on September 15, 2005
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.
This review is STRICTLY for the SPECIAL EDITION DVD of the film. To me it's already a given as to what a masterpiece Baz Luhrmann has put to the screen.
The special edition gives you all the treats you need. I'm not talking about still pages of text to read! I'm talking RAW footage of DiCaprio & Danes practicing their lines, many, many production scenes that leave your mouth open like, "oh, my gosh, I had no idea they had to go through all of that trouble just to shoot that brief scene"-kind of stuff, and best of all, an early treatment (pitch) for the film that was shot in Australia w/ DiCaprio in some alley ways. Rather lengthy, not just a mini-clip, Amazing! Insightful interviews of Baz Luhrmann; why do Shakespeare, how difficult it was to sell the idea to Hollywood, why he made the movie in the style that it is, etc.). If you have the original DVD & are debating, go for it!
The only disappointing thing was the production value of Claire Danes' interview... DiCaprio's interview is well produced & lit on a candle-filled set, then Claire Danes is terribly keyed (matted) over a few still images (her hair buzzing & breaking through the digital distortion). The menus are nicely done, not animated over-kill. This is an anamorphic for those who have the 16:9 TVs.
I haven't even listened to much of the commentary yet, but it sounds very informative & interesting so far. Perhaps the most important thing for those who did not like the film or were unsure, is Luhrmann's explanation of why Shakespeare should have been handled the film the way he did (the intense, in-your-face MTV-like editing / modern settings, etc)... truly both men are very visionary & talented.
William Shakespeare's classic `Romeo + Juliet' is probably one of the most influential pieces of literature ever recorded. You can feel its presence and influence breathing life into just about everything we read, watch or listen to these days. With a tale this classic, this important to modern cinema it becomes something a bit wary to tackle it at its core and `remake' it from scratch. One may be a tad hesitant to embrace its new shape and form and rightfully so. When you look at the track record for remakes it becomes apparent that in general what was once golden should be left well enough alone. In Romeo + Juliet's case though this is a reimagining so magical it surpasses the original and becomes a momentous piece in the history books of cinema. Yes, Baz Luhrmann single handedly breathes a whole new life into this adaptation, handing to his audience a masterful and experimental film that never lets us out of its grasp.
The first thing that Luhrmann did right was stick to the original text. A lot of people initially balked at the fact that the dialog was not updated along with the setting but I felt that artistically it was a much grander feat to have the original dialog kept intact. The fact that each and every actor slips into this way of speaking fluently and without issue is an ode to some great talent indeed. No one seems out of place of phoning it. Each and every actor handles the difficult wording marvelously. The next thing Luhrmann did right was trashing his setting. What I mean by this is that he didn't go the easy route and make this posh and beautiful but rather he played everything down, creating an almost gritty and dirty feeling to the surroundings. This is the future and the future is bleak.
The best thing that Luhrmann did though was casting Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the lead roles. At the time DiCaprio was slowly becoming a credible actor and Danes was just becoming known. Neither of them were quote-unquote household names or completely bankable yet but they both had proven they could act. Here though we get to see how well. To this day I still firmly believe that this is Leonardo's finest performance. Both he and Danes masterfully command their characters. Never has Romeo or Juliet felt so alive, so real and so relatable. Their tragic love affair is so enthralling, so captivating and so breathtaking. There are moments between them of pure beauty and strength that I'm appalled their performances didn't garner more awards attention.
The rest of the cast is equally as impressive, especially the likes of Harold Perrineau (of `Lost' fame) who plays Romeo's best friend Mercutio. His performance is outlandish and flamboyant and adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film. John Leguizamo is memorable as Tybolt, Juliet's cousin, and Pete Postlethwaite is wonderful as Father Laurence. Paul Sorvino stands out for me as Juliet's father Fulgencio Capulet. His performance is brutal and intense and sends chills down my spine in scenes.
