Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?
To compare the introductions of the Franco Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann films of Romeo and Juliet, I’d like to start with the similarities.
Both Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann stayed true to the original Shakespeare plot and really had the characters following the script word for word. I thought this was a particularly notable attribute. I also noticed how in both films during the fight scene I felt as though I was a part of the action because many point of view shots were shown. As the fight progressed and became more intense, the camera moved more roughly and took many angles.
Then when the fight stopped, both Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann made the characters show their respect for the law. In the Baz Luhrman version this is shown when the police officer is in the helicopter aiming his gun at the two characters fighting and they look up slightly pinching their eyes. Are they simply shielding their eyes from the sun, or is there more to this? I say this because in Zeffirelli’s version a servant is shown at a close up shot, shielding his eyes from the sun and the divine prince.
Also both use the camera to portray the great power of the law. Luhrman shows a high angle shot from the helicopter looking down at the two characters fighting. Zeffirelli uses a low angle shot to look up at the great prince from the point of view of someone who may be in the crowd. This also gives off the feeling of being in the movie as if you were a part of it.
I really liked both introductions and I thought they were both astounding. They were just so different from each other that I didn’t even feel like it was the same plot. Zeffirelli showed his fight scene in a marketplace while Baz Luhrmann had his in a petrol station. And they were set in completely different eras, Zeffirelli set it in the middle ages and Baz Luhrmann set it in what seemed to be a furtureistic kind of set up. You can’t say that Zeffirelli’s version was better then Baz Luhrmann’s or vice versa because they are just too different. Zeffirelli’s version was played out in a very traditional way with the props and set up because it was meant to be the Middle Ages. You also have to consider when the Zeffirelli version was made. For 1968 it is astonishing how Zeffirelli used the camera to show so many aspects of the different emotions of the characters. In the Zeffirelli film, confrontation between the Montagues and the Capulets is courteous, but in a mocking way. Luhrmann shows this completely differently. In his version when the Montagues and Capulets have confrontation it’s quite frantic. This shows especially in the Montague boys. I found it funny how they managed to shout the word “Sir!’ at the end of every sentence.
Another thing I noticed was how Zeffirelli had made the characters wear very extravagant clothes for the Middle Ages, it was very impressive. Baz Luhrmann on the other hand, had his characters wearing kind of punk clothes. Both were very imposing. By simply looking at the clothes of the characters you can establish for yourself a clear statement about the era and the class of wealth that that character is in. This goes especially for the Montagues and Capulets in the Zeffirelli version.
Getting back to the introductions, both Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli chose very suitable introductions for the time and age that the films were set in. Zeffirelli used a voice over or narration in his film to tell you about the history between the Montagues and the Capulets. This gave it a sort of story kind of feel.
Baz Luhrmann had an excellent introduction as well. He showed newspaper articles and headlines while a news reader read them out whish immediately made me interested in the movie because it was just so exciting. Baz Luhrmann then introduced each character individually showing them with first names and telling us about the history between the two fierce families. This also helped to show the aristocracy and class of Montagues and Capulets. Zeffirelli had a slower kind of opening compared to the furious and exciting opening of Luhrmann’s version.
What I especially liked about the Baz Luhrmann version is how it presented the hatred between the two families. He showed the Montagues and Capulets as business empires. Also instead of using swords they use futuristic guns, but when the head of the Montague house is in the car he says “What noise is this” Give me my sword, ho!” but there is a label under the gun that says “Long Sword”.
I think that these films did indeed do justice to the work the Shakespeare wrote in 1595. I honestly think that Shakespeare would have been pleased with the way Zeffirelli and Baz Luhrmann played out Gregory and Sampson’s bawdy conversation at the start of the play; I know I was.
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