Author Topic: Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)  (Read 8542 times)

Offline goodguy

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Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)
« on: June 02, 2008, 04:09:03 PM »
Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)

   Romeo + Juliet (1996)
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCapiro, Claire Danes
DVD: R1-US Fox (2002, SE)
My Rating:
      Romeo & Juliet (1968)
Directed by: Franco Zeffirelli
Starring: Leonard Whiting, Olivia Hussey
DVD: R2-DE Paramount (2003)
My Rating:

It's been a few years since I had watched the 1996 version. I liked it quite well then, I liked it a little less now, but overall I thought of it as a movie where the good outweights the bad. Then I watched Zeffirelli's version.

Gasp.
It is mind-boggling just how much the older movie invalidates the newer one in every single aspect. :stars:

Both versions use Shakespeare's original language, and both downsize the play quite a bit to fit into a 2 hour movie. Both versions use young actors for the two lead characters: DiCaprio and Danes were 21 and 17, Whiting and Hussey were 17 and 16 (if IMDb can be trusted on BYs) when the movies were made.

Luhrmann puts the play in a contemporary Californian coast town called Verona Beach, with cars instead of horses and guns instead of swords. Highly stylized, shrill colors, almost comic-like. Zeffirelli chooses a historical setting and a subtle, but nonetheless vibrant color scheme. The costumes are dazzling and beautiful.

Luhrmann plays up the action, the conflict between the houses is more determined and violent. But besides his superficial stylization, which also turns the supporting characters in mere caricatures, he has no way of dealing with it when the conflict becomes deathly and Mercutio gets killed. Instead of a dramatic moment we get grey clouds and a storm, and as Romeo then kills Tybalt... well it starts raining, of course.

Zeffirelli does the opposite. The duel between Tybalt and Mercurio could end without bloodshed; it is an accident that it turns deadly. Since the fighting house members are characterized more subtle and the actors are more capable, they are able to convey the drama without weather changes. In fact, during the entire movie, moving from comedy to romance to drama, it always remains sunny in Verona. Btw, that doesn't mean that Zeffirelli's fight scenes lack dynamic - on the contrary, the camera even goes handheld during them.

A similar difference shows the depiction of Juliet's parents. Luhrmann, maybe in his attempt to appeal to a teenage crowd, makes the mother just a ridiculous person and the father a vile bastard. Zeffirelli treats them as real persons, who mean well for their daughter when arranging a marriage. The father threatening the daughter plays as a momentary loss of temper, not as the determining character trait.

What else? Oh, Romeo & Juliet. In Luhrmann's version, the moment were Romeo first spots Juliet through an aquarium is promising. Unfortunately, it goes all downhill from there. Neither DiCaprio nor Danes (nor most of the other cast) have any grasp of the language. It isn't just the American accent, it is such a forced and uninspired delivery that the romantic scenes never quite flourish. Danes is a little more convincing than DiCaprio, especially when she doesn't have to say anything and can just look dreamily or smile. Oh, and Luhrmann  moving the balcony scene into the swimming pool doesn't help either. Yes, by MTV video rules, wet equals sexy. And by the same rules, one probably has to painfully avoid any nudity when staging the after-sex scene.

Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey on the other hand are a revelation. There is really no way for me to describe this adequately. They are so perfect in their roles, it is breathtaking. Stunningly beautiful, passionate and sensual, yet innocent at the same time. And they own every line of dialogue and make it sound just like a natural way to speak. And Zeffirelli matches this by choosing equally natural and beautiful settings. It also doesn't come as a surprise that Zeffirelli and his leads don't have a problem with nudity.

Much more could be said. About the score for example, and about many other things. It doesn't matter. If you have never seen Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, go and get the DVD. It has been around for years and is probably cheap. You can't do anything wrong by buying it. Prepare for an eye-opening experience.

« Last Edit: June 02, 2008, 04:12:21 PM by goodguy »
Matthias

lyonsden5

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Re: Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)
« Reply #1 on: June 02, 2008, 04:56:17 PM »
Great side by side review. I have seen the 96 version but was not aware of the 68 one. I'll definately watch for it.

Thanks Matthias

Najemikon

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Re: Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)
« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2008, 09:23:50 PM »
Yeah great review, balancing the versions like that. I fancy trying the original version again now. I had it foisted upon me in school, but I'd probably enjoy it now. Although I have gone back to things I hated as a kid and found no change. Like with Brussel Sprouts... ;)

Offline goodguy

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Re: Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)
« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2008, 04:52:48 AM »
I fancy trying the original version again now.

Well, original only in the sense that it was the first version (AFAIK) using lead actors close to their characters age. IMDb Movie Connections lists more than 30 versions. One of the famous ones is Cukor's from 1936 with Leslie Howard and Norman Shearer, who where in their mid-forties and mid-thirties while making the movie. I have never seen it, but I'm now tempted to check it out just to satisfy my curiosity.

Then their are of course the countless adaptations like West Side Story. Or one of the more outrageous ones, Tromeo & Juliet, made in 1996 (before Luhrmann's) by Troma Studios. I initally planned to rewatch it during my little R&J marathon, but just couldn't bring myself to stomach the typical Troma gross-out humour after watching Zeffirelli's masterpiece.

I had it foisted upon me in school, but I'd probably enjoy it now.

When was that? The IMDb trivia section notes that Olivia Hussey wasn't legally allowed to attend the London premiere in 1968, or as she put it: "I wasn't permitted to view the movie, because it contained my own breasts."  :hysterical:

Probably only of interest to those here sharing my East German origins: From my school years, I remember the 1978 DEFA movie Sieben Sommersprossen (Seven Freckles) as having quite an impact on me. It wasn't shown during school of course, as it was one of the more controversial (but not banned) DEFA movies. It used an R&J production in a holliday camp to mirror a love story between two of the kids in the camp.
Matthias

Najemikon

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Re: Romeo and Juliet (1996 vs. 1968)
« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2008, 10:15:39 AM »
I think of it as the "original" when it isn't really, because I think of it as the truest version when set against modern film in general and the 1996 one on particular.

Regards seeing it in school, I would take a stab at secondary, third maybe fourth year. So around 88 through to 90. Now there are three ways of looking at this: 1) A pair of breasts in a "proper" film especially in Britain can be gotten away with. It's violence that was the big no-no back then; 2) There's a healthy possibility it was an edited version for educational purposes; 3) the teacher new it was safe because it was Shakespeare and the sort of teenager looking for breasts would have been asleep by the time they appeared, leaving only the weird kids who were actually interested in the story!

I don't remember seeing the breasts so I'd say it was an edited version. Or I was asleep. ;)