Romeo and Juliet – A student’s review of the modernised Baz Luhrmann Film

This is a very good piece of creative written work by Tom Sichel (S4) who attends our Kip McGrath Education Centre in Balerno, Edinburgh South.  Tom has worked exceptionally hard this year and is creating excellent work in English. Pip Watt who runs the Centre has very high hopes for Tom’s exam results.

Romeo and Juliet

Baz Luhrmann is the director of the modernised film Romeo and Juliet- written by Shakespeare in the 1700s. Luhrmen uses cinematic techniques to help make Shakespearian dialogue understandable to a modern audience. He uses techniques such as camera work, appearance and props to convey the idea of a higher power creating an unchangeable destiny for Romeo and Juliet. The director also uses slow motion shots, low angle shots and close ups to help put across the meaning of Shakespeare dialogue. He also employs symbolism to convey the idea of Romeo and Juliet’s chaotic lives. By the end of this essay I will have shown how well Baz Luhrmann made this Shakespearian play understandable for a modern audience through his use of cinematic techniques.

From beginning to end Baz Luhrmann uses modern film techniques to create Shakespeare’s 17th century play into something visually captivating for a modern audience. Baz Luhrman wanted to exploit the crucial beginning of the film by using a montage to help them understand the prologue. One example of montage in use is whilst the narrator speaks of “the break to new mutiny” he uses violent images to convey its meaning.

The director uses images from newspaper headlines (Montagues vs Capulets) to suggest a tension between the two households. The use of special effects and a visually captivating montage help to bring a better understanding of what the prologue means.

The idea of Romeo falling in love with a young girl at first site and to be willing to die for his love would be difficult for a modern audience to relate to. Baz Luhrmann had to make sure of two things, to make sure that his audience could easily accept that Romeo is a desperate hope for love and Juliet being so naïve and innocent she could fall in love with Romeo so easily. The director illustrates these believable characteristics when we first see Romeo or Juliet in the film. When Romeo first emerges he is seen depressed. He smokes a cigarette whilst writing poetry wandering aimlessly on a grey clouded day. The cameras zoom on face of Romeo’s melancholic expressions. Baz Luhrmann uses these shots to bring impressions of a man who is lost and upset. Not long after this point in the film Juliet is introduced as being a young girl with an innocent personality. Her father’s face is zoomed into when he speaks of Juliet being still a stranger to the world- which implies that she is naive and could be easily seduced. This is done to emphasis the dialogue. In other scenes close-ups are done on her makeupless face an aspect that makes her more innocent. By using modern media techniques Baz Luhrmann could allow for his audience to believe that love at first site between these two people was possible.

At the point of meeting, Romeo and Juliet are separated by a large blue fish tank; it is calm and peaceful. Deep blue water, soft pastel colours of pink and blue all give the effect of romance. Both Romeo and Juliet’s faces are zoomed into to help the audience acquire an understanding of the deep love both characters have fallen into. Capulet and Montagues had been historically in anger and fear of each other- meaning Romeo and Juliet’s love almost impossible to last without being torn apart by their families. A crucial point that sparks this anger is finding out of the secret marriage. This is soon found out by Tybalt (Juliet’s brother) who in his rage looks for Romeo but is only met by a fight with Mercutio (a close friend of Romeo’s). 

He brings the audience’s attention through uses of cinematic techniques. He uses fast moving cameras, low angle shots, special effects, close-ups, slow motion camera shots, music and pathetic fallacy to make his audience feel a sense of suspense and thrill from the action scenes. Tybalt disliked Romeo and takes his rage out through violence. At the crucial point of engagement he is confronted by Mercutio. The director chooses to have the camera move quickly between the two foes to create almost a blurred vision effect. This gives the audience confusion amongst the scuffle to mimic the experience the characters feel. The camera closes up to show. Tybalt responds by stabbing Mercutio with a shard of glass. This critical moment is slowed down to dramatize the seriousness of Tybalt’s actions. Low angle shots are quickly met by Mercutio falling to the floor and shouting:” a plague on both your houses”

Baz Luhrmann uses low angle shots to underline the significance of Mercutio’s words.

At this point a thunder storm comes about, and the camera angles changed to high above the heads of the men below. The use of pathetic fallacy and the suggestion that these actions are being judged by a higher power, both combine to help the audience understand the Shakespearian language. By using the weather to mimic the characters emotions the significance of his words are amplified. Romeo is met with feeling of vengeance and anger which lead to Tybalt’s death soon to come.

Bazz Luhrmann opens this scene with a setting in dark streets with fast music to set the pace of the fight between Romeo and Tybalt. Focus is put on the faces of both Tybalt and Romeo to give more understanding of the rage being felt by both characters. Noises of car engines, loud bangs, shouting and thunder make the scene thrilling and exiting. Just before Tybalt is shot, the cameras zoom onto the gun to highlight its importance in the fight. A crescendo in the music is employed to build up to the climatic death of Tybalt. The gun fire is very loud and startling to underline the crucial moment when Tybalt dies. a close up on Romeo’s face of realization which adds even more unhappiness to the scene is used to emphasize his depressing thoughts. The camera slowing down and zooming on Romeo’s falling gun is the final cinematic technique used to imply the wrongness of Romeo’s actions. Every technique used by Baz Luhrmann used in both these fight scenes were all specific to helping his audience understand Shakespear’s sometimes confusing word. This made the director successful at keeping the audience’s attention and understanding.

The final crucial point that Baz uses many techniques to help understanding is the final scene. Baz Luhrmann intended to make destiny a believable reason for Romeo and Juliet’s death. He sets the scene at a church filled with lit candles and large crosses. To symbolise a higher power is in play. High angle shots are used to amplify this idea. As if to say that this was an evitable ending between Romeo and Juliet he uses those. The fact that the director brought religious aspects to his use of props and high angle shots creates a believable ending that could not be avoided for it was their destiny. Death seemed believable and inevitable at this point.

In conclusion Baz Luhrmann had clearly made his film approachable and understood by a modern audience. He clearly used a vast amount of cinematic techniques at points where the meaning of character dialogue was crucial to be understandable by his viewers. His ability to create two believable characters that could fall in love so easily was outstanding. Even though it would usually seem absurd to a modern audience Baz Luhrmann still manage to create the believability, by using techniques such as a use of props (Romeo smoking and writing poetry about love) or even a use of close up angle shots to emphasize the importance of dialogue speaking of Juliet being still a stranger to this world. In my opinion Baz Luhrmann did a perfect job of emphasizing important points, creating symbolic meanings, creating believable characters and enrolling a religious aspect to the film without losing audience acceptability.

Tom Sichel

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