The problem that faced Baz Luhrmann when he was directing the new version of Romeo and Juliet was that he didn?t know whether there would be an audience for Shakespearean stories in a modern culture. So Luhrmann didn?t make this film with the old-fashioned, Shakespeare “purist” in mind. Instead, by using lively, modern images (swimming pool etc.) with a modern rock soundtrack and young good-looking popular actors, he has taken Romeo and Juliet to an audience that would normally think of Shakespeare as a chore to be studied in school (!). However to make it successful with the target teenagers he would have to change a few things- It has to have vibrant on-screen action, soppy love scenes and references to sex. By incorporating these three things into the film he can kill two birds with one stone. He will have an action film that is exiting and fun to watch, and a more romantic “chick-flick”. For this reason things would have to edited.
Another reason for editing the text would be to keep the length of the film down to a more suitable length for a movie, so some text and descriptive poetry had to be removed. However this doesn?t necessarily remove any of our understanding as speech can be replaced with images which, though a different way of communicating can add to our understanding even. The old Shakespearean language can be hard to understand, but images are more universal and can be understood by pretty much anyone. An example of images being used to put across a message is the use of the Madonna figure throughout the play. It shows that Juliet is always looked after. Romeo is looked after by the Friar, Juliet?s religious guiding figure could be seen as the Virgin Mary? The Madonna figure is shown at many stages throughout the film. Four of these are:
The swimming pool scene
When Romeo and Juliet get married
When Mercutio is killed by Tybalt
When Tybalt is killed by Romeo Another Image used that is communicated differently in the text is the loyalty of the family members to their families. Luhrmann manages to show this without saying it in speech by using the family crest on the butt of their guns for example. Less direct, but effective.
However, perhaps one of the most obvious uses of imagery is water. It appears at many key scenes throughout the film and shows purity and clarity of thought, often adding one of these to the situation. Romeo washes his face in water at the party, which clears his mind of drugs and he sees Juliet in a clearer light. Romeo and Juliet?s first vision of each other are through a fish tank full of water. Water could also be seen as an object to show fate working. When both Mercutio and Tybalt die there is water very much present (seaside/fountain respectively). The swimming pool, obviously full of water, is used in a key part of Romeo and Juliet, a point where it could be make or break for their relationship.
Despite the changes to the text to show imagery and meanings in visual ways, there are some scenes that are changed with no reason other than to be different. The balcony scene for example, has been changed completely. Romeo no longer climbs up to Juliet, but he climbs up to find the nurse, adding comedy and smashing the cliche. Juliet then comes down in the lift, to the same level as Romeo, by the swimming pool. Even so, she still can?t see him, and even walks right past him while busy talking to the stars. This change doesn?t effect our understanding at all, but is more exiting visually than the traditional scene. Also, by incorporating the swimming pool into the scene Baz Lurhmann has managed to add more freedom of movement to the characters and the added tension of the security guard coming out to look, the whole time Romeo has to hold his breath underwater as not to be seen. Juliet then returns to her calling nurse in her room by the stairs so she is permanently in the view of the camera, not splitting up the action/speech by entering a lift. It also avoids repetition. The Prologue was used in the play as a way for people to know what was going to happen if they should miss sections and so they could get the general gist of it. In the modern film adaptation the Prologue plays a huge part at the beginning of the film. It is played 3 times over. Once by the news reporter on the television, again on signs around Verona City, and again as text flashing on the screen. In the film the prologue is used to wet peoples appetite and get them interested and exited- loud powerful music and action during the prologue do this effectively.
The director has also done the clever thing of making each scene contrast from the previous and the next. This juxtaposition not only makes the film more exiting to watch, but can highlight differences in peoples feelings and actions, and how it can effect others. A point where this can be seen is after Romeo and Juliet have been married, a scene of much joy and hope is contrasted sharply with the following more violent scene. In this scene Mercutio is killed by Tybalt, a scene where there is a raging sea and no sign of hope, and it is apparent that their marriage isn?t going to work out at all.
Baz Luhrmann also makes many references to the person who wrote the play- Shakespeare. The pool Hall where Romeo and his friends hang out is called the “Globe Theatre”, all the guns used are called “Swords”, it is almost like he is trying to pay a tribute to the writer. In conclusion, I think that the original text had to be edited in some way for to have worked as a film, especially as it was aimed at teenagers. Despite the heavy editing at some points during the play, and some scenes edited out to make the film, I don?t feel that I have had any major understanding detracted, or indeed added. However, if I hadn?t read the original text before I watched the film then I agree that I may have taken what I saw as being how William Shakespeare originally wrote the play. Especially since there is no hint of information at any point in the film that it is from an edited text. It even says on the front cover of the video and on posters etc. for the Luhrmann adaptation that it is “William Shakespeare?s Romeo and Juliet”. This was probably done so that no-one would think that Baz Luhrmann is trying to take credit for the play itself, however it could be confusing