Baz Luhrmann an Australian producer of well known movies such as “Moulin Rouge” is most famous for creating “William’s Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” in 1996. He has adapted the original story to appeal to a modern teenage audience. In this essay I will talk about how he has tailored this movie to the needs of a young audience.
Baz Luhrmann’s version of Romeo and Juliet is the first of many movies to be set in modern urban America. The story is set in the heart of a crowded city.
It makes the movie look more electrifying with big sky scrapers with Montague and Capulet written on the tops, which appeals to a modern audience as lot of them live in a city so they can relate to it because they might live in a similar area, or they see it as something exciting and thrilling.
The modern setting and costumes help a teenage audience realize what is going on even if they cannot understand the olden Shakespearean language, for instance the big sky scrapers explain that there are two very rich families which they might not have understood from the prologue.
Also their costumes tell the audience who are “the bad guys” for example the Capulets are mostly dressed in black which normally symbolizes darkness and evil, that is exaggerated even more in the Capulet ball as Tybalt is dressed as a devil and his gang as other evil characters. This meant that it would maintain a young audience’s attention as they can understand what is happening.
Baz Luhrmann has kept to the original script with the old Shakespearean language which is highlighted in the title “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet”. This has made the film educational, but in an interesting way that a young audience would understand. This might appeal to a teenage audience as it would help them with schoolwork while still being exciting. To over come the barrier of Shakespearean language being too boring for a young audience Baz Luhrmann has cut out long speeches for example in Act3 Scene1 lines 88-94 (Mercutio’s speech) are cut down to just “Ask for me tomorrow and you shall find me a grave man.” this keeps this type of audience interested as he does not talk on for long, instead the lines are kept short and snappy. He also edits the language by only leaving very important lines and repeats them a few times for instance when Mercutio says “A plague on both your houses!” – this is repeated about three times which makes the audience realize that this line is important and they would remember it.
Luhrmann has also cleverly applied the Shakespearean language to a modern setting by use of image. For example the guns have trademarks “sword” and “dagger” which means that the language doesn’t have to be changed as it still makes sense and the effect that this has is actually quite amusing which would engage a young audience and make them understand how in Shakespeare’s time a sword meant the same as a gun nowadays. Mercutio’s ‘crazy’ speech is also explained to a modern audience, even though the language is kept the same, Mercutio takes an E tab before he starts talking about Queen Mab, this means that even if the audience can’t understand the olden English, they can still understand that Mercutio is talking about the supernatural as he is under the influence of drugs.
Baz Luhrmann also adapts Romeo and Juliet by showing emotion through different Camera shots for example in Act3 Scene1 when Romeo kills Tybalt it shows a very long close up of Romeo’s face even though he does not say anything the audience can tell everything that he is thinking. Luhrmann has used this advantage of technology to add more emotion unlike in a Shakespearean theatre where the audience could not see their facial expressions. This emotion makes it more appealing to a young audience as it is very moving.
The movie has also been made more interesting to a young audience by the reference to other teenage movies. For example the servants become street gangs, drive fast cars and have guns. This has made the movie seem very exiting and action filled. Just from seeing those few elements of the movie genre teenagers would be attracted to watching this movie. It has a lot of references to action movies such as car chases, helicopters flying over the city, and Romeo taking a hostage in the final scene, this again makes the movie very exciting and would appeal to teenage boys as they stereotypically watch lots of action movies and like fast exciting scenes. There are also references to High School Romance movies, for example the party is like the ‘Prom’ and Romeo coming to Juliet’s bedroom through the balcony is also a big clichï¿½ of this genre. This would make the movie more appealing to girls as they are stereotypically fans of this kind of genre. Therefore there are references to genres that make this movie more appealing to both genders of a young audience.
References to other common film and TV genres help the audience relate to what the movie is about and helps them understand the characters more for example in the first street fight between the Montagues and Capulets there is a reference of Cowboy movies, because of the swinging boards on the petrol station. The metal cowboy-type shoes refer to tough cowboys in westerns which help the audience understand the character as being smooth and tough. Another example of references to other TV genres is the prologue and epilogue showed as news broadcasts. This appealed to a young audience because if the prologue was read out in some other way they probably wouldn’t have understood it and might have been frustrated by this, but as it is a News broadcast they understand that it is supposed to be serious and they might even be used to not understanding everything in News broadcasts as they use very formal, complex language.
