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Romeo + Juliet(1996)
Shakespeare's play is transferred to the modern urban backdrop of Verona Beach, California. The Montague and Capulet families are embroiled in a long-running feud. When Romeo, a Montague, attends a Capulet ball in disguise, he falls in love with the beautiful Juliet. Although already engaged to Dave Paris, whom she does not love, Juliet vows to marry Romeo. They ask the kindly Father Laurence to perform the ceremony in secret, but bloodshed and tragedy threaten the couple's future together.
For more about Romeo + Juliet and the Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray release, see the Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray Review
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, Pete Postlethwaite
Director: Baz Luhrmann
» See full cast & crew
Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray Review
What light through yonder Blu-ray breaks!
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, October 18, 2010
It'd be easy to describe Aussie director Baz Luhrman's modern-day retelling of Romeo and Juliet, in the Bard's own words, as "a misshapen chaos of well-seeming forms." It's partly true, I think, but it's also not entirely fair. Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet is indeed fast and frenetic— sometimes at the expense of the emotional resonance of the archetypal doomed-lovers story—but its also brave and even innovative in ways that few Shakespearean adaptations ever are. The film was born to be divisive. To purists, it's the slapdash, easily dismissed stuff of MTV music videos—all quick cuts and non-conventional camera angles, post-grunge alterna-rock and enough visual bling to pimp out a Bugatti. Never would the critical "style over substance" charge seem so apt. At the same time, Luhrman does defiantly make the immortal tale of woe his own and, in the process, makes the 500-year-old play relevant to audiences who might never sit through Franco Zeffirelli's classic 1968 version, let alone a stage production. If the Bard were alive, he'd likely wrinkle his nose at how much of his iambic pentameter dialogue has been cut here, but he'd probably approve of the rock songs, the gangsta-style shootouts substituting for swordplay, and the many allusions Luhrman makes to Sergio Leone's westerns. Shakespeare, after all, was essentially a "pop" writer, penning plays that could be enjoyed by the elite and the unwashed masses.
Lurhman sets his Romeo + Juliet in a contemporary world of his own making: a fictionalized Verona Beach where the city skyline is dominated by a towering Jesus statue with outstretched arms. Here, the patriarchs of the Montague and Capulet clans—Brian Dennehy and Paul Sorvino, respectively—are bigwig Mafioso, rival land-development industrialists locked in violent opposition. The younger members of both families, like the Bloods versus the Crips, are out for blood and honor. The film opens with a gas station gun battle that erupts when the white Montague boys bite their thumbs at the Cuban-American Capulets, led by a soul-patched John Leguizamo as Tybalt. The sequence is pure low-riding gangsterism mixed with archaic Shakespearean insults and a surfeit of Catholic imagery. The Capulets wear bulletproof vests adorned with cross-stitch renderings of the virgin Mary and Jesus. The stocks of their Sword-brand pistols—get it?—are painted with bleeding hearts. The word "SIN" is even inscribed across one Capulet's crunk-embellished teeth.
For the first twenty minutes you may wonder if you've stumbled not upon an adaptation of the Bard's beloved tale, but an Ed Hardy shirt come horrifyingly to cinematic life. The brashness has a purpose though; by putting us in a gangster rap setting that, by 1996, was familiar and clichéd enough to be comedic, Luhrman eases us into the film's use of the play's original Elizabethan language. Even if we don't understand exactly what the characters are saying, the visuals give us the gist.
The story remains the same, merely updated to fit in Luhrman's So-Cal version of Verona. The eponymous, ill- fated lovers are played by Leonardo DiCaprio—just prior to his international teen-idol breakthrough in 1997's Titanic—and Clair Danes, then only 17 years old. (To clarify, Leo, despite his impossibly pretty face and girlish locks, is Romeo, not Juliet.) They meet at a costume party thrown by her father. Romeo has taken a tab of Ecstasy given to him by his flamboyant pal Mercutio (Lost's Harold Perrineau)—here a black drag queen—and as he peers through a fish tank, entranced perhaps by the multihued fauna, he catches sight of Juliet on the other side, peering back, wearing angel wings. They flirt coyly through the water. Soon, they're making out in an elevator. Later, Romeo sneaks back into the heavily guarded compound for the famous balcony scene. The two fall into a pool together, where they make out some more and exchange bubbly, breathless promises.
