Romeo and Juliet Descriptive Essay Sample
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Romeo and Juliet Descriptive Essay Sample
Baz Luhrmann’s version of William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, created in 1996, is a great example of how a traditional play can be modernized and altered in order to appeal to a modern audience. He wanted to present Shakespeare’s play in a manner that would make it approachable to audiences of today. He intended to make no change in the language itself, but to change the surroundings to make the message clear for the people of this century.
In order to appeal to a modern audience, Luhrmann uses a number of different film conventions that convey the many narrative conventions, resulting in the captivation and engagement of the modern audience. Some of these visual codes and conventions include dialogue, written text, costume, colour, use of camera, on screen text and many more. In conjunction with these video codes and conventions, he used many narrative conventions which include plot, characterisation, setting, themes and symbolism. All in all, Luhrmann’s aim was to make the film completely palatable to a modern audience and in my opinion he did this very effectively.
The film begins with a modernised and captivating version of the prologue, a key aspect of the plot and a vital narrative convention. The prologue summarises what will happen during the film, which is effectively the plot. The prologue leaks information about what will eventually happen in the play; however, it does not include how the outcome is reached. It is imperative that the audience understands the prologue as if it is not understood, the audience may be confused. This confusion would result in them not being emotionally engaged with the play.
In order for the audience to be immediately engaged with the film, our interest must be aroused from the commencement of the movie. This is why the prologue is masked as a news broadcast on television. The prologue is very fast-paced, keeping the spectator intrigued. In the original prologue, it is simply narrated, however, in Luhrmann’s version, it is told in a number of ways. These include audio through dialogue, visual by written text, visual by images such as newspapers and photos and the use of captions and written text.
We also see a number of different camera angles throughout the prologue as well as close up camera shots and extreme close up shots. One example is the use of visual by written text and visual by images, more specifically the newspaper articles that assist in telling the prologue. These newspaper articles reinforce what is being said for example, when the narrator says, ‘two households’, there is an image of a newspaper with headlines of ‘Montagues VS Capulets. ’ This is done to inform us of the different households and to help us understand what is being said.
Newspaper articles also come up with headlines such as ‘ancient grudges’, ‘new mutiny’ and ‘where civil blood, makes civil hands unclean’. Each of these newspaper headlines appears simultaneously with the narration and each has photos of feuds between the two families in the past. The use of visuals is very important in the prologue as that is what modern audiences are accustomed to and can relate to. The visual and written text adds ‘picture able’ words that work in conjunction with other mediums, giving the audience a better overall understanding.
The narrator also speaks very slowly and clearly in order to once again ensure that the audience understands and so they can think about and process what he is saying. Luhrmann had the very hard task of ensuring that the audience understood the overall essence of the film that is portrayed in the prologue. If the message was only expressed once, the modern audience may not understand the messages of the prologue as a whole, as well as the old English language that is used throughout the film.
All in all, the prologue sets the scene of the play by illustrating the violence occurring between the two wealthy families, the Montagues and the Capulets. In order for the audience to empathise with both the protagonist and the secondary characters, Baz Luhrmann’s had to make sure that we could relate to and understand all of the characters in the film. In order to give the characters a sense of credibility, the narrative convention of characterisation was used. There are a number of film conventions that are used in order to help characterise the characters.
One way that Lurhmann modernised the play was by changing the servants in the first scene to gang members which suits the modern audience better. This is also more entertaining for the viewers and engages them. One example of this is in the ‘petrol station fight scene’ when we first meet many of the characters. Luhrmann characterises each ‘gang’ as well as the individuals within the gangs. He shows the rivalry of the two houses very well with Gregory and Sampson, and Abraham and Balthassar during the ‘petrol station fight’.
As soon as Abraham and Balthassar enter, Gregory says “Draw thy tool, here comes of the house of Montagues. ” This gives us an insight into the hatred that the two gangs feel toward each other and helps us to characterise the gangs as a whole. As we are introduced to the array of characters that appear in the first scene, we see a freeze frame with an extreme close up camera shot of the characters’ faces. Along with this freeze frame is the film convention of written text that identifies the character. We also see a freeze frame at the introduction of each gang for example ‘The Capulet Boys’.
These freeze frames are vital as they help us to identify the characters, which is especially important in a fast-paced action scene. Once we know who is who, we then start to see the different themes that each character embodies. Their dialogue and actions help us to identify themes as we see what type of character they are. For example, from Tybalts introduction, we can already tell that he is an aggressive character and that he is the opposite of Benvolio, a kind character who does not want to fight. From Benvolio’s first line, you already get an image of the type of person he is.
He tries to make peace by saying, ‘Part fools, you know not what you do! Put up your swords’. Tybalt is the opposite as he says lines such as, ‘turn thee Benvolio, look upon thy death’ and ‘peace, I hate the word. As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. ’ Tybalt then draws his weapon and begins to shoot at the Montagues. From this we can immediately see that Tybalt is an aggressive character and we can foreshadow that he will do something bad to the Montagues in the future. Another dramatic technique which further contributes to characterisation is the use of props.
For example, the actors, instead of carrying swords with them, hide guns in their shirts and wield them expertly. Luhrmann’s constant alterations of the props, entices the audience into genuinely feeling the spirit of Shakespeare. These props help with characterisation as they are labelled with either ‘Montague’ or ‘Capulet’. Not only are they labelled with their ‘faction’ but with the name of the sword from the original script, for example the guns of the rival factions are labelled ‘Rapier’, ‘Dagger’ and ‘long sword’. This way, when a character asked for his weapon, he is not being anachronistic.
