William Shakespeare’s Romeo And Juliet has been made into two very successful films. In 1968 Zefferellis version was a huge success and in 1997, another version, a very different version was a production from Baz Luhrmann. In this essay I will identify and explain the differences and similarities between the two, using evidence such as quotes from the play to support my ideas. Baz Luhrmann’ s opening prologue is a simple television in the very centre of the screen using only a small space.
With the background left pitch black and a brightly coloured dressed reporter on the screen, her voice is the only sound that is heard leaving the audience no choice but to focus all attention on her, they are immediately drawn to the film. While the prologue is read in a serious American voice from a black lady in the form of a news reporter the audience begin to realise that this is a true story, and everything she says is to be believed just as we do in real life, the news is real. It also brings out its first theme; it’s a modern film.
Using a young black woman as the reporter instead of an old white man which is the stereotyped news reporter and what the audience would expect to be seen shows this is a modern day production. The prologue is then repeated and headlines of the words being read are flashing across the screen using a fast pace and loud, speedy music. More evidence to prove to the audience that it’s a true story. But in Zefferellis version, the prologue is softly read by an old man it’s sounds, who we cannot see, what we can see is a faint town in the background covered by a light layer of smoke.
The camera slowly shows the village, an old village it seems in a drawn effect while the over voice continues, his voice is a flat monotone that will probably bore the audience and not at all capture their attention. While both films run the opening credits in white writing, the fonts are completely different. Luhrmann has used big, bold capital letters that can be clearly read without any confusion. Zeffereillis, on the other hand has used a more joined up font in a Shakespearean style.
I think the effect this has on the audience is quite dramatic, it set’s out the first themes – such as love for Zeffereilli’s version and true for Luhrmanns. The watcher at this point will probably get their first impressions of the film. The prologues in the two films are interpreted in completely different ways. There is no introduction of characters in Zefferllis version of this film, there are lots of people on screen to show it’s set in a public place, this causes confusion and unless the watcher really knows the story of Romeo and Juliet it would be a struggle to acknowledge who is who.
Baz Luhrmann however, just after the prologue introduces all the characters using a natural still clip of the person from the scenes of the film, the clip was usually at an intense point of the film. He introduces them very clearly stating their characters name and their real name in the left hand corner of the screen, the writing is very big and bright and the audience get to see a few minute clips of the intense scenes keeping them interested. I think at this point of this film, the audience would be more interested in Luhrmanns than in Zeffereillis.
Zeffereilli has gone straight into the first scene leaving us to guess and really listen to the dialogue to find out who is who. This could leave the audience confused and not very interested. In Baz Luhrmanns version the watcher is shown who everybody is except for Romeo and Juliet, I think this is to create suspense and keep the audience keen and interested. This has a great effect on the audience, as these are the two main characters and everyone wants to see what they look like.
I think the introduction of characters is the biggest difference between the two films, although there is a similarity, both directors use the same name for the same characters as the original play. Both films use ‘religion’ as one of their themes. This is their only similar theme. Luhrmann shows religion with nuns and crosses shaved into the back of the Capulet heads. He also expresses it through crosses on to the top of buildings, statues of Jesus and very religious music, choir music for example. Zefferelli shows religion by showing a priest walking about the scenes and a church spire in the background.
Other than religion their themes are entirely different. Baz Luhrmann starts with hatred, we see this through the music, it’s loud and fast, we also see it through props, for example guns, and a silver mouth guard engraved with the word SIN. We also see hatred through the tones of voices used for instance they are deep, cold and spoken in a very fast but understandable way. Body language and facial expressions also convey hatred. People are scared and the Capulet’s walk very boldly and step heavily on the ground. Sound effects and music show hatred too.
The sound effects that are used to express it are ghastly screaming and different music is played when each family appear, suggesting they are different. Eighty’s music is played for the Montague’s and western style music for the Capulet’s. They are in contrast, suggesting there is a contrast, difference or conflict between the two families. A complete opposite theme exists in Zefferellis version, love. Love is shown straight away, within the first few seconds, the music is extremely soft relaxing, calm and collected, the voice over is read happily and as if there is going to be an element of peace in this film.
Love is also shown in body language. When the two families are in conflict, it isn’t serious. They are arguing in a very amusing way as if it’s all a joke to them. A Montague puts their arm around a Capulet, out ruling any theme of hatred. Western style is used in Luhrmanns production, even though it’s set in Verona in modern day, the Capulet’s have cigars sticking out of their mouths as if mimicking a straw, and occasionally the music becomes western based. The Capulets also have guns strapped to their belts like cowboys do.
The effect this has on the audience would be portraying them as “baddies” and showing that this scene is serious, it’s battle-like and somebody could get hurt. A big difference between these two films is the setting. One is modern and one is old. Baz Luhrmann uses a modern setting, a petrol station, and modern props such as guns and modern costumes such as tuxedos. These all reflect the time periods in which it was filmed and fashions that were around at the time.
