William Shakespeare used his remarkable talent to delight his audiences for over 400 years. Of his many splendid plays, perhaps none is more popular than “Romeo and Juliet”, the timeless tale of a pair of star-crossed lovers and their family strife. There have been many movie adaptations of this world’s most tragic love affair, but none had brought out the true passion of the story as successfully as Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet”. This film is an amazing feat of imagination. The characters speak Elizabethan verse, but the setting has been shifted from the chivalrous, swashbuckling sixteenth century Verona to the twentieth-century “Verona Beach” of tropical heat and lethal competition. Luhrmann’s film provides the audiences with an excellent example of the themes of family conflict and ill-fated love, particularly in Act 3 Sc.1, when Romeo is banished from Verona, and Act 1 Sc.5, when the star-crossed lovers initially met. This will be proven by examining the scenes through a look at the changes of cinematography, language, music and plot of this outstanding adaptation of the world most well-known love story.
Act 3 Sc.1 is about unnecessary deaths and family strife. It is where most people believe the turning point of the story. Although in other scenes, the themes were usually contorted slightly in many ways, but the themes of Act 3 Sc.1 are definitely presented as the original play. Nonetheless, there were many small changes of the details in the scene, such as the setting, plot and some of the lines. Also many things were added, such as the outstanding cinematography and the very emotional music, but only to emphasise on the tragedy of the scene, which Luhrmann has succeeded to do.
The setting of the scene is the very public Verona Beach. As Luhrmann has in any another scenes of the movie, the uses of colour were plenty. Right from the beginning, we see the effects of the colours. The sky is a rich mixture of orange and yellow while the sea is a dirty brown, which creates a very insecure feel for the audiences.
As this is the scene where everything goes wrong, Luhrmann decided to use a little “Pathetic Fallacy” to add to the disaster. Pathetic Fallacy is the attribution of human emotions or characteristics to inanimate objects or to nature. For example, sunshine means happiness, contentment, and peace. On the other hand, storm means anger, chaos, discontentment and confusions. Through their different types of literature works, it seems Elizabethans strongly believed in Pathetic Fallacy. That was another reason why Luhrmann has chosen to use it in the play. In this particularly scene, the use of Pathetic Fallacy appears several times. The beginning of the scene is an example. As Benvolio advises Mercutio to leave the beach, but dark clouds start moving in, sound of thunder arises. This is a foreshadowing of something bad is about to happen, using Pathetic Fallacy. Other use of Pathetic Fallacy, such as when Tybalt affronts Mercutio by saying “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo”. Clouds are getting darker, and wind are getting stronger; a storm was coming, and the fight was clearly about to begin. This use of Pathetic Fallacy delivers the tension between the Montagues and the Capulets to the audiences and creates the excitement for them as well.
Luhrmann’s unique way of framing the shots is a big component of successful recreate of the agitated and tragic atmosphere of this scene. The beginning of the scene is a perfect example. Mercutio is firing at the sea, and Benvolio sits on the lifeguard-seat and watches Mercutio. Luhrmann frames both Montagues boys from a far angle, where the audiences can see the dark clouds moving in, and the waves angrily clash into the land. The camera then jumps to Mercutio, and presents his satisfaction. The camera moves to Benvolio as he speaks. When the Capulets’ car enter the scene, the camera gives Benvolio a sudden extreme close shot of Benvolio. So close, that one can see fear in his eyes. His detailed facial expression also reinforces his dread.
Another great use of framing in this scene is when Tybalt affronts Mercutio by saying “Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo”. This part of the scene, creating tension is important. Pathetic Fallacy is already in use, so to create more pressure, the camera first focus on Mercutio, as he slowly turns around. He then runs toward Tybalt tries to get a hold of him. The camera moves the shots between the two furious men. Everything quickly passes by, which gives an impression of chaos, and tension. Tybalt and Mercutio stop, and prepare for a duel. Both Montagues and Capulets look very tense; no one knows what is going to happen. The camera quickly jumps from one person to another, creating a tension for the audiences as well.
The language is one of the most important aspects of the play. In the movie, although the dialogue is strictly Shakespearean, the text has been edited by Luhrmann to better suit his 21st century audiences. Many scenes have been cut, but he has kept those lines that are most relevant and most pivotal to the story line. Actors do not give stereotypical, theatrical performances, but instead use their own modern style and American accents. In fact, the use of physical gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice provides the audiences with the necessary understanding of the movie. In some situations, lines were cut simply because the audiences would not understand the meanings, at all.
As for Act 3 Sc.1, lines such as “Nay, an there were two such, we should have none shortly, for one would kill the other” of Mercutio, and “An I were so apt to quarrel as thou art, any man should buy the fee-simple of my life for an hour and a quarter” of Benvolio, have no tremendously important attribution to the understanding of the play, it is also difficult to understand, and it have been cut from the movie. Luhrmann of the same reason also trimmed many other lines.
