Baz Luhrmann (Strictly Ballroom) takes a shot at reinventing Shakespeare's story of star-crossed lovers as a visual pastiche inspired by MTV imagery, Hong Kong action-picture clichés, and Luhrmann's own taste for deliber... more »ate, gaudy excess. The result is explosive chaos, both in terms of bullets and visual sensibility, which some may find impossible to stick with for more than a few minutes. Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes play the leads, though not with much distinction, while Pete Postlethwaite makes a huge impression as this movie's version of Friar Laurence. The film is successful in spots, but overall its fever-dream game plan is difficult to ride out. --Tom Keogh« less
"I think a lot of reviews of this film have been unduly harsh. I have had a fair amount of Shakespearean exposure (I was an English major in college), and I am actually impressed with Baz Luhrmann's interpretation of the text. Some people are so blinded by the seeming erudite stuffiness of Shakespeare's work that they forget what this play is really about. `Romeo and Juliet' is a teenage melodrama! With that said, this film works well.
* To begin with, Leonardo DiCaprio and Clare Danes come off just right as the "star-crossed lovers." They handle their lines - perhaps - a bit awkwardly, and their key scenes are overacted. But as far as I'm concerned, their somewhat `poor' performances are actually perfect. In the reality of the play - Romeo and Juliet's behavior (though arguably passionate) is less than genuine. They are young, fickle, and full of hormones, and what might seem like acts of heart-felt love and desire are actually just curious explorations of subversive behavior.
* Many have lamented that the dialogue in this film (essentially) mirrors the original text ... but changing the text (in any major way) would be a huge mistake. Shakespeare's plays are not famous because they have a great story line - they are famous because of the unbelievable writing. It would, therefore, be pointless to modernize the dialogue. Shakespeare's plays ARE the dialogue.
* Although this film - compared with other renditions of the play - is decidedly modern, certain elements do contribute to a sort of timely ambiguity. The cars, guns, drugs, and music suggest 1996 (or thereabouts), whereas the gothic mansions, the ball, the feuding families, and the oppressive presence of the Church seem somewhat anachronistic. I think this ambiguity speaks to the universality of Shakespeare's work. Does it even matter when this play takes place? Have hot-blooded teenagers changed that much over the years?
* Lastly, the ambience of Lurhmann's film is intoxicating: zipping, choppy cinematography, an over-abundance of gaudy electric lighting, and an intriguing soundtrack. It's very titillating in an adolescent sort of way. Anyone who does not find the scene - where DiCaprio is dragging on a cigarette against an orangey sunscape, with Radiohead's "Talk Show Host" slowly pulsing in the background - sentimentally sexy - well, you must not remember what it's like to be 15.
All in all, this is an ingenious approach to a classic text - not to mention an entertaining film."
Crisp, fresh and breathtaking; this reimagining stands at th
Andrew Ellington | I'm kind of everywhere | 01/31/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)
"William Shakespeare's classic `Romeo + Juliet' is probably one of the most influential pieces of literature ever recorded. You can feel its presence and influence breathing life into just about everything we read, watch or listen to these days. With a tale this classic, this important to modern cinema it becomes something a bit wary to tackle it at its core and `remake' it from scratch. One may be a tad hesitant to embrace its new shape and form and rightfully so. When you look at the track record for remakes it becomes apparent that in general what was once golden should be left well enough alone. In Romeo + Juliet's case though this is a reimagining so magical it surpasses the original and becomes a momentous piece in the history books of cinema. Yes, Baz Luhrmann single handedly breathes a whole new life into this adaptation, handing to his audience a masterful and experimental film that never lets us out of its grasp.
The first thing that Luhrmann did right was stick to the original text. A lot of people initially balked at the fact that the dialog was not updated along with the setting but I felt that artistically it was a much grander feat to have the original dialog kept intact. The fact that each and every actor slips into this way of speaking fluently and without issue is an ode to some great talent indeed. No one seems out of place of phoning it. Each and every actor handles the difficult wording marvelously. The next thing Luhrmann did right was trashing his setting. What I mean by this is that he didn't go the easy route and make this posh and beautiful but rather he played everything down, creating an almost gritty and dirty feeling to the surroundings. This is the future and the future is bleak.
The best thing that Luhrmann did though was casting Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes in the lead roles. At the time DiCaprio was slowly becoming a credible actor and Danes was just becoming known. Neither of them were quote-unquote household names or completely bankable yet but they both had proven they could act. Here though we get to see how well. To this day I still firmly believe that this is Leonardo's finest performance. Both he and Danes masterfully command their characters. Never has Romeo or Juliet felt so alive, so real and so relatable. Their tragic love affair is so enthralling, so captivating and so breathtaking. There are moments between them of pure beauty and strength that I'm appalled their performances didn't garner more awards attention.
The rest of the cast is equally as impressive, especially the likes of Harold Perrineau (of `Lost' fame) who plays Romeo's best friend Mercutio. His performance is outlandish and flamboyant and adds a lot to the atmosphere of the film. John Leguizamo is memorable as Tybolt, Juliet's cousin, and Pete Postlethwaite is wonderful as Father Laurence. Paul Sorvino stands out for me as Juliet's father Fulgencio Capulet. His performance is brutal and intense and sends chills down my spine in scenes.
`William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet' has never looked as good as it does here, telling the story of forbidden love and tragic circumstance that brings two families to their knees and teaches us a valuable lesson about forgiveness and tolerance. Baz Luhrmaan outdoes himself here, delivering a modern twist on a genuine classic complete with a beautiful color palate and an impressive soundtrack that adds layers of emotion, whether soft and touching or crisp and exciting (one reason this `Music Edition' is so worth the upgrade). It's not very often that the remake stands above its source material but Luhrmann's masterpiece is just that film."
