Saturday, July 7, 2018

Romeo and Juliet: Zeffirelli vs. Luhrmann; thoughts on the subject by Ansgar Devadhasan

Romeo and Juliet: Zeffirelli vs. Luhrmann

While Romeo and Juliet is a well acclaimed piece of literature, the film adaptations often
go unrecognized. The Zeffirelli movie adaptation and Luhrmann adaptation of the story both
follow the main points of the original Romeo and Juliet book, however Zeffirelli's adaptation
adheres more closely to the original book by following the original book’s scenes, settings, and
overall look. In the 1968 film adaptation by Zeffirelli, the opening fight scene takes place at a
marketplace, similar to the book. However in the 1996 film, the scene takes place at a gas
station, where both members of the two families are driving sports cars. Within the first few
minutes of this scene, most of the major characters are introduced with a loud burst of music and
a close-up shot of their face, as a feud then erupts at the gas station. I think everything in the film
is bold; from the cars that they drive to the gun that are wrapped around their waist, it give us a
sort of daredevil feeling. However, 1968 version fight scene, on the other hand, is a little slower
paced, with a less intense feeling and a simplistic look, making this version a more pleasing film
to watch. But despite these differences, there are many parts of the fight scene that look similar
to each other. One example is, “What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell,
all Montagues, and thee. Have at thee, coward!” (1.1.60-63). Here, Tybalt says this as he enters
the brawl with the Montagues. This shows us that even though this scene looks different between
the movies, the dialogue is constant here, which I think, captures the true essence of the original
scene from the book.
The 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet by has a modern twist to the book, which gave off
a modern-day, or a contemporary feeling to me, One such example is that instead of using
swords to fight with, the actors used guns that they called swords. This is as opposed to the
original book and the Zeffirelli film adaptation where the characters used actual swords. Another
example of modernization of an original book scene is where Romeo is in Mantua, and instead of
having the Friar ride a horse to Mantua to give Romeo the letter, as in the Zeffirelli adaptation
and original book, the Friar sends the letter via. UPS, in which it gets returned back, instead of
where in the book and Zeffirelli version, where friar John sends back the letter saying he
couldn’t deliver the letter. “Who bare my letter, then, to Romeo? I could not send it—here it is
again— (Returning the letter.) Nor get a messenger to bring it thee, So fearful were they of
infection. Unhappy fortune!” (5.2.13-17). This dialogue remains the same in the Zeffirelli
version, but not in the Luhrmann version. This is so it makes the scene similar to the actual book,
but still keeps up with contemporary feeling the director was trying to give off in the first place.
In the 1996 Luhrmann version, Romeo goes to see Juliet after she ‘dies’, when she is
actually asleep and is extremely upset. In the Zeffirelli adaptation and original book, Juliet wakes
up after Romeo takes the poison and dies, and then she stabs herself with a sword. Come, bitter
conduct, come, unsavoury guide! Thou desperate pilot, now at once run on The dashing rocks
thy seasick weary bark! Here's to my love! Drinking. O true apothecary, Thy drugs are quick.
Thus with a kiss I die. (5.3.116-120). Here, Romeo kisses Juliet and takes the poison, but in the
Luhrmann version, Juliet wakes up before he dies, but the words Romeo says is constant
throughout the movies. Although the Luhrmann version of this scene has a more tense and
suspenseful feeling, keeping the viewers on the edge of their seats, the Zeffirelli version

represents the original book, making it more pleasurable to watch as we know exactly what is
going to happen as it is happening.
To conclude, Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 Film more effectively represents Shakespeare's play
in the sense of scene and setting, while Baz Luhrmann's film was heavily adapted to modern
times but kept all the scenes in the play. Between the two, the way the scenes were adapted, and
settings in which the film was shot was key in the fidelity displayed between the two versions.
The infidelity was mostly marked by directors personal style and keeping with the era of the
films. If you are someone who read Romeo and Juliet, and simply wanted a movie version of
book, re-capturing its exact scenes, the 1968 Zeffirelli version is the way to go, but if you are
looking for a new, modern take on the book, with something you can maybe relate to a little
more, the 1996 Luhrmann version is something you may enjoy more, which I hope helps your
decision for which film you may prefer. Even though many shots were similar between the
Zeffirelli and Luhrmann versions, the two films evoke vastly different scenes and sequences and
because of this, neither film was pointless in its retelling of the book, but, I found the 1968
Zeffirelli adaptation a better movie to watch for as it directly adapts the book, which is what
many people such as myself look for in a movie adaptation.

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