Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet(1996) is a modernized version of Shakespeare’s play while still staying true to his original dialogue. Luhrmann uses music and intense, erratic, editing to enhance the drama within the film giving the audience an uneasy feeling as they watch it all unfold.
Up until Act 1, Scene 5
, everything is crazy. Romeo had just taken an ecstasy pill, lights were flashing, the camera is moving all over the place not focusing on one subject for more than a few seconds, and he pulls himself away to sober up. This is when everything slows down and he lays eyes on Juliet for the first time on the other side of the fish tank. It’s almost as though she becomes the calm in this fast paced world of his.
Originally, Romeo spots Juliet from across the ballroom and asks a server who she is, but Luhrmann has them both spot each other at the same time. This choice makes the moment when Romeo finally grabs Juliet’s hand so much sweeter because it is shown that she was longing to be able to speak with him as well. There is a sense of need and urgency as they share their first kiss, trying to avoid her mother at the same time. This perfect moment comes to a halt when they both realize who they are, yet it is not enough to keep the lovers away from each other for very long.
The next defining moment takes place after Romeo and Juliet wed. Act 3, Scene 1, the deaths of Mercutio and Tybalt. Luhrmann sticks pretty close to how it is written in the play. The camera almost becoming a person as Mercutio pushes forward toward Tybalt making you feel as though you are right there in the crowd with them. As Romeo enters, Tybalt empties his gun of all but one bullet ready for a duel, but Romeo tries to rectify the situation as Tybalt and his people stand there confused, only to become more enraged as Romeo goes to leave. Tybalt attacks Romeo, and as he is down on his knees surrendering his gun in an act of solidarity, this just enrages him more and he beats Romeo further as the music becomes more intense and the situation starts to worsen. Mercutio literally jumps in finally getting the upper-hand on Tybalt, all this is going at a fast pace until Romeo stops him from the final blow and Tybalt stabs Mercutio with a shard of glass and everything starts moving in slow motion. This shows how serious the wound is before you actually see it. When Mercutio declares “a plague on both your houses” lightning strikes and a storm rolls in giving his curse a greater emphasis.
Instead of Tybalt coming back for more, Luhrmann cuts to a shot of Juliet talking to herself about how in love she is with Romeo and how great he is then immediately cuts to Romeo chasing down Tybalt, making him flip his car in the process. This choice in movement shows how one person can have two very different sides to them. Romeos heartache and rage overtake him as he grabs the gun that Tybalt is holding in his face, screaming, then knocking him over and shooting him in the chest. It is at this death that the sky opens up washing the blood off the streets of Verona.
The end of the play is the most heart wrenching part of it all. He cuts out the part of Shakespeare where Romeo kills Paris opting for a police chase instead; this shows how much of a wanted man he is and Romeos desperation to see his love once more. The scene becomes frustrating as Romeo talks about his love not realizing the twitches of her waking, taking the poison just as she is able to process what is happening. Romeo and Juliet are able to share one last kiss before he takes his final breath leaving Juliet alone to decide what to do next. The music goes quiet, and the gunshot is the only thing heard, until the music picks back up and we move into happy flashbacks of the couples love.
Luhrmann is an amazing director and his style of editing and music choices really seemed to enhance the play. He brings a sense of turmoil and urgency with his erratic editing around the feuding families but a peacefulness between the lovers making this adaptation perfect for teenagers or those who aren’t Shakespeare lovers.