Special Edition is SPECIAL indeed! Great for thy collection!
The Blue Raja | MD, USA | 03/26/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This review is STRICTLY for the SPECIAL EDITION DVD of the film. To me it's already a given as to what a masterpiece Baz Luhrmann has put to the screen. The special edition gives you all the treats you need. I'm not talking about still pages of text to read! I'm talking RAW footage of DiCaprio & Danes practicing their lines, many, many production scenes that leave your mouth open like, "oh, my gosh, I had no idea they had to go through all of that trouble just to shoot that brief scene"-kind of stuff, and best of all, an early treatment (pitch) for the film that was shot in Australia w/ DiCaprio in some alley ways. Rather lengthy, not just a mini-clip, Amazing! Insightful interviews of Baz Luhrmann; why do Shakespeare, how difficult it was to sell the idea to Hollywood, why he made the movie in the style that it is, etc.). If you have the original DVD & are debating, go for it! The only disappointing thing was the production value of Claire Danes' interview... DiCaprio's interview is well produced & lit on a candle-filled set, then Claire Danes is terribly keyed (matted) over a few still images (her hair buzzing & breaking through the digital distortion). The menus are nicely done, not animated over-kill. This is an anamorphic for those who have the 16:9 TVs. I haven't even listened to much of the commentary yet, but it sounds very informative & interesting so far. Perhaps the most important thing for those who did not like the film or were unsure, is Luhrmann's explanation of why Shakespeare should have been handled the film the way he did (the intense, in-your-face MTV-like editing / modern settings, etc)... truly both men are very visionary & talented."
English teacher gives this DVD an A-
H2Steacher | South Gate, CA USA | 05/22/2007
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Let me begin my review by addressing those who are undecided whether to purchase this version (Luhrman) or the Zeffirelli. There seems to be a bias amongst educators (bordering on the arrogant) that the Luhrman version is somehow less "authentic" than the Zeffirelli. Simply performing "Romeo and Juliet" in doublet and hose, however, does not make it any more "Shakespearean". In fact, I would argue that modern-dress is more in keeping with the spirit of the original as Elizabethan drama had no elaborate sets or costumes; doublet and hose WERE modern-dress in Shakespeare's time. If we discount "updating" as a reason to discount the Luhrman version (which in my experience is invariably the excuse), we have to judge the movies on how well they illuminate/connect/inspire Shakespeare's words for our students. In my opinion, the Luhrman version does a better job of this than the Zefferilli.
First, the updating works (for the most part). My students clearly understood gangs and rivalries; presenting the Montagues and Capulets as such, eliminated questions as why the two families hate each other or how the feud got started (answers which are outside the text). The guns and cars appealed to the boys; the love and romance appealed to the girls. My students could see themselves in the context Luhrman provided; they could relate to what was going on screen as present and relative, not merely events from 400 years ago.
Secondly, casting famous actors (DiCaprio and Danes) as the leads hooks many of my students at the beginning. They watch the movie BECAUSE Leonardo DiCaprio is in it, but soon the magic of the Bard's words (which they struggle to follow at first) keeps them interested. DiCaprio IMO is uneven; some scenes he performs better than others. Danes's performance (other than her fake crying in the Capulet vault) was generally strong and very believable; her words did not seem "acted" but rather natural. The supporting cast was also very good with Tybalt and Benvolio standing out.
There were some scenes that didn't work well for me. The Capulet ball in particular was strange. Mercutio came dressed in drag and this (unfounded) homosexual subtext was amplified by him prancing around on the stairs with some Chippendale dancers. Just plain strange. Also, the Queen Mab speech was weird and luckily cut short; Luhrman did try to tie it into the events as a sort-of intoxicated rambling at the "pre-party" (complete with Ecstasy) before Romeo crashes the ball. Another weak performance was Lady Capulet who played it for laughs (which again I couldn't see from the text), and it was an unconvincing performance played that way. The only time Lady Capulet seemed believable was when she played it serious (Tybalt's death, the argument with Juliet and Capulet). Some students also didn't care for all of the musical numbers, but most liked how Luhrman tried to include contemporary songs into the movie.
Some of the sequencing of scenes are a bit off, but this is a movie students definitely love and get into... which I think is how Shakespeare would want it."
Brilliant, Stunning adaptation
Justaguy | 06/24/2005
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Ok- let me start off with something : I was very skeptical of this movie. I typically don't like remakes or "modernizations" of classics like Romeo and Juliet But I was wrong.
Yes, the movie is modernized, but then again, it isn't. The use of Shakespeare for the script instead of a modernized script while at the same time updating Verona to the present day feels very dreamlike, like it isn't even happening on the planet.
DiCaprio and Danes were perfect for these roles. I've seen too many movies from R&J and there was simply NO chemistry. That's not the case here. The lines aren't arch reproductions, "same old same old" stuff. The lines are spoken with frightening immediacy. This is important, because most remakes of this movie are far too elegant. This version captures the chaotic, euphoric passion of love that simply will not wait or be denied. The lines aren't just spoken, they elbow and push their way on to the screen. This is a major plus.
Claire Danes is simply gorgeous. Hers is a unique kind of beauty. Not typical Hollywood fare. Another plus.
The only scenes I had trouble with were the first scene with the Capulet and Montague boys meeting at the gas station, and the first scene with Lady Capulet and Juliet.
I highly recommend this movie because, even though we all know the story, this movie still finds a way to be just as fresh as the first time we read/saw the play.