The following sample essay on “Baz Number Plates”: dwells on its problems, providing shortened but comprehensive overview of basic facts and arguments related to it.
Recently in class, we read the prologue and opening scene of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ by William Shakespeare. And then compared it with the 1996 production of the play by Baz Luhrmann.
In the original play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ begins with the chorus speaking, telling us the background to the story. Baz Luhrmann modernises this by using a newsreader on a television set reading it as if it were a news story.
She reads only the first twelve lines of the speech because they are the most important. In the top right hand corner of the television screen there is a picture of a broken ring and a caption, “star-crossed lovers” which is a line in the prologue. The ring represents the broken love between Romeo and Juliet, “death-mark’d love”, but also the division between their families.
The line “star-crossed lovers” is used because it is one of the most important lines in the prologue, because Romeo and Juliet’s fate was in the stars. After she finishes speaking, dramatic, orchestral music begins.
When the music reaches a climax, “IN FAIR VERONA” appears, in dark, bold writing and the prologue is repeated, but this time a man speaks it, and only uses the first eight lines. The line,“Two households both alike in dignity” is interpreted in many ways. Two skyscrapers, exactly the same size, are shown with the name Montague on the top of one and Capulet on the other.
Almost identical family trees of the two houses are shown, which prove to us how alike they are. Scenes of extreme violence give a dramatic effect and show how serious the rivalry is. The quotation,“From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean”.
is spoken, but is also shown by newspaper headlines. By using these he is keeping it modern and helping us realise how extreme the violence is. When the line,“From forth the fatal loins of these two foes”is spoken, the two different sets of parents are shown and so we identify who the two different groups are. We see that the film is set in Verona Beach. This makes the film modern, but also fits with the line,“In fair Verona where we lay our scene”.
When the prologue reaches, “A pair of star crossed lovers take their life” it is not only spoken, but also appears on screen in bold white writing in two captions. The music is at a crescendo at this point and the narrator’s tone is emphatic. The “t” in “take” is shown as a cross. This relates to Jesus dying for love, as will Romeo and Juliet. This also fits with the line, “Doth with their death bury their parents’ strife” and the images of the statues of Jesus we see. The music becomes faster and stronger and the characters are shown to us, with their name beside each one. Luhrmann has changed nearly every name ever so slightly to keep the whole film modernised. Captain Prince is introduced. He is the equivalent to the Prince in the original text. Because the film is modern and is set in America where there are no Princes, his role in the film is the Chief of Police.
The next scene then begins. It is shot at a gas station, instead of in a market in Verona, which is used in the text. I think Luhrmann changed it because a gas station is a more modern meeting place. The “Montague Boys” are introduced to. Their car pulls up to the gas station and we notice their number-plate, “MON 005”. Then the “Caputlet Boys” pull in and we notice that their number-plate is “CAP 005”. These two number-plates fit with the line,“Two households both alike in dignity”.
A Capulet man, Abra is introduced. At this point we are shown the butt of both the Montague gun and the Capulet gun. On both there are similar crests, which again show us that they are ‘alike in dignity’ and share the same wealthy backgrounds.The Montague then follows with the line“I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them if they bear it”.
In Shakespeare’s time this action would have been a very strong sign of disrespect, but, because the film is set in more modern times, the majority of people would not understand the significance of this action. Luhrmann therefore makes him also wave his hand in a rude way and make a stupid, mocking noise.
Their argument continues, is screamed across the forecourt and is very aggressive:“Do you quarrel sir?” “Quarrel sir? No sir.” There is a loud throbbing drumbeat in the background that helps to add a lot of tension. Abra then says, “Draw if you be men”. In the original text, Sampson speaks this line. Benvolio then replies with, “Part fools, you know not what you do. Put up your swords”
A modern day audience would find it very peculiar if they started to fight each other with swords, so instead of changing the text, Luhrmann has been very clever and has given the guns the brand name “Sword”. The camera zooms in close to the gun and we see “Sword 9mm” on the barrel.Benvolio then puts away his gun and says that he wants peace. Tybalt replies with, “Peace? Peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee.”
In the original text the lines are, “What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee” I think that the way Luhrman has changed it makes it sound more aggressive and mocking. The first “peace” is spoken as a question. The second “peace” sounds incredulous and mocking. When Tybalt says, “I hate the word”, the camera shows a close-up of Tybalt’s face, and then Benvolio’s face. As “I hate hell” is spoken, a close-up of Tybalt’s eyes is shown, and then when “All Montagues” is said, a close-up of Benvolio’s eyes is shown. It is like a show down, they are ‘eyeballing’ each other. When Tybalt says “…and thee”, we see a close-up of his foot crushing a match and extinguishing it, as if that is what he wants to do to Benvolio. The sound of the grinding is amplified and it is shot in slow motion to heighten the tension.
The rivals then begin to fight. There are times when slow motion is used and there are times when the action is speeded up; both are used for a dramatic effect. We now can see the scale of the destruction. Cars on the street are shown bumper to bumper and fire is spreading wildly. The dramatic, intense music heard in the prologue beings again. Captain Prince’s helicopter is shown with “0001” shown on the side. This shows his superiority over the rivals, because their number-plates were only “005”. Ted Montague says,“Give me my longsword ho!”
In the same way as the swords before were change to “Sword 9mm” guns, “Longsword” is used as a brand name of a gun. The camera zooms in towards to gun and we see “Longsword” on the barrel. The Captain then speaks to Tybalt and Benvolio. He says, “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground”.
His tone is demanding and aggressive. Luhrmann has left out a lot of his speech, because he might have seen it as unimportant. The Captain then repeats himself for emphasis,“On pain of torture, from those bloody hands,Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground!”He speaks in a furious and demanding tone. As he finishes speaking the music reaches a climax, and then stops when he stops.
Captain Prince is then shown in his office with the Montagues and the Capulets. Again, a lot of the less important lines of his speech are left out. He enunciates “Three civil brawls” and, as he does so, on each word the camera goes from the Montagues to the Capulets to Captain Prince. This is because that is whom the “civil brawls” are between. His speech ends on,“If ever you disturb our streets again,Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace”.
This is very dramatic and is the most important line, because Romeo and Juliet’s lives will pay the forfeit of the peace. It is also the most effective line to end the scene on, because Captain Prince’s threat hangs over the rest of the play.
I think that the way Baz Luhrmann has interpreted the text and made it his own is very clever. I think that one of the cleverest parts is where he makes the gun’s brand name fit the text. The film is so close the original text but yet it is very modern and is almost like a different story altogether.