For most people in high school, Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare is required reading. Sometimes more than once. Somehow, whenever it came time to read aloud in class, I always ended up with the part of Romeo. It certainly wasn’t for my striking good looks but apparently for my charming voice. As a result, I remember most of Romeo’s part to this very day. But would I be able to enjoy a fairly recent adaptation of Romeo and Juliet directed by Baz Luhrmann? We shall see.
Somewhere in Verona Beach there are two families who struggling for power, the Montagues and the Capulets. The blood feud has continued for years between Ted Montague (played by Brian Dennehy) and Fulgencio Capulet (played by Paul Sorvino). But everybody from their wives, Caroline Montague and Gloria Capulet (played by Christina Pickles and Diane Venora respectively) to their families have felt the impact.
Several Montague boys (including Jaime Kennedy with pink hair) pull up to a local service station, led by Benvolio (played by Dash Mihok). At the same time, Capulet boys happen to pull up at the same time, led by Tybalt (played by John Leguizamo). A fight breaks out and the gas station goes ablaze. After the chaos slows down, Benvolio and Tybalt are reprimanded by Captain Prince (played by Vondie Curtis-Hall) of the police department.
The captain gives the families a stern warning and that they will forego peace if they do not stop such behavior. Enter, Romeo (played by Leonard DiCaprio) who is a very sad panda because a local girl does not return his affection. Across the pond, we see Juliet (played by Claire Danes) for the first time that we learn is asked to be wed to Dave Paris (played by Paul Rudd). She can’t seem to be convinced by her mother or anybody else to accept the proposal.
However, there is a party a foot at Sycamore Grove hosted by the Capulets. Mercutio (played by Harold Perrineau) has tickets and is trying to convince the Montague boys especially Romeo to go to the occasion. Romeo willingly takes a blue pill (no, the red one!) and goes on a bizarre acid trip which leads him to the party. After he sees things that he can’t unsee (highlighted by Mercutio going drag queen), he goes to the bathroom to clear his head.
Romeo admires the fishtank on the way out and he sees Juliet through the glass on the other side. It is love at first sight, but before anything further can happen, Juliet is whisked away by her nurse (played by Miriam Margolyes) to participate in a dance with Paris. During the dance, Romeo gazes at Juliet intently until he is spotted by Tybalt, in devil horns. (Can anybody actually take John Leguizamo seriously in anything he does?)
The Capulet father, Fulgencio does not wish to make a scene with the Montague boy. But when Tybalt and Fulgencio aren’t looking, Romeo steals away Juliet and they sneak away into an elevator where they passionately kiss. After some further hyjinx in the elevator, again Juliet’s nurse takes her away. At this time is revealed that Juliet is a Capulet and Romeo is a Montague. *gasp* Star-Crossed lovers, oh it is a tragedy. Time to set up the balcony scene.
After the party, Romeo stays behind and finds his way into the courtyard for the infamous scene. After they exchange pleasantries and do things that my momma never taught me about (she gave me a book for pete’s sake and it wasn’t the Joy of Sex either), they decide they need to be together forever. However, they can’t get married in public and must find a discrete way to become a union.
Father Lawrence (played by Pete Postlethwaite) agrees to marry the couple in a secret ceremony attended by Juliet’s nurse and Romeo’s friend Balthasar (played by Jesse Bradford). The problem now here becomes how will Romeo and Juliet’s marriage survive in a never-ending feud of competing families who are determined to make sure the other suffer until the end of their days?
The short answer, it won’t. Darn it, I just spoiled a 400 year old play. There is probably one British guy about 43 years old who just called me a bloody bugger for ruining the story. He will get over it. I might feel guiltier if I didn’t feel like I just swam for the last two hours in the land of obnoxious Shakespeare play interpretations. Did I mention that Jaime Kennedy has pink hair?
It’s not that I have anything against modern interpretations of classic plays. Quite the opposite actually. It is that I have issue against bastardizations where they have the younger members of the two families dressing up like they are at some rave party and waving guns around. Then those kids still feel like reciting the lines as the exact same they were 400 years ago. Most modern interpretations would change the language to fit the time period. Not here. As a result, it comes off like a weird high school play.