Luhrmann has updated the characters which has made the film a lot more interesting and appealing to young audience. For example the servants become gangs of the Capulets and Montagues. This is more interesting because a young audience can actually relate to those characters as they know what kind of relationship they would all have with each other which they couldn’t do if the characters were still servants as it is an uncommon thing nowadays so the audience wouldn’t understand exactly what kind of role they played in the feud between Capulets and Montagues. Furthermore most teenagers have probably studied “Romeo and Juliet” in school and seeing how the characters have been changed is more interesting and even amusing for example the Prince Escales has become Captain Prince, Chief of Police which makes the character seem less boring and old-fashioned which grabs the young audiences attention.
Use of music from popular artists at the time the movie was made, such as “The Cardigans” and “Radiohead” attracts a young audience as it is music that they would have liked and listened to a lot, so this would catch their attention and would keep teenagers interested as up to date popular songs would mean that the movie is up to date and popular too. Also some of the artists of the backing sounds of this movie were idols to a lot of teenagers so hearing their role models in a movie would automatically encourage them to think that this is a good film if those artists support it.
Use of classical music has also made this movie appealing to a young audience as, even though this isn’t necessarily the kind of music that teenagers would listen to, they are very used to it as it is used a lot in television (advertisements, other movies, etc). This means that they would feel some kind of connection with the movie as they would have herd the music before. Classical music is also often used to suggest the mood and emotions. A young audience may find this subconsciously appealing as it is easier to understand how the characters are feeling therefore makes the whole story-line less complicating and easy to understand. For example in the ending, sad, classical music plays, which would have helped set the sad mood and show the emotions felt by the characters.
In this version of Romeo and Juliet there is a use of actors from various ethnic backgrounds this keeps in touch with the setting of a modern, multicultural, urban setting and would appeal to young people from all backgrounds as until now most versions of Romeo and Juliet used only white actors which some people might have felt they couldn’t relate to and just saw it as an icon of only one kind of culture, but the open minded use of different races would show a young audience that this story is something that everyone could connect to.
This use of actors from various different ethnic origins also makes the difference between the gangs more clear, as The Montagues are white Americans and The Capulets are of Hispanic origin, which stops the audience from getting confused between who is in which gang and makes the fight scenes clearer. It also helps to get to know the character without having to go into a lot of detail, through use of stereotypes, for example white Americans tend to be clumsy and Hispanics are thought to be, smooth and stylish, which is shown in the first scene.
The cast is also very young, Romeo and Juliet and all the gang members are still in their teens and Juliet’s mother is very young which makes this more appealing to a young audience as they can relate to their teenage way of lifestyle and emotions that Romeo and Juliet would feel as they are around the same age. The appearance of the cast would also appeal a lot to a young audience as Claire Danes who plays Juliet is very beautiful which teenage boys would find very attractive, and girls would probably use her as a role model, as she was also famous at the time for her role in a TV series called “My So-Called Life”. Leonardo DiCaprio, although not so famous at the time would also be a reason the movie might appeal to teenagers, especially girls, as he is attractive and has similar looks of what Prince Charming is often described as (hairstyle, blonde, blue eyes) and is also dressed as ‘knight in shining armor’ in the Capulet ball. This reference to fairy tales would charm a teenage girl and would probably be a reason why they would watch the movie.
Romeo and Juliet is quite a violent play, there are 7 deaths, and lots of violent images and insults such as “I will push Montague’s men from the wall and thrust his maids to the wall.” However Luhrmann has chosen not to make the movie as violent as it could have been and only has an age certificate of 12. He has made sure that a young audience can watch this movie and not be too disturbed by the violence. Instead the violence is suggested rather than actually shown in detail, for example in the scene where Mercutio dies, it is not actually shown when he gets stabbed, sound effects of it can be herd, but you cannot actually see it, which makes it a lot less violent than it could have been and means that an audience as young as 12 can watch this.
In conclusion Baz Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet” was a huge success as it won 13 awards and was nominated for 19 others. Luhrmann did an excellent job of making this movie appeal to a young audience as according to imdb.com viewers aged under 18 gave it a rating of 7.3/10 which proves that a lot of teenagers enjoyed this movie. I felt that Luhrmann was very clever in the way he adapted the story and the Shakespearean language to a modern setting through use of different elements, which has made the story very engaging. He has succeeded in bringing a young teenage audience to the closest understanding of the play than any other film made previously.