`William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet' has never looked as good as it does here, telling the story of forbidden love and tragic circumstance that brings two families to their knees and teaches us a valuable lesson about forgiveness and tolerance. Baz Luhrmaan outdoes himself here, delivering a modern twist on a genuine classic complete with a beautiful color palate and an impressive soundtrack that adds layers of emotion, whether soft and touching or crisp and exciting (one reason this `Music Edition' is so worth the upgrade). It's not very often that the remake stands above its source material but Luhrmann's masterpiece is just that film.
on October 19, 2010
This is one of those blu rays that is only worth buying if the picture quality is 'TRUE" blu ray quality. This is one of them. The audio sounds much improved, the picture is rich and clear, the details of the movie are noticed more with such clear picture quality. Good job fox, this was a great improvement on blu ray, happy with this purchase, great film and great blu ray quality.
on July 25, 2006
As my bio states, I'm a former English teacher. For 9th grade students, Romeo & Juliet was the most anticipated/dreaded time of the year - with the girls anticipating and the guys dreading. In teaching the play, I used both this movie version and the 1966 Zefferelli version. As a former teacher, allow me to share some tips.
There are lots of good things about this movie. While the two title roles are only good in execution, some roles are truly great, Tybalt and Harold Perrineau's Mercutio among them. It is a worthy film in its own right, but it is also an EXCELLENT teaching tool.
Now to the teaching tips:
(1) Don't show this movie all at one time. Students will miss 90% of what they need to see.
(2) Show the movie simultaneously with Zefferelli's film. Both movies have much to offer and some weaknesses. Invite students to compare and contrast the two, acting as experts.
(3) Show both movies a few scenes at a time, as you read the play. Invite them to analyze what each director/screenwriter included/left out. As them why the director/screenwriter made those choices.
(4) Remember at all times that Shakespeare was not writing a "work of literature"; he was writing a play, intended for performance. No student will fully understand any of Shakespeare's plays unless they SEE them, preferably in as many forms as possible.
Practical Example: Read the prologue and explain the function of the "chorus". Have students translate the lines and explain what they mean. View Zeferelli's prologue (under a minute)and discuss. Then view Luhrmann' version (about 1.5 minutes). Ask them what might have inspired him to do a prologue with a newsreporter as the chorus. Have them pick out the symbols, foreshadowing, etc. And finally let them vote about which one they like best and why.
Repeat the process with each section of the play. It will take a little longer than showing the film at once, but you will be surprised how much 9th grade students will be able to understand (on their own) by the end of the play.
on June 23, 2005
Ok- let me start off with something : I was very skeptical of this movie. I typically don't like remakes or "modernizations" of classics like Romeo and Juliet But I was wrong.
Yes, the movie is modernized, but then again, it isn't. The use of Shakespeare for the script instead of a modernized script while at the same time updating Verona to the present day feels very dreamlike, like it isn't even happening on the planet.
DiCaprio and Danes were perfect for these roles. I've seen too many movies from R&J and there was simply NO chemistry. That's not the case here. The lines aren't arch reproductions, "same old same old" stuff. The lines are spoken with frightening immediacy. This is important, because most remakes of this movie are far too elegant. This version captures the chaotic, euphoric passion of love that simply will not wait or be denied. The lines aren't just spoken, they elbow and push their way on to the screen. This is a major plus.
Claire Danes is simply gorgeous. Hers is a unique kind of beauty. Not typical Hollywood fare. Another plus.
The only scenes I had trouble with were the first scene with the Capulet and Montague boys meeting at the gas station, and the first scene with Lady Capulet and Juliet.
I highly recommend this movie because, even though we all know the story, this movie still finds a way to be just as fresh as the first time we read/saw the play.
on September 13, 2002
To those who say that this murders the "original" play, I would ask them to consider what Shakespeare's reaction to this would be. Would he have preferred for his plays to stay locked in a tradition which becomes less and less accesible to a modern generation, meaning effectively that his plays are no longer enjoyed by the majority? Or would he prefer for the legacy of his great works to be continued by an update that fantastically and cleverly brings everything to our own times?
The whole genius of this film is that the lines ARE kept intact, that this is still THE original, and yet we are still allowed to believe that this is modern. The lines are spoken as if this were how people talk to each other these days, and the clever touches such as the 'sword' guns that allow the script to be kept intact are what makes this movie such a delight.
Shakespeare was a pioneer in his time, and so it is only fit to give his plays a pioneering makeover. Shakespeare's scripts are deliberately left open to interpretation in that there are few stage directions, just the lines, and this is how he would have wanted it to be. This defies every expectation, challenged you to think about what the essence of Shakespeare is? Romeo and Juliet is always called timeless. It is because we may interpret it that it is so.
on March 30, 2016
This is such a great reimagining of the Shakespearean play. My students love this version and it keeps their attention with the fast-paced plot, colorful scenes, and flashy costumes. However, this edition is the NEW Music edition of the DVD, so there are added bonuses to this new disc. The music edition features a 45 minute documentary of how they picked the songs that were used in the movie. Twenty years after this film came out, my students are still singing along with some of the songs--they were the perfect choices and were timeless songs (and hey, if my students know Prince's "When the Doves Cry" more than 30 years after the song's initial release, yes, it is timeless).
