Shakespeare’s famous play Romeo and Juliet was first printed in 1597 and was performed, on stage, before Elizabethan audiences. While the speaking parts are faithful to the original. Baz Luhrmann’s 1997 film version is very different because it uses a variety of techniques to appeal to a modern audience which include fashion, setting, sounds, music, visual effects and the styles of editing.
The film opens with a prologue. The prologue uses Shakespeare’s language with a modern context. The prologue has uniquely adapted to a modern audience in various ways including: using the media, print on screen and a voiceover.
The media is represented as a TV news report which is broadcast in a television screen with a black American woman, news reporter. I think Baz Luhrmann is trying to reflect that the film is set in a multi-cultural society by the news reporter being a black American woman. Shakespeare’s original fourteen line sonnet for his Romeo and Juliet play is repeated, as the news that is read by the reporter in the film version. Baz Luhrmann is showing the prologue in the format of a television screen, so it can appeal to a modern audience because in our days we watch the news everyday to provide us with updated information. In our modern days, lives are interrupted by news reports as they are important, also it is a modern day invention that we are familiar with. Shakespeare also used the prologue as news and information to his audiences in the Elizabethan times, so it gave them an understanding of what the play is going to be about. As the news report is being read there is a zooming affect this creates a dramatic viewing. You can sense authority as the television screen is moving closer as it is very formal and serious information being given. This produces impact and gets the modern audience interested.
The director also very cleverly uses a voiceover in the prologue. The voiceover repeats some of the lines read by the news reporter, which I think is to help the audience understand the language. As the voiceover is talking there are words flashed on the screen. The print on the screen states the important words like, ‘In Fair Verona’ which informs the audience where the film is set. From Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet, Baz Luhrmann has changed the setting to a more of a ‘Los Angeles City’ feel by the set being called ‘Verona Beach’ as this will appeal to a modern audience. The prologue uses a variety of images, for example, the voiceover gives auditory images unlike the print on screen which gives a visual image.
I think Baz Luhrmann is using a variety of images, so it is easier to understand and that it can appeal to many audiences. The voiceover has a deep voice and as he is talking his voice level increases, which gets the audiences attention. The voiceover has a similar as voice to the one in movie trailers; I think this is deliberately done by the director because in a cinema a movie trailer is trying to persuade you to watch a film and for it to interest an audience. I think Baz Luhrmann is very cunningly trying to create the same affect. The print on screen is white on black background; this helps and stresses the important words without any distracting pictures and settings. The prologue is also presented with print in newspaper headlines and magazines pictures and headlines. The director has also done this to give another visual aid and to present everyday means of information, as it is also going to appeal to a modern day audience.
Baz Luhrmann is trying to show a parallel between the relative hollowness of the play’s ideology of stars and fate, and the stylish dazzle-ment of the film’s surfaces, manners and clothes as this will interest a modern audience.
In the extract the director has created two very different styles of dress for the two rival families. The Capulets wear dark clothes which give connotations of death. Unlike the Montagues who had seen to be wearing brightly coloured shirts, which implicates that they are wild but yet more relaxed then the Capulets. The Capulets seem to be more smart and formal as they are dressed in black and wearing cowboy boots. However, the Montagues seem to be wearing casual open Hawaiian shirts, with baggy trousers and trainers, which tell us that they ‘like the sight of their own body,’ if you will. Luhrmann is trying to show how the styles of dress reflect their personality. The Capulets hair seems to be at more of a mature age unlike the Montagues, for example, the Capulets have facial hair and goatees, like Abra and Tybalt. While the Montagues have more adventurous hair styles for example, the Montague boys have pink spiky hair and Benvolio also has blonde spiky hair. This gives the impression that the Montagues are younger.
I think the director has put a variety of styles for the families to gain an interest from the audience as in modern days fashion and styles of dress are very important. The Capulets seem to be more religious as they are wearing crosses, shirts with the Jesus picture, earrings and other symbols on their body. The symbolisation of Christ is more of a statement to the world for the Capulets rather than a genuine religious feeling as they are shooting and killing people, Tybalt says: ‘peace, peace I hate the word’. This does not give the impression that the Capulets are big Christian thinkers rather than showers. The Montagues appear to wear necklaces that look like dog tags, which American soldiers wear. I think they wear these necklaces because as like a soldier defends and attacks the director is trying to portray the same image for the Montague boys. They also wear sunglass whilst driving their brightly yellow sports convertible car, not like the Capulets car which is a blue saloon. Baz Luhrmann is trying to emphasize the differences in the families by their clothes, hair and accessories. Luhrmann is also doing this to help the audience identify either the Montagues or the Capulets and help the audience have a further understanding of what they are like.
When the Capulets and Montagues fight scene appears they hold guns called ‘Sword 9mm’. This is very cleverly been adapted by the director because in Shakespeare’s time there wouldn’t be guns there would only be swords so when Benvolio says: ‘put up your Swords’, he’s actually stating the guns brand. When the petrol station scene appears there are many devices that capture the viewer’s eye for example, ‘Phoenix gas’ billboard, which has a very ironic slogan ‘Add more fuel to your fire’ this is ironic because the petrol station explodes. In addition there are many other presentational devices like logos and slogans which are used, for instance, ‘Hark communications’ which mean listen. Furthermore, ‘Lamour’ which means love in French coincidently has the same design as the coca cola logo. I think Luhrmann has used these various devices because it reminds the audience and makes them feel familiar with modern things such as, billboards which in the present day of life we see every day.
