“Did my heart love ’til now? Forswear its sight. For I never saw true beauty ’til this night.” In 1996, Baz Luhrmann attempted to do the impossible with his film Romeo + Juliet. He attempted to take William Shakespeare’s epic drama Romeo & Juliet and convert it into a modern tale. What’s so impossible about that? He wanted to use a relatively unknown cast, Titanic hadn’t been released yet, and what’s even more astounding, all the dialogue from the movie is from the original Shakespeare play.
We all know the story of Romeo & Juliet, so I won’t go into too much detail about the plot because it sticks pretty much to the Shakespeare play, from what I remember from high school. Two competing families, the Montagues and the Capulets, Romeo played by Leonardo DiCaprio is a Montague and Juliet, played by Claire Danes is a Capulet. They meet at a party and fall in love.
The movie does a very good job of nailing the memorable moments of the story, while making them different at the same time. For instance, in the scene where Romeo is trying to talk to Juliet at her second-story window, she appears in the doorway and begins walking outside while he’s climbing up to the balcony. Thus, you get the same effect, as the original story had, so you can use the same dialogue. He knows she’s there so when she starts talking about being a Capulet and he being Montague, he says, “Shall I hear more, or shall I speak at this?” It worked well and wasn’t something I was expecting.
As for the Shakespearean dialogue, it does get a bit distracting and a little difficult when you have an argument going on between the two gangs and they are yelling quickly. It’s like you need subtitles to understand what they are saying. Or maybe the point is that they just don’t like each other and they are going to shoot each other.
The real beauty comes in the scenes between DiCaprio and Danes. Maybe it helps because you recognize some of the dialogue and you don’t feel like you’re trying to catch up to what they are saying. However, even when I heard some things I didn’t remember from high school, they were still beautiful and can resonate with any audience and from any time period. “My only love sprung from my only hate! Too early seen unknown, and known too late! Prodigious birth of love it is to me that I must love a loathed enemy. ”
You have to respect Baz Luhrmann for going out on a limb here and trying something different, it’s looks like a Baz Luhrmann film. Very colorful, especially the party scenes and the fictional city it’s set in, Verona Beach, Florida is run down and it seems like it’s almost a futuristic version of Miami. In the end, it was an interesting take on an old tale and I don’t know that I’d say that I’m a Baz Luhrmann fan, but I’ll be checking out his other works in the lead up to The Great Gatsby this Christmas.