventeenth century (Hamlet, King Lear, Macbeth and Othello). Assessed next to the Bard’s mature works, Romeo and Juliet appears to lack the psychological depth and the structural complexity of Shakespeare’s later tragedies. But over the past three decades or so, many scholars have altered this assessment, effectively upgrading its status within Shakespeare’s canon. They have done this by discarding comparative evaluation and judging Romeo and Juliet as a work of art in its own right. Viewed from this fresh perspective, Shakespeare’s tragic drama of the “star-crossed” young lovers is seen to be an extraordinary work. Indeed, Romeo and
Juliet was an experimental stage piece at the time of its composition, featuring several radical departures from long-standing conventions. These innovative aspects of the play, moreover, reinforce and embellish its principal themes. The latter include the antithesis between love and hate, the correlative use of a light/dark polarity, the handling of time (as both theme and as structural element), and the prominent status accorded to Fortune and its expression in the dreams, omens and forebodings that presage its tragic conclusion.
With the interest from the critics in this day and age, it is not surprising Baz Luhrmann decided to make his own rendition of the Shakespeare tragedy in 1996. In Baz Luhrmann’s 120-minute version of Romeo and Juliet, the scenes are very similar to the way things are today, except the characters are speaking the language of the Shakespearean time period. Luhrmann uses a variety of spectacular effects in the movie. Luhrmann cast huge stars of the teen generation, Claire Daines as Juliet, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Romeo. Dr. Christina Cobb of filmcritic.com stated about the visual effects, “When Romeo and Juliet meet at a costume party – staring transfixed at each other through a fish tank that separates two rooms of the Capulet mansion — the rapid-fire MTV editing and grinding soundtrack disappear. The stars take the audience into another world.” The MTV, or Music Television audience are able to appreciate this version of the play because the scenes were set in a familiar setting to their own lives. It seems like people either loved or hated this movie. Some people were appalled by the lack of respect for Shakespeare’s work. They thought making the families mobsters and having gang fights was too much. On the other side of the spectrum, some younger audiences praised the film, for being of the time, and easy to follow.
In the following paper, I am going to delve deep into both of the works. I will be looking at comparisons, and differences between Shakespeare and Luhrmann’s visions. I have also located key changes that Luhrmann made in the final editing of the movie. Then, I will take a look at the critic’s opinions and then give me own opinion of what worked well in the movie, and what did not work very well.
In the 1996 movie, there are many significant differences from the Shakespeare play of Romeo and Juliet. The first noticeable difference is in the opening of the movie; a newscaster reads the opening prologue. It is also noticeable at that time that the time period is set in our generation. The changes Luhrmann makes for the difference it time are very significant throughout the movie. The time period change, did not allow the characters to wear the typical clothing of a late 15th century person. The male characters were viewed in the movie wearing Hawaiian shirts, and black pants, while in the play; the males would have worn tights and frilled shirts. At the Capulet Ball, it is very clear to see the differences in the role of Mercutio in the movie as compared to the play. In the movie he dresses in drag sporting a white Afro wig and a silver sparkling dress. He is perceived as very feminine throughout his scenes in the movie. The females dressed more scantily clad in the movie than in the play. Juliet’s mother is shown in the movie wearing a seductive Cleopatra outfit for their ball. She is in a tight bodice, and it is insinuated that she and Tybalt, her nephew, are romantically involved. Also, the movie is set in a much warmer climate, than Shakespeare intended for his play. More skin was shown in the 1996 remake, which is also familiar to our time. The fact that there were prostitutes and hookers in this version of the film, also says something about the time period that it was set in.
Another big change in the movie was the usage of weapons. Romeo in the late 15th century play has a sword for his weapon. While Leonardo DiCaprio, Romeo in the Baz Luhrmann’s film, packed a 9-millimeter gun, engraved with the name “sword”. Other gang members in the Montague family have smaller guns, engraved with the name “sword” also or the name “dagger”. The change in weapons ultimately altered many scenes. In one of the beginning scenes in the movie, when the Capulet “boyz” and the Montague “boyz” meet at a gas station, and instead of meeting, quarrelling and having a sword fight, they have a gun battle. This gunfight resembles more of a gang fight then a feuding family disagreement. The sense of loyalty to the house is also similar to how a gang member would be loyal to a gang. Also, the fact the fight takes place at a convenient store shows that the settings were adjusted to fit the time period.