Music is an important part of film and assists in heightening the emotion of scenes. Every song helps to create the overall tone of a particular scene. Music is especially relevant in Romeo + Juliet and tracks have been carefully chosen. The soundtrack went straight to number one on the music charts. The album remained at this position for several weeks and, subsequently, a second CD was soon released. Many of the great songs and scores are from this scene. During when Tybalt and Mercutio are about to fight drums, and fast music playing in the background helps creates a very tight atmosphere along with the brilliant use cinematography. Mercutio’s death was another part of the movie, which the music was a big contribution to the emotion. The music is getting faster; the notes are getting higher. The emotional and powerful opera music along with the use of Pathetic Fallacy presents the audiences with one of the most tragic part of the movie. The romantic song “Little Star” plays softly in the background as Juliet fantasises about her newfound husband, relevant to her love for Romeo. Combined with a brilliant operatic musical score, the songs in Romeo + Juliet further add to the intensity and genuine emotion of the film.
To suit audiences’ better understanding of the love, and to suit the new setting, many plots have been changed or added. Some of the most effective changes or addictions have heightened the emotions and the excitement of the scene. The part when Romeo is beating up by Tybalt is an excellent example of these changes. Romeo does not want to fight Tybalt due to his love for Juliet. He offers his hand to Tybalt, and asks Tybalt to forgive him. Everyone stands with disbelief, including Tybalt. He clearly does not care, starts to beat up Romeo, who is not going to strike back. In the play, Tybalt did not have a chance to beat up Romeo; before he could, Mercutio challenged him to a duel. However, Luhrmann’s change is clearly more effective. Tybalt was kicking and punching Romeo; Romeo was bleeding so hard, but he did not care. He even hand his gun to Tybalt, crying and screaming, wishing that Tybalt would believe his love for the Capulets. It strongly indicates Romeo’s love for Juliet: he is willing to go through anything, including beat up by his enemy, to be with her. It is definitely one of the most effective changes in this movie.
Another important change made in this scene is Tybalt’s death what is different is that in the play, Tybalt was the one who came back; but in the movie, Romeo is the one after Tybalt. This is an interesting change that Luhrmann made; it changed the audiences’ understanding of the two characters. Romeo, in the movie seemed much more aggressive than he is in the play. In the play, it seemed like the reason Romeo killed Tybalt was because Tybalt came back, and that got him angry. However, in the movie, it seemed like the reason Romeo killed Tybalt because he wanted revenge, he wanted Tybalt pay for what he has done. This change created more sympathy for Romeo from the audiences; it also extinguished some of their hatred towards Tybalt. In the play, Tybalt was portrayed as a murderer, who comes back to the scene of the crime, and reviles at the victim. He obviously deserves to die, and even cut into pieces. In the movie, Tybalt was portrayed as a murderer, running away, and trying not to get himself caught. The Tybalt in the movie deserve to die for killing Mercutio, but compared the Tybalt in the play, he is much less despicable.
One of the most brilliant changes Luhrmann made in this movie is the part before Romeo retaliates Mercutio’s death by killing Tybalt. This part of the scene starts with Act 3 Sc. 2, when Juliet is so deeply in love with Romeo, that she could not stop talking to herself about what an “angel” Romeo was; how sweet he was; and how his existence made the world a better place. With romantic music playing in the background, everything seems so peaceful, and pleasant. Suddenly, the bloody Romeo appears on the screen, looking irate and raging. He is driving the car furiously, chasing and trying to kill Tybalt. A sweet “angel” suddenly turns into a violent gunman; this is a very direct irony. This irony creates much more sympathy towards the young lovers. They are so in love with each other, they would rather die than live without the other one. Yet their family conflict not only prevents them from publicly commit to one another, it also compels one lover to kill the other one’s family, as Romeo kills Tybalt. Luhrmann constantly brings out audiences’ emotions for the characters is a powerful attraction tool that keeps the audiences excited and interested.
One the light note, a modern phenomenon is demonstrated by the use of cars in the lead up to Tybalt’s death. Road rage is a contemporary issue that is all too often associated with tragedy in our world today, and thus leads to inevitable tragedy in the film that results in Tybalt’s death.
Compare to Act 3 Sc. 1, Act 1 Sc. 5 is much more peaceful and joyful. This scene is the initially meeting of Romeo and Juliet, and the beginning of the world most tragic love story. This scene emphasises on Romeo and Juliet’s “love and first sight” and parties. It uses cinematography such as setting, symbolism, custom, and music to present the themes to the audiences.
