The film is a modern day adaptation of Shakespeare’s play, although it still adheres quite closely to the original text.
It opens on a television screen with a news report delivered by a reporter that gradually appears to move away from the viewer. The speech of the report is in fact all but the last two lines of the play’s prologue, which is a prï¿½cis of the play’s events intended to introduce the audience to the story, much like a news report is an outline of a story whose purpose is to inform the viewer. This is therefore an interesting method of presenting the prologue in the modern setting – it captures the essence of the prologue whilst allowing the opening of the film a contemporary feel.The prologue is swiftly followed by a bold pastiche of images and lines of text that highlight the fundamental themes of the play accompanied by the repetition of the first six lines of the prologue. The line ‘a pair of star-cross’d lovers take their life’ is particularly focused on, and the montage of shots are cut rapidly from one image to the next which reflects the pace and fervour of the lovers’ courtship. The music adds to the passion of this assault of images, and the viewer is immediately made aware of the violence to come through the shots of fire, guns, the police, religious icons and fireworks.
The text used to emphasize parts of the spoken prologue such as ‘from forth the fatal loins of these two foes,’ is displayed as bold white lettering on a black background, and this use of colour is representative of the conflict between the two houses. The enemies are depicted as rival corporations and are introduced by their headquarters on either side of a bustling street, with a large religious statue between the buildings. The skyscrapers are representative of each family’s might, and the statue in-between their names is symbolic of their divide.The montage continues gaining momentum as the music increases in dynamism until fireworks, suggesting the explosive nature of the play and Romeo & Juliet’s love, draw it to a dramatic close.
The cutting from one shot to another is swiftly followed by focused close-up shots on characters’ faces with text displaying their name and their title or relationship to another character. This is reminiscent of the ‘Dramatis Personae’ section found at the beginning of the script of Shakespeare’s plays, and serves a similar purpose – to introduce characters and to help the viewers to familiarize themselves with the main protagonists and their associations with one another.The introductory, summative tone of the start of the film is broken by a black screen with the simple text ‘William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet’ emblazoned in red and white. Again, this is an example of the use of colour as a medium for drawing attention to themes of the play – white for purity and chastity, red for love and blood and black for death.At this point the narrative begins, and we as an audience are introduced to ‘the Montague boys,’ portrayed as an arrogant and brash group riding in an open topped car. The camera viewpoint is a low mid-shot taken from behind the car, the focus of the film at this point, which gives an interesting perspective and establishes the unusual angles as unique to Lurhman. The Montague boys reach the gas station and a profound change is seen.
The mood alters, along with the soundtrack, to a slicker, slower tone to portray the influence and introduction of the Capulets. The camera at the gas station stays consistently low, focused at around ground level. This shows that certain members of the Capulets are not as important until we meet Tybalt, whose significance is seen by the filming – the camera pans slowly up from his boots to his face which indicates stature beyond the actor’s diminutive height. It is soon clear that he is in control and this is reflected in the filming techniques. As he ‘calls the shots’ within the scene, so his actions and words give rise to where the camera lies, which is almost like a pun.Despite Benvolio’s peace-keeping role, a fight ensues – a civil brawl that reflects the lines of the prologue and is linked back to it by newspaper reports and headlines.
The filming during this period is erratic and cuts rapidly from side to side in line with the bullets fired and the action of the brawl. The shots cut more quickly around the Montagues and this signifies their edginess and weaker nature and is therefore significant of their eventual loss of the fight. Conversely, more panning is used when Tybalt is in shot, and this is reflective of his polished image and fighting technique and predicts that his Capulets will win the fight. This is the subsequent outcome; Tybalt kills a Montague causing them to flee as the gas station bursts into flames.The smoke clears to show the image mentioned earlier – the two tower blocks, figureheads of the houses strength, on opposite sides of a street divided by a religious statue.
This shot is held for a time from a long range, and shows the end of Scene 1, and Prince’s entrance into the play.