This isn't exactly the heady romanticism of the Zeffirelli version—where stars Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey seemed to share a genuine connection—rather, Leo and Claire act more like kids who've just met at a rave and decide to drunkenly run off and elope. DiCaprio flips his hair and speaks over-earnestly, alternately giddy and brooding. Danes is a bit better—playing Juliet as wide-eyed and resolute, simultaneously tough and fragile—but the two never hit it off. They emote and embrace, but there's no spark in their interactions. Even the tragic twist ending, which prefigured the short story "snappers" of O. Henry and Guy de Maupaussant by several hundred years, leaves little emotional mark. The film is sometimes beautiful—as when Juliet watches fireworks from her balcony, or when Romeo sits down in the sand and refuses to fight Tybalt—but it's never moving.
Still, what a ride. Baz Lurhman's sense of theatricality truly knows no bounds. He has characters face off like gunslingers in a spaghetti western— cutting between wide shots and tight close-ups of their steely stares—and makes John Leguizamo preen and pose like a Flamenco dancer. He has choirboys sing a Prince song, puts Juliet's intended husband Paris (Paul Rudd) on the cover of "Timely" magazine, transforms Father Laurence (Pete Postlethwaite) into a pot-growing priest, and loads the film with witty, if sometimes obvious visual references, like the "Globe" pool hall, "Rosencrantzky's" beach shack, and "Out, Out Damn Spot Cleaners." The soundtrack is a veritable who's who of 1990s musical all-stars—like Radiohead, Garbage, and Everclear—mixed with operatic numbers from the likes of Wagner's Tristan und Isolde. The attempts to contemporize the story work well—in a chaotically jumbled, what the hell am I watching kind of way—and there's a lot of genuinely funny humor in the first half, especially from thick-headed Dash Mihok and pink-haired Jamie Kennedy, who play the Montague Boys, Benvolio and Sampson. The film works best when it's at its most jarring—the early establishing scenes, especially—but when the tale turns into a romance, and then the dark tragedy that it ultimately is, Luhrman's spastic vision is less effective.
Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray, Video Quality
Given the fact that Romeo + Juliet is so hyperkinetically colorful, it's no surprise that the film's 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer is grade-A eye candy. In fact, I'd have to say this high definition reproduction of Romeo + Juliet ranks among the very best transfers of catalog titles from the mid-to-late-1990s, right up there with Boogie Nights and Fight Club. From the outset of the film—the gas station scene—you know you're in for a visual treat, as we're immediately shown the fiercely yellow car and vibrant Hawaiian shirts of the Montague boys. Color is rich and saturated throughout, from the fireworks that burst over Sycamore Grove and the multi-hued extravaganza of the Capulet party, to the aquamarine blues of the pool scene and the warm expanse of candles that surround Juliet on her faked-deathbed. Likewise, black levels are almost always satisfyingly deep, contrast is strong, and the image has a commendable sense of depth. Not to be outdone, clarity is excellent; softness settles in to a few shots— usually the result of loose focusing during handheld sequences—but most of the film is impressively crisp without showing any signs of edge enhancement. Facial detail is refined, as you'd expect, but the most telling aspect of the picture's sharpness is the texture apparent in the extravagant costume design. (Just check out the rippled metal and individual links of armor on Romeo's chain-mail party outfit.) Most importantly, there's been no DNR tampering or excessive filtering—grain is entirely natural. I spotted a brief instance of aliasing on the parallel lines of a car's bumper, but otherwise, there are no other outstanding anomalies. I'd say this transfer is just about perfect.
Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Just as adept is Romeo + Juliet's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix, which handles the film's sound design and soundtrack—especially— with clarity, immersion, and dynamic oomph. The various pop/operatic music you hear throughout the film sounds brilliant; bass is deep and grounded, highs are clean, and the soundfield has a wide, open expanse that gives plenty of room for the various instruments to take up distinct positions in the 5.1 presentation. The rear channels are also often occupied by ambience and effects, like wind and rain, guns popping off with cross-channel intensity, and the rocket blasts and chime-like tinkles during the fireworks display. Towards the end, when the shootouts become more frequent and police helicopters hover above, looking for the banished Romeo, the LFE channel even gets to exert some serious muscle. Finally, dialogue is perfectly prioritized, broadcast cleanly from the center channel. Stick around for the credits to hear Radiohead's creepy freakout love song, "Exit Music (For A Film)."
Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
"Shaking Up Shakespeare" Picture-in-Picture Commentary
Director Baz Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin, DP Donald M. McAlpine, and co-writer Craig Pearce sit down for one of the most engaging, infinitely informative commentary tracks I've heard in some time. What impresses most is how the four participants explain the intent and rationale behind every creative decision that was made. If you select the "picture-in-picture" option—and, just so you're aware, you can listen to the commentary by itself—behind-the-scenes footage from the film, along with pre-production artwork, storyboards, and other material will appear on screen during the movie. Additionally, an icon will periodically pop-up in the lower left corner of the screen; press select and you'll be taken to a relevant section from one of the many bonus features below, which can also be selected from the "extras" menu.
Romeo+Juliet: The Music
The bulk of this all-new bonus material consists of Romeo + Juliet: The Music Documentary (1080p, 49:13), a fantastic documentary that explores the creation of the film's influential soundtrack. You'll also find Everybody's Free: The Journey of the Song (1080p, 1:46), about the young Texan boy who sings in the film, The London Music Mix (1080p, 4:20), which covers the sound design of the music, and Temp Music: The Journey of the Song (1080p, 2:06), in which Baz discusses the process of selecting songs.
From the Bazmark Vault
A collection of behind-the scenes footage, including First Kiss (2:20)—the first rehearsal kiss between DiCaprio and Danes—along with Beach Scene (4:17), Uncut Rehearsal (4:40) , and Outside the Church (2:40). Do note that while the material is technically in 1080p, it's actually standard definition footage windowboxed inside an ornate frame. The same goes for the rest of the bonus features:
A series of Baz Luhrman-centric clips. Impact (4:18) examines the divisive critical reaction to the film. Why Shakespeare? (2:56) and Pitching Shakespeare (10:05) are from a speech by Luhrman, who explains his inspiration for the project and tells the story of his misguided attempt to pitch the movie to 20th Century Fox execs. These are followed by Directing the Gas Station (7:02), Directing the Pool Scene (5:18), and Tybalt's Execution (4:21), which all feature Luhrman doing his thing on set.
Director of Photography Gallery
Brief featurettes profiling how the director of photography achieved certain effects. Includes: A Hole in the Wall (00:49), The Fish Tank Scene (1:31), Filming the Lift Scene (2:25), One Light (1:10), and Filming the Church (1:02).
Includes short interviews with Leonardo DiCaprio (1:53), Claire Danes (2:28), John Leguizamo (1:52), Production Designer Catherine Martin (2:33), Co-Writer Craig Pearce (1:47), Editor Jill Bilcock (1:47), Choreographer John O'Connell (1:09), and Costume Designer Kym Barrett (2:03).
International Theatrical Trailer (SD, 1:31)
Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
You simply can't compare this hyper adaptation with Zeffirelli's comparatively somber 1968 romance—Baz Luhrman's Romeo + Juliet is a different, flawed but highly ambitious beast altogether. If you're a purist and the idea of Hawaiian shirt-wearing Montagues and gun-toting Capulets doesn't whet your Shakespearean appetite, this definitely won't be your thing, but if you like your retellings of Elizabethan classics shaken, not stirred, Romeo + Juliet is a crazy cinematic cocktail, one part sulky Leo, one part dewy young Claire Danes, and three parts Baz Luhrman, with his over- the-top, inimitably theatrical style. The film looks and sounds outstanding on Blu-ray, and comes with a generous array of extras, so if you're a fan, I see no reason not to snap this one up. Recommended.
Blu-ray bundles with Romeo + Juliet (1 bundle)
Romeo + Juliet Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Blu-ray Deal of the Week: Romeo + Juliet for $12.99 - February 6, 2011
For its Blu-ray deal of the week, Amazon is offering William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet for $12.99 (63% off MSRP). The price tracker shows that this is the lowest that this Blu-ray title has been at the web retailer. This offer is valid through February 12.
• Romeo+Juliet, Moulin Rouge Blu-ray Announced - August 27, 2010
Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment has officially announced that on October 19 it will release two films from visionary director Baz Luhrmann: William Shakespeare's Romeo+Juliet and Moulin Rouge!. Both Blu-ray editions will feature new high-definition transfers ...
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