Romeo and Juliet – 1968 and 1996 Movie Comparison Essay Sample
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Romeo and Juliet – 1968 and 1996 Movie Comparison Essay Sample
William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet is a cherished piece of literature that has been remade into movies many times throughout history. The 1968 version and the controversial 1996 version give different perspectives of Shakespeare’s famous play. While the 1968 classical version of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet should be appreciated, the modern version portrays the complexity of love in a fast-paced society by using narrative and stylistic elements combined with energetic editing in an advanced, creative way.
Primarily, casting decisions had a huge impact on character portrayal and the success of the movie. Romeo was played by a “pretty boy” in both movies to depict sensitivity and youthful attractiveness. Both Leonardo DiCaprio and Leonard Whiting depicted emotions well, but DiCaprio seemed less refined or proper in his movements to put a modern spin on the character. Also, Leonardo DiCaprio’s fame aided in the movie’s success while Whiting was unheard of in the world of acting. The role of Juliet as played by Olivia Hussey was delicate and graceful. She appeared flawlessly beautiful and fit the classical role perfectly, although her frantic crying fits were played somewhat out of proportion. Claire Danes played the part very well, and was more appropriate for the modern version, her fame aiding in the film’s appeal as well.
Mercutio was an interesting character in both films, but Harold Perrineau Jr. brought the character’s dialogue and actions into today’s world. Crazy and loud are some essential ingredients included when most people think about comedy today, and Perrineau depicted these traits to the extreme. His skin color caused the issue of race to be brought up in the movie. It enlightened people into a more modern and open state of mind because black actors were not included in the cast of medieval time films. However, John McEnery’s performance in the 1968 version was appropriate for the movie and time setting. He acted like a jester would in the fourteenth or fifteenth Centuries. The Nurse’s ethnicity also played a role in the characterization of the modern film. Her Spanish accent caused names to sound like “Romayo” and “Hooliet.” Modern society is used to racial and ethnic diversity, but this was rarely dealt with in the gothic ages.
Moreover, the plot also contained differences between the two versions. The time period was an obvious variation. While the 1968 version placed the story in the medieval times, the 1996 version placed the story in modern times with police control taking over the city as compared to the Prince’s men. Television reporters took the place of narrators and corruption was apparent (prostitution, drugs). In addition, the setting was dramatically different. While Verona was the original setting, the modern version changed the setting to Verona Beach to give the audience a feel for the modern, busy, and problem-filled city.
Scenes were set on the beach or in a pool hall or at a mansion as compared to cobblestone buildings or castles of the medieval centuries. These modern settings caused stylistic changes in overall costume design and use of props. For example, the Capulets wore tight black clothing with slicked hair while the Montagues opted for casual Hawaiian shirts. The 1968 version played along with the stereotypical classic costume of tunics and tights to aid in the classical feel of the movie. Also, instead of swords, the modern characters skillfully used guns, which they referred to as “swords”, and replaced horses with cars. These props were creatively included whenever possible to cause suspense and action.
The scene in which Romeo and Juliet first meet contained many differing stylistic elements. Visual Effects, sound effects, editing, and music contributed to making the modern version more advanced and creative than the 1968 version of the scene. The modern party scene is set in the over-decorated, glitzy, up-scale Capulet mansion. The festive atmosphere aided in the energy of the scene. In comparison, the older version showed the Capulet home as a traditional, spacious mansion. Costume for the scene dramatically differed, but was effective for each film in thoughtfully setting the mood. Women in the first version wore traditional lovely gowns, while in the second, creative and outlandishly glitzy masquerade costumes were worn that created intrigue and energy that poured off of the screen to the audience. Some of the character’s costumes were objects of symbolism.
DiCaprio wore a knight costume, possibly due to his state of mind at the time. (He claimed that he had a “soul of lead” in the preceding scene.) Danes wore an angel costume to represent her innocence and purity at the time. Perrineau, playing Mercutio, was the most dramatically different costume and makeup change. Perrineau skipped the traditional tunic and tights combination to dress in drag. His flashy and skimpy silver skirt and top helped to make his crazy sense of humor obvious just by looking at his wardrobe. Also, Tybalt and his accomplices wore red and black sequined death-related or evil costumes to foreshadow their dark intentions.
