Romeo and Juliet
In this essay I am going to discuss how Baz Luhrman reaches his audience and establishes mood in his film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. To do this I am going to discuss the difference between the screenplay and Shakespeare’s original text, the genre of the film, the mise-en-scene, lighting, camera shots and soundtrack. Baz Luhrman wanted to reach a teenage audience this is portrayed through clothing, the fast pace action, and the soundtrack. Luhrman may have wanted to reach a teenage audience because there is no other recent film adaptation of Shakespeares’ plays catering for a teenage audience.
Baz Luhrman reaches his audience and establishes mood in the opening credits and first scene of his film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by his use of modernisation of the original text. The genre is communicated to the audience immediately in the opening credits in the screenplay. The prologue from the play is used in the form of a news report. We then hear a voice over that sounds as if he is writing what he is saying. The main points of his speech are shown in the form of newspaper headlines or flashed up on screen.
When we hear the voice over stating the prologue his last fatal line is, “A pair of star-crossed lovers take their life. This is the last sentence flashed on screen before the audience see the characters picture and their name in a freeze frame. Luhrman could have done this to show the audience who the possible main suspects were for the cause of Romeo and Juliet’s deaths. There are shots of the film shown in quick succession which builds to a climax. In these shots are images of shooting, fast cars and police. These all show conflict, action and death i. e. tragedy. As the film progresses, it shows the audience that there are going to be deaths. Also the operatic music we hear becomes faster and faster.
This goes well with the sequence of quick film images helping to create the feeling of tragedy. In the news report there is a picture of a broken wedding ring, this also helps to portray the message of tragedy and heartbreak. In the screenplay Shakespeares’ original text has been adapted to suit the modern audience. This is seen clearly in the first scene at the petrol station. The screenplay shows a Montague biting his thumb at the Capulets, whereas in Shakespeares’ original text, it is a Capulet that bites his thumb at the Montague’s.
The roles may have been reversed because the Montague’s seem childish and the Capulets are more serious. The biting of the thumb is an immature thing to do, therefore suiting the Montague’s. In Shakespeares’ text the Capulets are at fault for starting the fight. In this screenplay both the Montague’s and the Capulets are to blame for the fight. Baz Luhrman has adapted the original text in this way because he wanted to show that both families had involvement in the deaths of Romeo and Juliet, and it was not more the Capulets fault then the Montague’s. They were both at fault.
To get this message across, Luhrman started at the beginning showing continuity. Also certain lines from Shakespeares’ text have been left out of the screenplay. For example, in the original text a Capulet states, “Let us take the law of our sides, let them begin. ” However this is not included in Baz Luhrmans’ screenplay. This maybe because he wanted to make their actions and statements spontaneous. If he had included that line it would have shown that they have thought about their actions, which could then lead to the Montague’s being the cause of the fight.
The film is set in Southern California. The first scene is set in a petrol station; this is so there can be a fire at the end of the scene. The cars both families drive have the first three letters of their family name as the license plate, which would make the audience believe they are wealthy. The Capulets’ car is dark signifying evil, whereas the Montagues’ car is bright revealing their childlike, playful personalities. The Capulet’s guns have their family logo on it and the word ‘sword’ (because it was the term used for gun at that time) as do the Montague’s.
The Montague’s are portrayed in quite a ‘laddish’ manner and come across as harmless. They wear bright coloured clothing, have dyed hair, bald heads, fair complexions, clean shaven skin and behave scandalously. They seem more like boys, rather then men and come across as quite laid back and relaxed. These characteristics show their personality. The Capulet’s have a Latino look about them; they have a darker complexion, dark facial hair, and are stylishly dressed. Stereotypical archetypes (dark meaning villainous).
They have slick gelled back hair which suggests to the audience that they take pride in their appearance and like to display their wealth. With the Montague’s, they do not seem to care what people think and so do not dress to impress. The Capulet’s also have silver heeled boots and one in particular has a silver cap over his top teeth saying ‘sin’. This shows the Capulet’s hypocrisy because they wear Catholic waistcoats. A better example of the Capulet’s hypocrisy is Tybalt who has a picture of God on his waistcoat and says he hates the word ‘peace’.
Because the Capulet’s are conscious of their reputation, they are keen not to be insulted. Tybalt is smoking a cigarette in the petrol station showing rebellious behaviour and a danger to others. Unlike the Montague’s who appear harmless. During the gunfight, the Montague’s continuously fire off target and the Capulet’s shoot accurately and have a stylish handling of their guns, (Tybalt in particular). This along with appearance and behaviour, show the audience aspects of the character and a contrast of personality.
There are a variety of camera shots in the opening credits of the film. There is lots of zoom in and out, when words flash up on screen and fast panning. There are high and low angle shots in a rapid sequence which creates visual excitement; it is very dramatic and almost confusing. Luhrman chose to use these types of camera shots because it escalates to a climax and adds to the mood being created. The first scene is top lit, has a quick fiery pace, uses slow motion when Tybalt drops a match and his cigarette. This creates suspense.
There are lots of close ups used and one of most significant is the close up of the eyes (Benvolio and Tybalt, highlighting their evil intent) before the gunfight. This shoes intensity. Fast moving cameras make it hard to keep up with the action. This affect has been produced via the editing and helped with the formation of mood. Also a comical effect is created when a woman in a car is hitting a Montague in the head with her handbag. This is to try and relax the atmosphere because the scene is so tense. Luhrman has used a steady camera shot to involve the audience into the movie.
This also adds tension as it makes the audience feel as if they are part of the gunfight. The operatic music in the opening credits reaches a climax. In the first scene, the Montague boys have their own introductory music called ‘The Boys’. It is an up beat retro sound revealing their adolescent characters. This caters for the teenage audience Luhrman is trying to reach because it is a modern style of music revealing their adolescent characters. The Capulet’s have a Western type music mirroring a cow boy style to represent their villainous characters.
The soundtracks introducing the two families give the audience a sense of their personalities. The sound effects of the screenplay are Western; this creates a Country and Western style atmosphere and tells the audience there is going to be a gunfight. Also the pan pipes (symbolising the whistling of wind) and the creaking of a rusty sign, indicate a gunfight in the making and create a comical effect to relax the intense atmosphere. When the Montague’s and Capulet’s meet there is complete silence suggesting the starting of a gunfight.
During the gunfight there is a blend between opera and a western style of music, showing equality at that point. In this essay I have explained how Baz Luhrman has reached his audience and established mood in the opening credits and first scene in his film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet by his modernisation of Shakespeares’ original text. I have done this by discussing the genre, the difference between the screenplay and the text, the mise-en-scene, lighting and camera shots and the soundtrack. Baz Luhrman has made clear changes in his screenplay and has produced a successful modernised film of Romeo and Juliet