Baz Luhrmann has used a range of camera shots, angels and editing to enhance the films presentation. At the beginning, when the news is being read, the camera zooms into the television screen as the news reporter is speaking. When the reporter has finished the news, the shot zooms into the TV screen extremely fast and uses a wipe shot. A wipe shot is a image that is wiped off the screen showing the next image. Luhrmann is trying to attract the audience’s attention as the camera shot is zooming inwards and wiping different shots out. There are many establishing shots when it is showing the setting of Verona, as the director is trying to show the audience where the action is going to take place. When the voiceover is talking there are many long shots to show the surroundings from a distance; the long shot shows two tall buildings one with the name Montague and the other Capulet with a statue of Christ in the middle. I think the director is using this type of long shot to show that the two families are business rivals as we can see the two skyscrapers, which creates impact and suspense for the audience.
Another example of a long shot is when Tybalt is shooting Benvolio from a distance. In addition there are many angle shots when the prologue is taking place for example, there are high angels taken from above showing the helicopter flying over the city. Also there is a panning shot were you can see the scene from left to right and top to bottom; this is shown when the voiceover is speaking and is showing the location of the city. As the prologue is being said there are medium close-ups to show the headlines in newspapers and magazines. The director has used this close-up so you can be aware of what is written and focus on the scene. In addition, there are many freeze frames which make you pay centre of attention, on the characters name and face.
Freeze frames are when an action is stopped, creating a still image for example, in the film when it shows ‘The Montague Boyz’ name and faces. Baz Luhrmann has done this so it grabs the audience’s attention, helps identify the character and helps focus on the scene, so the viewers can understand the language. There is also another establishing shot when the Montagues reach the petrol station; this is to show where the action is now going to take place. There are also many close-ups in the extract which show the actors head and shoulders; this is used when introducing the characters. Furthermore there are extreme close-ups which are shots that show the face from just above the eyebrows to below the mouth. Extreme close-ups are used when Abra is speaking to show his teeth. The extreme close-up is used to put focus and emphasize what he is saying. Baz Luhrmann uses these various shots so you can see the reactions, expressions, emotions and focus on what they are saying so it can grab the audience’s attention.
The different sounds, music and voiceovers the director has used to create several dramatic effects. The music starts in a very classical and opera manner. Meaning there are many violins, pianos and other classical instruments playing. The opera music starts as from when you can see the religious Jesus statue. As you can hear the violin strings playing it builds up a sense of suspense and a dramatic feeling for the audience. I think Baz Luhrmann has used this type of music to give the audience the oppression of a rich and powerful culture to introduce both families. The volume of the music is very loud to grab the attention of the audience. When the audience is introduced to the Montague ‘Boyz’ the music changes to techno rock which is played in their car radio.
I think Luhrmann has used this style of upbeat and loud music because it gives the audience an indication of the characters personalities. When the Capulets appear on the scene the music alters to a western cowboy mode. I think Luhrmann has used this western type music like they do in ‘spaghetti westerns’ because it gives the audience a sign that there is going to be action taking place. Furthermore, before the fight scene happens the music suddenly stops and there is silence; this builds up tension and makes the audience thinks something is going to happen. Baz Luhrmann has used these different types of music for both the Capulets and Montagues so the audience focus on the scene whilst listening to the change of music.
In the extract there are many sound effects and voiceovers to enhance the film reverberation. For example, the helicopters show the audience that the film is set in an urban city. Also the screeching tyres, crunch of metal, the car horns and brakes are used as sound effects as the Capulets enter the petrol station to attract the attention of the audience. The voiceover has a strong, deep voice which grabs the notice of the audience.
The voiceover has a comparable voice to a movie trailers tone; Luhrmann has intentionally done this because like a movie trailer is trying to persuade you to watch a film and attract an audience, Luhrmann is trying to create the same effect. As Abra appears in the petrol station he drops a match and grinds it with his feet. Luhrmann has done this to create a moment of drama and suspense. In addition as the fight scene appears at the petrol station the volume increase so we can hear the gun shot pistols, wind blowing and the squeaking of the sign ‘Add more fuel to your fire’. The director has used these effects during the fight scene because it is noisy and disturbing so it makes the audience alert. Furthermore the director has used these several effects to take hold of the audience’s attention and to connect the action taking place to the music and effects used.
Luhrmann is only doing what Shakespeare did four-hundred years ago, retelling a popular story through his own eyes. Luhrmann has presented us with some differences from Shakespeare’s original idea, but still keeps the story intact. Ironically, the Elizabethan language that Luhrmann decided to keep in his film was one of the main aspects that made the play inaccessible to a modern audience. Luhrmann breaks the language barrier through the modern actions, gestures, clothing, cars and weapons. We can see these aspects in the first eight minutes. Baz Luhrmann does this so the audience feels very comfortable with everything going on the screen for it is all familiar and easily understandable through the interpretations of the film makers.