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Customer Review

190 of 200 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars appropriate reimagining of classic text, September 15, 2005
This review is from: William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (Special Edition) (DVD)
I think a lot of reviews of this film have been unduly harsh. I have had a fair amount of Shakespearean exposure (I was an English major in college), and I am actually impressed with Baz Luhrmann's interpretation of the text. Some people are so blinded by the seeming erudite stuffiness of Shakespeare's work that they forget what this play is really about. `Romeo and Juliet' is a teenage melodrama! With that said, this film works well.

* To begin with, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes come off just right as the "star-crossed lovers." They handle their lines - perhaps - a bit awkwardly, and their key scenes are overacted. But as far as I'm concerned, their somewhat `poor' performances are actually perfect. In the reality of the play - Romeo and Juliet's behavior (though arguably passionate) is less than genuine. They are young, fickle, and full of hormones, and what might seem like acts of heart-felt love and desire are actually just curious explorations of subversive behavior.

* Many have lamented that the dialogue in this film (essentially) mirrors the original text ... but changing the text (in any major way) would be a huge mistake. Shakespeare's plays are not famous because they have a great story line - they are famous because of the unbelievable writing. It would, therefore, be pointless to modernize the dialogue. Shakespeare's plays ARE the dialogue.

* Although this film - compared with other renditions of the play - is decidedly modern, certain elements do contribute to a sort of timely ambiguity. The cars, guns, drugs, and music suggest 1996 (or thereabouts), whereas the gothic mansions, the ball, the feuding families, and the oppressive presence of the Church seem somewhat anachronistic. I think this ambiguity speaks to the universality of Shakespeare's work. Does it even matter when this play takes place? Have hot-blooded teenagers changed that much over the years?

* Lastly, the ambience of Lurhmann's film is intoxicating: zipping, choppy cinematography, an over-abundance of gaudy electric lighting, and an intriguing soundtrack. It's very titillating in an adolescent sort of way. Anyone who does not find the scene - where DiCaprio is dragging on a cigarette against an orangey sunscape, with Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" slowly pulsing in the background - sentimentally sexy - well, you must not remember what it's like to be 15.

All in all, this is an ingenious approach to a classic text - not to mention an entertaining film.
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Showing 1-10 of 19 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Mar 3, 2009 4:46:42 AM PST
BH says:
What a well-written review!

Posted on Dec 7, 2009 10:46:01 PM PST
Opera Ghost says:
"The Church" is hardly oppressive.

Posted on Dec 28, 2009 11:48:06 AM PST
R. French says:
I agree wholeheartedly with your review.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2011 2:50:42 PM PST
Daniel Boon says:
Every church is oppressive

Posted on Feb 8, 2011 2:54:25 PM PST
Daniel Boon says:
I appreciate your sensitivities to the nuances of such a work. I just finished reading the Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet this day. I am going to now see this film again and continue my immersion, albeit adjustedly. Your comments have expressed what I migt have considered my own positive regard of the film. Surely, it will help me to appreciate it even more fully. Thank you

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 8, 2011 3:00:36 PM PST
Daniel Boon says:
I folly in interpretation! Rather, I agree - it is oppressive, in a hard way.

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2011 11:04:28 PM PST
Opera Ghost says:
To know that, you'd have to know every church.

Clearly, you don't.

And it's the "Lamentable Tragedie."

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 11, 2011 11:04:53 PM PST
Opera Ghost says:
[Customers don't think this post adds to the discussion. Show post anyway. Show all unhelpful posts.]

Posted on Nov 1, 2011 5:42:38 AM PDT
Rhett says:
I recently saw this movie again, and in looking out of curiosity to see if there was a director's cut, came across your review. I have to give you kudos . . . you raise some excellent points that I've always thought about when reading negatives about this movie. I've always felt that most of this film's detractors are probably Shakespeare purists who bristle at the thought of Lurhmann "camping up" R&J by . . . say . . . portraying Mercutio as a black drag queen (which I thought was astoundingly clever - as was the conceit of Queen Mab as ecstasy), or prostitutes dancing to "Talk Show Host" (isn't that the world's OLDEST profession? - why not pair it with a NEW song for some interest? One might argue that it is an extended oxymoron - a literary device with which Shakespeare is closely associated). You are absolutely right about the reason Shakespeare has (more than) stood the test of time - it's not so much about the story lines, but his incomparable mastery of the English language. Here, the lines are authentic (if rearranged a bit here and there), and I thought Leo and Claire did an very good job of conveying the impetuous nature of teenage infatuation - matched by Dennehy and Sorvino ("He shall be endured") as the greedy, amoral "clan masters" (godfathers). I don't consider the settings and props anachronistic as much as universal and ambiguous (I believe the setting was actually a pastiche of Mexico City, Miami, and L.A.)
Although I still consider the 1968 version the best, this version certainly delivers a creative take on the play. Some might find Lurhmann's signature style - dizzyingly florid, highly ornate and choreographed - a bit distracting, but, like I said, I thought it worked. And I loved the music - I bought the (extended) soundtrack - which is always a hit when I put it on at parties. And you are also right about the scene where Leo, morose in front of a beautiful sunset, writes one of Shakespeare's most famous soliloquies in his journal - very sexy and evocative. Besides, we get the "classical" Shakespearean treatment from Postlethwaite. All in all, an excellent and creative adaptation of a classic. And those who wrote that "The church is hardly oppressve" must have missed the gargantuan Jesus statue "lording over" so many scenes!

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2011 6:07:06 AM PDT
Rhett says:
On the title page of the 1599 (second) quarto - generally considered the "definitive" text by The Shakespeare Institute at The University of Birmingham (a copy of which I have) - it was "The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet" (words translated to reflect modern English spellings).
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