The way the characters spoke to each other were still fitting to the Shakespearean dialect, however some changes were made in the deliverance of the lines. For example, in the scenes where Benvolio and Romeo are speaking, instead of calling him cousin like in the play where Benvolio states his line “Good morrow cousin”(I.i.153), he calls him “cuz”. This slang would not have been acceptable in the 1500’s. The language use that was altered in the movie was also used to fit the time frame, using “cuz” instead of cousin gives the movie a modern feel where teenagers today change how some words are said. Also, the way the characters said the lines were different. The actors and actresses in the 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet used the Shakespearean dialect in a very matter of fact way. They basically would say the sentences with little feeling and emotion for the most part. What I mean by this is, when the characters were just plainly speaking without argument, they were speaking as if they were just talking very plainly. Where in the play, the actors and actresses would use much emotion in conveying their feelings to the audience. Part of this might be due to the fact that their voices had to carry throughout the playhouse. The reasoning Baz Luhrmann may have changed the way the actors and actresses delivered the lines is so they seemed more believable to teens of their generation. Romeo and Juliet is a story of young teen love, since many changes were made to present it in a different time, they had to believable as teenagers in this time also. It seems that most of the changes in the movie were to fit the time that the movie took place, but other changes were made for other reasons, that are hard to find.
In the final editing of the movie, many scenes were either dramatically changed, or were completely cut out of the movie in the end. I am going to go through them all from beginning to end of the movie in the following sentences. The movie opens up with a television fading up to the screen with a newscaster doing the opening chorus dialogue, and then the movie breaks to a bunch of flashes of parts of the movie with a man doing the chorus again. Why they did is twice as confusing to me but Luhrmann had his reasons. After I considered it, I thought that maybe the first time the newscaster stated the prologue; it was the beginning of the movie. Then the flashes of the movie were foreshadowing for the scenes to come. Finally, Luhrmann stated the prologue again to start from the beginning. Then the most confusing change made throughout the whole movie takes place, the characters are switched. In the play the scene opens up to the Capulet servants Sampson and Gregory talking and boasting, confusingly, in the movie Sampson and Gregory are Montagues and are riding to a gas station with Benvolio. Then Abram enters who is introduced as Abra when the film pauses and they show names of the characters, and he is a Capulet, where in the play he is a Montague. This somewhat confused me; I did not understand the significance in the change of the characters. Perhaps to better understand how the relationship of the two houses is portrayed in the movie Luhrmann switches the roles. Also in the opening scene, some of the dialogue is changed. For example when Sampson says, “Gregory, on my word, we’ll not carry coals”(I.i.1), is cut out of the film to portray them as not being servants of the house. That may be why they have them riding with Benvolio, to make it seem like they are loyal to the house, but they are more of an equal with Benvolio, and not his servants. Scene II was also changed. Capulet, County Paris and the clown are totally cut from the movie. In that scene, Capulet and Paris are discussing Juliet. Paris wants to marry her now at her fourteen years of age, but Capulet thinks that he should wait for two more summers. In the end, Paris convinces Capulet that it is a good age for her to become a happy mother. The last half of the scene is changed where a servant is not in the film and Romeo and Benvolio are playing pool. When Mercutio gives something to Romeo before the ball, it is the drug XTC. He says the lines, “Thy drugs are quick”. In the play, Romeo does not say that line until he is referring to the poison that is the cause of his demise (V.iii.120). The opening scene 5 is cut from the film, and it goes right to the part where Tybalt and Capulet are arguing about Romeo being at the party. Also at the party, Romeo gets his first view of Juliet through a fish tank. As soon as their eyes meet, the viewer gets the feeling that these two have instantly fallen in love. Soon after Juliet is introduced to Paris. In the play, they do not see each other for the first time in a fish tank. It is while she is dancing, Romeo notices her and pulls her away to speak with her. I am sure that they play did not have elevators either. In act II, the chorus is cut from the film, which is probably for time reasons. Also in that scene, the famous balcony scene takes place. In the movie, Romeo and Juliet are only partly on the balcony. Most of it takes place in the pool, which creates a different way to see that scene. It also makes for some great camera work! The next scene in the movie is when a tattooed, hawaiin shirt wearing Friar Lawrence marries Romeo and Juliet. In the play, the Friar wore a typical outfit that a man of religion would wear. In act III, the scene where Mercutio is injured, Tybalt had to strike Mercutio with a piece of glass instead of a sword because their major weapon was a gun and to prolong the fight they had to fight with fist until Tybalt strikes Mercutio. If they were to pull out their guns and start shooting each other then the fight between Tybalt and Mercutio would not have lasted so long. Right away Romeo chases Tybalt and he is shot dead where in the play Tybalt returns to fight Romeo and then is killed. Also since it was in modern times, Romeo chases Tybalt in his car, which is not in the play because there is not a chase scene at all. In scene III, the scene where Friar Lawrence talks to the Nurse and offers to stab himself (III.i.81-175), is totally cut from the movie. In act IV scene V where Peter is talking with the musicians is also cut from the film, and act V scene II, the scene between Friar John and Friar Lawrence is completely cut. In fact, Friar John does not even appear in the movie. In act V scene III where Romeo kills Paris is also cut from the film. Another comical change that Luhrmann added to the movie is, when Friar Lawrence wanted to send Romeo a letter about Juliet, he sends it to him via Federal Express. Since he never gets the letter on time, a distraught Romeo goes to get poison and he uses the term “gold” to buy it when he actually hands the man cash. In the end Romeo and Juliet are alone in the tomb, there are no other bodies. It seems that overall the scenes in the play where there is a dialogue between two people other than Romeo and Juliet are cut from the film. It may be that Luhrmann wanted to directly focus on the relationship between Romeo and Juliet, and wanted to make the movie a complete love story.