Instead of being set in Verona, Italy with events take place in a crowded seaside metropolis area called Verona Beach. Verona Beach is a modern-day city, with cars, high-rise buildings, gas stations, and hot dogs stands, none of which were even conceived during the time that Romeo and Juliet was written or performed. The reason for this is that the modern audience can relate this modern setting. If Luhrmann had used a setting similar to Shakespeare’s intended one, the audience would be very confused and may lose track of what is happening.
There are a variety of camera shots of the different settings within Act 1, Scene 1. For example, there are long shots of the whole city with the two main buildings belonging to each of the families. There is also the use of panning in order to show as much as the setting as possible. During Act 1, scene 1, In Luhrmann’s version of the play, the Capulets and Montagues first meet in a gas station. In Shakespeare’s version, the Montagues and Capulets meet in the narrow streets of Verona. For a modern viewer, a gas station is a more believable location for a fight.
Many gang wars, in both theatre and real life, take place in this sort of setting. This location helps to describe the extreme situation of the fighting families. The costume of each of the gangs is another film convention that helps the viewer to feel and understand the setting more. It also helps with characterisation as it becomes easier to differentiate between the two gangs. For example, we see the ‘Montague boys’ wearing Hawaiian shirts and sporting unnaturally coloured hair whereas the ‘Capulet boys’ are wearing smarter clothes with metal-heeled boots and leather jackets.
These are some drastic changes from traditional Elizabethan clothing of the time that have been changed to appeal to modern audiences. There is also the clothing of the general public that assists with the setting. People around Verona Beach are generally wearing casual or smart clothes that you would expect to see in a modern city environment today. This makes the setting as a whole more believable to the modern audience and they will also be able to relate to it better. The use of extraordinary colours also helps with the setting as well as characterisation.
Colours such as purples, pinks and yellows are bright and vibrant colours that we wouldn’t usually expect to see in a Shakespearean piece. However, these colours constantly come up, for example the families’ cars, the clothes, the beach settings, people’s hair colour and more. These colours do not just grab the audience’s attention, they are bright colours you would not usually associate with nature and would generally associate with objects such as childish toys. All of this suggests not that the adolescents and adults in the film are childish, but that many of the feelings and habits of childhood have shifted their location.
After all, most of the main characters in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet are actually quite young still so the colours remind us that even though the actors may seem older, they still have a sense of youth attached to them. There a number of themes that appear in Act 1, Scene 1 from both the film and play version of Romeo and Juliet. Some of these themes have not been explored in much detail during this scene but are explored in a more in-depth way as the film progresses. Some themes that are explored during this scene include love versus hate and the theme of fate.
Within Act 1, Scene 1 there is also a lot of symbolism that helps to convey the overall messages of the story. The theme of love versus hate is a theme where the ‘hate’ aspect is the only aspect that is properly explored. Later in the film, once we have had the meeting of Romeo and Juliet, we start to see much more of the love aspect of the theme. However, in this particular scene, we see the verbal fighting as physical fighting with weapons showing hate. Tybalt is a good representation the aspect of hate. He is the one who always wants to draw his weapon and fight.
Tybalt is the introducer of fire in the film when he drops his cigarette onto the petrol covered floor. Fire is symbolic of evil, thus reinforcing that Tybalt is evil. The petrol station’s name is symbolic as it is called ‘Phoenix’, which is the name for a mythical bird that rises from ashes when burnt. Cameras regularly flash to a sign from the petrol station that says ‘Add more fuel to your fire. ’ As each character comes into the scene it gets progressively tenser until the fight breaks out. This fight, metaphorically speaking ‘adds fuel to the fire’ that is the overall strife between the two families.
The fuel is then literally set on fire and the petrol station goes up into flames. We also see a newspaper article that is burning with headlines ‘Montague VS Capulet, 2nd Brawl. ’ The burning of this is symbolic of the destruction that the two families are causing and it informs us that this is now their third civil brawl. The Prince then comes in to explain that it is their third and final warning and that the next time there is disturbance amongst the streets, they will be killed as the punishment. The theme of fate is also explored in this scene and throughout the film.
With the prologue, Shakespeare explores the theme of hate by allowing the audience to be a party to his characters destiny. We are told that ‘a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’, meaning literally ‘against the stars. ’ Stars were thought to control people’s destinies. But the prologue itself creates this sense of fate by providing the audience with the knowledge that Romeo and Juliet will die even before the play has begun. This puts the audience in a god-like position from the start of the film, encouraging them to think about fate.
We also see the theme of fate continuously reinforced as we see many religious symbols throughout this scene and in the rest of the movie. We see religious images such as crosses, the statue of Christ, churches and the Virgin Mary. All of these objects contribute to the theme of fate and destiny. They are so important in contributing to this theme as it shows that people believe that God control your destiny. The large statue of Christ is situated between the two large buildings belonging to the Montagues and Capulets.
This gives the audience the impression that God is the only thing that is preventing them from fighting and effectively killing each other. In Conclusion, the prologue and Act 1, Scene 1 start off the film in a very interesting and different way, that is sure to capture the audience’s attention. Baz Luhrmann had the hard task of adapting William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and transforming it to suit a modern audience. By using a number of different narrative conventions from the original script and adding visual codes and conventions, Luhrmann was able to do this.
Some of the narrative conventions include plot, characterisation, setting, themes and issues and symbolism. Adding to these were the film conventions that include dialogue, written text, costume, colour, use of camera, on screen text and many more. This film as a whole transforms Shakespeare’s writing into a contemporary setting and location, with modern concepts while still keeping the language of Shakespeare alive, making it easier to understand for a modern viewer and more relevant to a modern audience.