Luhrmann’s sets in this scene is nothing less than stunning. The Capulet Mansion is large and sophisticated with valuable paintings and furniture emphasising the wealth and status of its owner. From the impressive staircase that graces the downstairs foyer, to the adjoining elevator that bears the Capulet coat-of-arms on its golden doors. The Capulet’s Ball is bold and colourful in order to complement the dazzling spectacle of the party. Luhrmann’s unique settings are spectacular in both detail and appearance and successfully create an eye-catching backdrop that serves to enhance the story of the film.
The Capulet Ball is one of the most outstanding sequences in the movie. Although the decorations are spectacular, and the costumes are magnificent, yet the party is not all just flashy and glamour. The clever use of costumes presents the audiences with individual motivations of the characters. Lady Capulet dresses up as Cleopatra. Queen of Egypt. Cleopatra was a beautiful and defiantly strong-willed woman, much like Lady Capulet herself. Capulet is Julius Caesar, one of the greatest leaders of the Roman Empire, and the perfect costume for a power-hungry magnate. It is very interesting how the similarities between these characters and their costumes. Cleopatra and Caesar were lovers and had a child together, but never married. During the party, Capulet is with a number of women and Lady Capulet is seen kissing Tybalt. The portrays of the characters highlight the insecurity of their marriage. Tybalt’s devil costume is also an obvious portrayal of his significance of the story later on. Tybalt is dangerous and not to be trusted, and it is him who later murders Mercutio, and sets off the tragic chain of events that later lead to Romeo and Juliet’s death. Paris is a US astronaut at the party. The American’s strength and status are parallel to “The Bachelor of The Year” in Verona. But despite all these clever use of costume, it is the two leading characters that are most suitably dressed. Romeo is the shining knight in armour who has been sent to rescue Juliet, and Juliet is a bright angel, innocent and pure, who has been sent to relieve Romeo’s confusion and despair. It could be seen that Juliet is Romeo’s guardian angel, Romeo is her saviour and they cannot survive without the love and guidance of each other. The perfect combination of custom clearly shows Luhrmann’s elaborated thinking and amazingly luxuriant imagination.
A number of important moments of Romeo and Juliet involve water. When we first see Juliet, she is holding her head under water; when Romeo and Juliet first see each other, it’s through an aquarium. Water is such an important symbol of the movie; it represents Romeo and Juliet’s pure love, as pure as water. Water has always been deemed as the pure substance; water has always been used to wash something clean if it was dirty. Their love was also supposed to wash off the hatred between the families. It did, only at the cost of their lives.
The plot changes in this scene are not as effective Act 3 Sc.1. Most of the changes done were to better suit the 21st century culture, such as their first kiss in an elevator. Many lines were moved around to float with the story. One of the most and only effective change made in this scene is the way Romeo find out Juliet’s true identity. They are kissing in the elevator, then the door opens and Nurse stands there and look a bit irate. She grabs Juliet and quickly takes her upstairs, where all the Capulets are. Juliet’s glamour is apparently still hunting Romeo, he does not realise that she was one of the Capulets until she was up there, and grabbed by her mother. His joyful face suddenly turned into disbelief. He does not say any words, but they are written on his face. One can easily see the disappointment in his eyes. The audiences experience a great sorrow and sympathy for Romeo. Luhrmann definitely understands the concept of “showing is much more powerful than telling.” Romeo never said a word about his disbelief, his disappointment, yet it was so clearly understood by the audiences. One of the reasons this movie is so emotional is because Luhrmann lets his visuals do the talking.
The music does a great job of portraying the characters and the situations in this scene At the Capulet’s Ball the singing of the upbeat sound of “Young Hearts Run Free” by Mercutio. We see a flamboyant Mercutio is dancing wildly to the loud, upbeat chorus of the song. This is a joyous song that is a most fitting theme for Mercutio in the film.
The beautiful melody of “Kissing You” marks the initial meeting of Romeo and Juliet, the singer’s deep, soulful voice perfectly captures the instant attraction between the two young lovers. Lyrics such as “But watching stars without you, my soul cries.” and “Touch me deep, pure and true, a gift to me forever.” Makes the beginning of this highly romantic sequence unforgettable.
After Romeo realises Juliet is a Capulet’s; music immediately changes from the romantic singing to the sorrowful orchestra music. In addition to the actor’s great performance, making this one of the most emotional scene of the movie.
Luhrmann is the director of our time. His brilliant use of cinematography, Shakespearean language, music and his own fantastic ideas created this masterpiece. He has created a 20th century version of the greatest love story of all time and, in the end, it is his unique vision that is conveyed to the screen. Baz Luhrmann and his crew made this contemporary retelling of the world’s most tragic love affair makes “Romeo & Juliet” unforgettable.
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