Lighting played a key role in perceiving the scene. The castle was lit most in the center (the dance floor), yet appeared foggy with soft lighting. Torches and candles were meant to be sources of light. Classical Hollywood lighting created a traditional, aged feeling. The mansion setting of the 1996 film was dimly lit except for the dance floor. Lighting was uniquely used when Mercutio was singing. Colored lights flashed and spotlights roamed and panned the singer creating excitement and energy and added to Mercutio’s absurdity. These creative lighting ideas proved to be more intriguing to me and gave a fresh and interesting perspective of the scene. In both films, lighting was somewhat dimmer during conversations between Romeo and Juliet to make it more intimate and sheltered from the rest of the action. Furthermore, camera shots and editing contrasted to produce very different effects on the audience. In the 1968 version, Romeo first sees Juliet on the dance floor. This is a textbook way to film first encounters between lovers.
Long shots showed the dancing, and the camera then followed Romeo and Juliet’s faces. As the music quickened, the film used rhythmically equal edits to keep up with the music’s pace. Edits cut back and forth between Romeo and Juliet faster and faster to create an exciting, youthful feeling. The modern version was noticeably different, and completely intriguing. It caused adrenaline to pump along with the characters. Due to taking an acid-like drug, DiCaprio’s perception was warped. The camera and editing made the audience see things from Romeo’s point-of-view. People appeared to be moving in slow motion and sounds were distorted and abnormal. Rhythmic editing was utilized during Mercutio’s song and dance. The drug then takes a different effect on Romeo by making everything appear faster than it actually was happening. The camera spins with him while creating a blurred background.
Then extremely fast edits of various faces combined with flashing colored lights and odd sound effects to make it seem as if he was losing his mind. Interestingly, he sobers up with an underwater shot of him splashing his face. Camera usage differed when Romeo and Juliet first saw each other in the modern version. Romeo first caught sight of her eyes through an aquarium divider. Both movies used close-ups to show their emotions and timidness at the first encounter. However, the first kiss was portrayed differently in the two films by the use of camera shots and editing. The 1968 version uses a close-up of them kiss privately. The kiss was passionate in a softer, more refined way. In the modern film, Romeo and Juliet kiss in an elevator after running around playfully. The camera whirls around the embracing couple in a circle. This was quite effective in causing the viewer to be caught up in the spontaneous romantic feeling. The viewer can almost feel the “butterflies” in their stomachs.
Music played an additional part in the overall effect of the scene. The first version contained calming, courtly music to give the viewer a sense of time and manners that were employed then. The party atmosphere itself was then calmer. The song, “What is a Youth?” also had meaning in the story. The song explained that youth fades just as a flower does. It related to and foreshadowed the future of the star-crossed lovers. Slow, pleasant music is played behind conversations between Romeo and Juliet that contributed to the mood. In disparity, the upbeat dance music at the beginning of the modern scene gave way to an energetic and festive party mood. Parties in present time might use similar music to make guests have a good time. Mercutio sang the words; “Young hearts, run free.” These words related to the feeling that was in the air between Romeo and Juliet.
Finally, noticeable motifs occurred in the 1996 version that added to the thoughtfulness and creativity of the film. First, religious symbols were found all over the film. Crosses and the Virgin Mary appeared ironically on weapons of death such as guns in the opening scene. Tybalt wears a symbol of Virgin Mary on the front of his shirt and a fellow Capulet sports a cross that it is shaved into the back of his head. In the party scene, Mercutio dances below a mural of the Virgin Mary. It seems ironic that religion was stressed even when evil and unGod-like acts were going on. Secondly, water was a prominent motif. Water primarily was included in the setting. Romeo sat by the beach to think or create poetry. An underwater shot of DiCaprio’s face was used in the party scene when he splashed his face to change his drugged state-of-mind. The aquarium gave the viewer an intriguing perspective on their first encounter. Also, the pool created suspense and a sense of playfulness after Romeo came to Juliet. Every time water was used, it caused a change in Romeo’s state-of-mind or a change in events concerning the fate of the two lovers. Water symbolized ever-changing fluidity in the story.
What did critics and viewers think about the two movies? Steve Rhodes reviewed the 1968 film and claimed that, “A more romantic and realistic rendition of the nature of love I have never seen” (Rhodes review, 2/18/99). Many appreciated the traditional style and beauty of the film, as well do I. The 1996 film received mixed reviews. Some believed it to be wonderful, mind-blowing, and visually stunning, much to my agreement.
The controversial movie managed to win awards from Blockbuster and MTV, along with nominations for the Oscars. Personally, I appreciated the 1996 film of Romeo and Juliet, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, and Claire Danes. I found this version much more intriguing and exhilarating to watch. The creative stylistic elements and editing contributed greatly to my fascination with the movie. The powerful images and situations warped my original impression of the tragic love story and emphasized the harsh reality of society. Love in today’s society can be made much more complex than feuding families. Fresh and current circumstances affected the plight of the star-crossed lovers. The modern version showed the fast-paced world and gave the viewer an in-your-face look at the problems that can arise for modern lovers.