My DVD did not look like the photo (the cover is a bit different, although it does say "Music Edition") but I bought it for the movie and not for the cover. If you are a fan of this version of the movie and you don't have the music edition, you need this one. If you're just a Romeo and Juliet fan and have (gasp!) never seen this 1996 version, go ahead and take a chance. You'll love it.
on May 22, 2007
Let me begin my review by addressing those who are undecided whether to purchase this version (Luhrman) or the Zeffirelli. There seems to be a bias amongst educators (bordering on the arrogant) that the Luhrman version is somehow less "authentic" than the Zeffirelli. Simply performing "Romeo and Juliet" in doublet and hose, however, does not make it any more "Shakespearean". In fact, I would argue that modern-dress is more in keeping with the spirit of the original as Elizabethan drama had no elaborate sets or costumes; doublet and hose WERE modern-dress in Shakespeare's time. If we discount "updating" as a reason to discount the Luhrman version (which in my experience is invariably the excuse), we have to judge the movies on how well they illuminate/connect/inspire Shakespeare's words for our students. In my opinion, the Luhrman version does a better job of this than the Zefferilli.
First, the updating works (for the most part). My students clearly understood gangs and rivalries; presenting the Montagues and Capulets as such, eliminated questions as why the two families hate each other or how the feud got started (answers which are outside the text). The guns and cars appealed to the boys; the love and romance appealed to the girls. My students could see themselves in the context Luhrman provided; they could relate to what was going on screen as present and relative, not merely events from 400 years ago.
Secondly, casting famous actors (DiCaprio and Danes) as the leads hooks many of my students at the beginning. They watch the movie BECAUSE Leonardo DiCaprio is in it, but soon the magic of the Bard's words (which they struggle to follow at first) keeps them interested. DiCaprio IMO is uneven; some scenes he performs better than others. Danes's performance (other than her fake crying in the Capulet vault) was generally strong and very believable; her words did not seem "acted" but rather natural. The supporting cast was also very good with Tybalt and Benvolio standing out.
There were some scenes that didn't work well for me. The Capulet ball in particular was strange. Mercutio came dressed in drag and this (unfounded) homosexual subtext was amplified by him prancing around on the stairs with some Chippendale dancers. Just plain strange. Also, the Queen Mab speech was weird and luckily cut short; Luhrman did try to tie it into the events as a sort-of intoxicated rambling at the "pre-party" (complete with Ecstasy) before Romeo crashes the ball. Another weak performance was Lady Capulet who played it for laughs (which again I couldn't see from the text), and it was an unconvincing performance played that way. The only time Lady Capulet seemed believable was when she played it serious (Tybalt's death, the argument with Juliet and Capulet). Some students also didn't care for all of the musical numbers, but most liked how Luhrman tried to include contemporary songs into the movie.
Some of the sequencing of scenes are a bit off, but this is a movie students definitely love and get into... which I think is how Shakespeare would want it.
on October 3, 2004
If you are more inclined to mathematics or sciences you probably will find this adaption of Shakespeare's classic rather strange. If you are into theater, art or literature analyzation you will love it.
The concept of keeping the same early modern english language and putting it into our times seems absolutely nonsensical, but I found it the oppostie, where in fact it is more clear to understand the language when it is set to something that would appear familair to us.
The actors are actually fantastic, a young Leo and Claire make the perfect teenage Romeo and Juliet who were supposed to be about 14 anyway. They look as innocent and in love as Shakespeare intended it. I really liked Claire Danes as Juliet because you were watching Juliet, you weren't watching a famous actress play Juliet, you know?
While Baz Lurmahns direction style canbe a bit eccectric, it certainly isn't as flashy as Moulin Rouge but still, the color and camera shots are sensational. I'd see this film for the scenery and sets, etc alone.
I think it getsa bad rep because people expect to see a new age Romeo and Juliet. Ok, wrong. You will get the same gorgeous language the play MUST be spoken in, but the backround will be modern and colorful, however this always seems strange to some people.
It's an english major's dream because of all the imagery and symbolisim. I loved it.