Another huge change in the movie was the usage of music. The songs that are on the Romeo and Juliet sound track, which means that they pay throughout the movie are; Crush – Garbage, Local God – Everclear, Angel – Gavin Friday, Pretty Piece Of Flesh – One Inch Punch Kissing You (Love Theme From Romeo & Juliet) – Des’ree, “Whatever” (I Had A Dream) – Butthole Surfers, “Lovefool” – The Cardigan, “Young Hearts Run Free” – Kim Myzell, “Everybody’s Free” (To Feel Good) – Quindon, “To You I Bestow”- Mundy, “Talk Show Host” – Radiohead, “Little Star” – Stina Nordenstam, and “You Am Me Song”- The Wannadies. As one can see from the artists that contributed to the soundtrack, the music in the 1996 version is much different from Shakespeare’s calm melodies. In the 1996 remake of the movie, music seems to play a more pivotal part in the dynamic of the play. The songs bring emotion to the audience, and set the scene for the upcoming climaxes. My personal favorite song in the play is when the little chorus boy sings the Prince song “When Doves Cry”. He sings this as a choir song, and it is very beautiful. It takes the scene from very calm, to very high in emotions. It leaves the audience on the edge of their seats yearning to see what is going to come of the love of Romeo and Juliet.
Critics seemed to be very up and down when they reviewed this movie. Either they loved or hated it. Thinking that the movie was all right was few and far between. Gene Siskel gave the movie a thumb up, while Roger Ebert gave it a thumb down. Laura Lipshitz from M.T.V. stated, ‘”Eeek, this movie is just too noisy, the dialogue’s the thing and it’s not made more accessible by being intelligible. ” William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” tries so hard to be hip that it loses the basis of the story. It does succeed in a few ways though, and maintained my interest” She liked the Capulet ball, and the pool scene. Also, she found comfort in a few small scenes in the movie. She enjoyed Friar Lawrence sending Romeo the letter Federal Express, and the little boy singing the Prince song, “When doves Cry.” Robin Quivers, co-host of the Howard Stern radio show believed that this Romeo and Juliet was a real “hepcat” way of telling the original story. She said, “it starts out flashy, with near comic book action in the opening scenes.” She continued to make mention of the differences that I mentioned previously. She said, “Unfortunately, slick, stylish sets and fast, cutting camera work do not lend themselves to this story, especially with the awkward effort to preserve the Bards dialogue.” She feels that the interesting parts of the story are not interesting enough to salvage the story. “One of Luhrmann’s coolest conceits is in translating Shakespeare’s characters into modern archetypes easy to recognize. The flamboyant Mercutio becomes RuPaul, the clean-cut “Dave” Paris (Paul Rudd) is a ringer for JFK Jr., Lady Capulet (Diane Venora) is a dithering Blanche DuBois, the herb-loving Father Laurence (Pete Postlethwaite) is a take on Timothy Leary. But they all stay 100% true to Shakespeare.” stated Sean Means, a twentieth century Fox film critic. He continued by saying, “What Luhrmann has trashed is the tight corsets that have literally and symbolically stifled Shakespeare’s passion and fire. If this Shakespeare guy is so great, Luhrmann seems to be saying, let’s throw him in the deep end of the pool and see if he can swim. In Luhrmann’s dizzying version, Shakespeare does the 400-meter medley.” A writer in A Curtain up London Review, Lizzie Loveridge, had much to say about Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet. She noted that since his movie, it has brought much success in bringing in a different type of audience. She has seen a play, where the characters are copied more off of the movie than the actual Shakespeare script. Shakespeare online had this to offer when dealing with Baz Luhrmann’s remake, “The opening sequence also invites us to read the film in the idiom of contemporary television drama, Verona Beach 90210 or Montague Place, as it were. This is most obvious when the action freezes for a strap-caption introducing characters: ‘The Montague Boys’, ‘Benvolio, Romeo’s friend’, ‘Tybalt, Prince of Cats and a Capulet, and so on. Further, we register that the story is present-day and urban; the rival houses are now competing corporations, while the