Same with Franco Zefferellis, only his is an old setting, using old props like swords and old costumes such as joker or clown outfits, this film is set in Shakespearean times, suggesting a reason for it’s uses of old props and costumes and old setting which is a market place. Both films open out onto a public place however, where there are other people around, leaving an opportunity to create hysteria when the fight scene breaks out. Luhrmann chose a petrol station and Zefferelli chose a busy market place. Both directors use costumes as indicators, symbols and messages.
They both use colour to present the Capulets and Montague’s, using bright colours and smart costumes. However, there us a difference. Luhrmann uses bright beach-like costumes to represent the Montague’s and black suits for the Capulets. Zefferelli’s is vice versa, he uses clown or joker like costumes to represent the Capulets and smarter darker and more formal costumes to represent the Montague’s, so in one film the Capulets are portrayed as the smarter family and in another they are portrayed as the less formal and the Montague’s are the smartly dressed family.
The effect this has on the audience is they acknowledge who belongs to which family; their costumes are like a uniform, a statement. It makes it a lot easier to understand the film and decreases the chance of confusion. Their props reflect the time periods that they are set in, Zefferelli’s version uses actual swords whereas Luhrmanns version doesn’t, he’s uses guns engraved with the word sword because people today don’t use swords they use guns as weapons. They also use cars instead of horses because this type of transport is appropriate and the more realistic form of transport in the modern world.
The cars are also symbols of style, power and wealth. The number plates are suited to the family in which it belongs; its numbers are also a message. Double zero five were the numbers of the Montague’s number plate, suggesting similarity with double zero seven otherwise known as James Bond and his fighting ability. There are contrasts in the props and costumes but they are only there because of the setting and time periods in which they were filmed; otherwise both directors had the same idea.
Both directors use music and sound effects in their productions. Baz Luhrmann uses fast pace and religious choir music while Zefferelli uses calm, quiet and warming music. The sound effects differ too, although the two films use them quite frequently there are no similarities in the use of sound effects. Baz Luhrmann uses screaming and western style sound effects such as guns being twirled around fingers and hanging signs spinning around. Franco Zefferelli uses horns, trumpets and church bells instead of loud music.
The church bell ringing is a symbol in fact, it’s a warning that something bad is happening, instead of loud and dramatic music being played, the audience hear a constant ringing bell creating tension and suspense. There aren’t many similarities in the music and sound effects; this may be because Luhrmann uses music within the dialogue scenes whereas Zefferlli uses sound effects. There isn’t a lot of music within Zefferlli’s version and in my opinion this decreases tension and suspense ruining some of the plays aspects and making the film not very interesting.
Zefferelli uses a very standard use of camera shots. He uses bird’s eye view for the Princes speech and a long shot when the riot breaks out. As a complete contrast, Luhrmann has used a very wide range of camera shots and angles. Ranging from a very close up on Benvolios and Tybalts face, to fire completely covering the screen to bird’s eye views and slow motion pictures as the lit cigar falls to the floor, which is covered with petrol. This varies the pace of the film and adds to the tension and suspense.
The effect this has on the audience is making them wait for what’s going to happen, keeping them interested and on edge. Both films use bird’s eye view and long shot, this is about their only similarity. The prologues have been cut in both films and most of the language used is exactly the same as the original play. This is a similarity. Zefferelli has added a few lines of dialogue. “Yes, better sir” an added line from a Montague and “You lie. ” An added line from a Capulet.
However, Luhrmanns version has no added words, lines or phrases only the last two lines of the prologue have been left out, except for the fact that there is a swinging post with the words ‘Add more fuel to your fire’ printed on it. This is appropriate as the setting is a petrol station but there is meaning behind it. It could be saying indirectly ‘add more fight to the argument’ suggesting to the audience that something here is going to become dangerous or violent. There are a balanced amount of differences and similarities in this area.
My opinion of these two films is simply based on the director’s use of the above points. I found Franco Zefferelli’s version very hard to understand and as a result I lost interest and was not too bothered about viewing the rest of the film. There was no proper introduction of the characters and the words were spoken in very fast way. However, I liked the fast pace and the music of Baz Luhrmann’s version and found the opening scene very eye catching. There were lots of people in Zefferellis version, which added to the confusion but Luhrmann, boldly introduced them and made me keen and eager to continue my viewing.
In conclusion, there were many differences between these films and not very many similarities, one was a modern film and one was an old film. If the directors had used the same techniques and ideas making them too similar, the films wouldn’t have been so successful and bought out their own style. Each director demonstrated the tragedy of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet equally well; I just preferred Baz Luhrmann’s interpretation, as it was a modern day production and more suited to my predilection.