Furthermore, it feels like Romeo and Juliet, the characters are in a different movie. They play their parts completely straight while everybody else is a complete goof. Sure, some of the characters should be there for comic relief, but not the whole cast minus the two leads. Romeo and Juliet is the greatest tragic comedy of all time, but it is also possibly the greatest love story (except for the Princess Bride) too. Here, it feels completely awkward all the way up until the fatal end.
The video is in 2.40:1 widescreen presentation in 1080p resolution. When I was reading the back of the case/slipcover, I paused when I read that this was restored from the film negative and went over frame by frame by the director. At its breath, that is a very far reaching claim with very high expectations. It was my pleasant surprise that this high reaching claim was met and exceeded.
Color is simply alive here. This film uses color everywhere to express moods, feelings and Mercutio’s wardrobe. Therefore, pinks, whites and blues are gorgeous and amazing. Verona Beach is portrayed as a glitzy vacation spot where places and people come alive. The thing is you can feel that in every shape and form. It’s a blooming shame that there wasn’t a good movie behind it.
For the audio portion, we get a 5.1 English DTS-HD track. (It also includes a 5.1 Mix for Spanish and Portuguese as well as a 2.0 Mix for French). Much like the video track, the audio here certainly sizzles and all of your speakers will get a workout. Shoes jingle, conversations happen all around you, and there is an ample use of all sorts of sound effects. Dialog is clear (which it has to be to follow the Shakespeare script) and the audio is nothing short of amazing. Subtitles are included for English, Portuguese and Spanish.
- Shaking Up Shakespeare: Picture in Picture Mode with Audio Commentary: This commentary is offered in two ways, one with picture in picture showing photos from behind the scenes as well as alternate cuts of the scene and the other as a standard commentary. The picture in picture mode shows a lot of neat shots including billboards of various name brands they conjured along with tidbit pieces of information. The actual commentary includes Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald McAlpine, and Craig Pearce. It is pretty technical but there are also moments of levity. Solid commentary.
- Uncut Footage from the Bazmark Vault 13:54 : Five parts are included here and these serve as behind the scenes footage. We get footage from Leo and Claire’s first kiss which has them in the buff under a blanket. It feels oddly creepy and voyeuristic. Also included is shots from the Beach Scene as well as Uncut Rehearsal footage. There are a lot of good stuff here but I was honestly hoping for some deleted scenes here too.
- Romeo + Juliet: The Music 57:25: Divided into four parts, this starts out with the Greenlight meeting where they pitched the musical composition to this movie. At the time, people were pretty nervous about the pitch since the movie had a small budget and even less to spend on musical composition. However, due to the incredible success of the movie, the two albums for the show went on to sell 8 million copies. Other parts include Quindon Tarver, a teenage boy who really belted When Doves Cry as well as a trip to the mixing studio.
- Director’s Gallery 34:00 : Six parts here, footage of the director behind the scenes making some magic. Shows more of the Greenlight meeting as well as how he got some of the shots he did. They also talk some about the backlash and praise the movie got.
- Director of Photography Gallery 6:57: Divided into five parts, this focuses on special shots that the DOP had to do in order to get some of the best scenes as special as possible. Good if you are interested in camera tricks or location tricks.
- Interview Gallery 15:32: Split into eight parts, this interviews such people as stars Leonardo and Claire but also Co-Writer Craig Pearce and Editor Jill Bilcock.
- Marketing 1:31: Nothing really here except for the International Trailer which isn’t much at all.
Remakes can be a staple of Hollywood Cinema. After all, there can only be so many original ideas before you figure out new ways to show off the same trick. However, when you see something as epic as Romeo and Juliet on the bill, you hope the film inside brings something new to the table that is not only interesting but faithful to the original. Romeo + Juliet is unfortunately not that movie. We get a film tries to be bold but spends more time at going over the top than keeping true to Shakespeare’s vision.
On the flipside, the disc is nothing short of amazing. The audio and video are reference quality that rival current blockbusters which is all that more impressive when you consider the 9 1/2 million dollar budget. The extras are vast and will provide most movie goers who enjoyed the film a weekend worth of tidbits to peruse. In short, if you enjoyed the movie, this is the edition to get. But for people looking for some authentic Shakespearean tragedy, stick to the older classic films which stay closer to the vision that the playwright intended.