dominant statue of an ineffectual Christ is a frequently repeated reminder of the power religion still has in the lives of these characters. The site also mentioned, “he setting, though familiar and believable, is not by any means realistic. That is inhibited by the art direction, which is gaudy to the point of becoming high camp. There is a blatant reveling in kitsch, tawdry, and vulgarity. The colors are vivid and intense, with a predominance of primaries favored. The Verona Beach and Capulet Ball settings are both a cheerful exercise in gimmicky tastelessness. At the ball, the choreography and costumes suggest Busby Berkeley directing The Rocky Horror Show, while in Juliet’s bedroom and the Capulet tomb there are so many statues of Mary and Christ, bleeding hearts, angelic cherubs, and crosses that we expect to see Pierre et Gilles credited as artistic consultants. It is, nevertheless an acceptable visual translation of the play’s extravagant, contrived and ostentatious verbal imagery, much of which, perhaps inevitably, has been cut for the screenplay. Thus, what might easily seem a gimmicky and meretricious Felliniesque extravagance (the Capulet ball and the tomb scene are perhaps the most extreme) becomes instead a convincing and coherent reworking of the play’s lavish textual idiom into something rich and strange: a feast for the eyes, if not now for the ears.
In my opinion, there were several key strengths as well as weaknesses in the movie. The main strength in my opinion was how Baz Luhrmann stuck to the original script. I also found the comical relief in the movie quite appealing. A main strength was the camera work. The pool scene was out of this world! Also, the way the camera crew had beautiful background scenes, like the sun setting in the beach scene. Another bonus of the movie was the way that it presented a difficult subject matter so easily. The weaknesses that I found in the play were greater than the strengths however. The play tended to be confusing at points. This may have happened due to the fact that main characters were cut out of the play, or other interesting scenes were cut from it in the end. Also, other personal relationships were not explored such as the relationships between: Mercutio and Romeo, Friar Lawrence and the Nurse, and Capulet and Montague. It seemed as though Baz Luhrmann was too busy concentrating on the love aspect in the story, between Romeo and Juliet. The movie had too much gunplay also. Yes, it was cute to have the guns named things like, “sword” and “dagger”, but the movie became too much like a mob movie when every other scene someone has a gun out ready to kills someone. The final weakness that I found in the movie was the ridiculous way that the director Baz Luhrmann made the characters come across. The characters were giving silly mannerisms, and the costumes that they wore were out of control! Friar Lawrence was in a Hawaiian shirt with tattoos.
Overall, this movie was enjoyable. As far as it being comparable to the works of the great William Shakespeare, I would not give it that much credit. I do own the movie Romeo and Juliet, and watch it from time to time, but I feel it is better to read the play, and use your own imagination to form your own opinions on what characters look like, how they sound, what they wear, and how they carry themselves. I think that this is just a totally different way of looking at a masterpiece.
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Writ. Baz Luhrmann. Twentieth Century Fox, 1996.
“A Curtain Up London Review Romeo and Juliet.” The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews. Home Page. 5 March 2001.
“Ebert and Roeper and the Movies.” BV Entertainment. Home Page. 2 November 1996.
“Romeo and Juliet.” Film.com. Homepage. 1996. http://www.film.com/film-review/1996/9348/27/default-review.html >
“The Power and Passion of Love and Hate A review of Romeo and Juliet.” A Story is a Promise. Homepage. 2000. http://www.storyispromise.com/rjoutlin.htm
“The Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet.” Renascene Editions. Homepage. 1999. http://www.darwing.uoregon.edu/-rbear/shake/rj.html
William Shakespeare. Romeo and Juliet. London, Grolier Society; n.d.
Lipshitz, Laura. Interview with Carson Daly. Total Request Live. MTV. New York. 3 March 1996.
Quivers, Robin. Interview with Howard Stern. Howard Stern Radio Show. New York. 2 April 1996.