In class, we watched two versions of the movie Romeo and Juliet, which was adapted from William Shakespeare’s play. We watched a version directed by Franco Zeffirelli (1968) and another by modern director Baz Luhrmann (1996). In addition, we read extracts from the Romeo and Juliet script we received. Our task was to compare and contrast the prologue and opening scenes of the two movies, and give our views. The prologue of Franco Zeffirelli’s version opens with a sweeping shot of the rolling hills of Verona.
Gentle, soothing music is playing that fits in with the idyllic and peaceful scenery. The voiceover begins with a sombre, almost sympathetic tone of voice that fits in well with the music that plays in the background. It is easy to tell from the outset that Zeffirelli was aiming for authenticity, even going as far as to film the scenes in Verona. Timing was important in Zeffirelli’s version and the line “two star-crossed lovers take their lives” is said at the same time the title of the film, “Romeo and Juliet”, appears.
This identifies the two star-crossed lovers as Romeo and Juliet, and in a way tells you the outcome of the story before it has even started. An important point to note is that the whole prologue is read, as this is not the case with other versions. The opening scene is set in a market town on a busy trading day. Sampson and Gregory, two servants of the Capulet house, are in the town when they clash with Abraham and another man, of the house of Montague. Both sets of men are dressed in the liveries of their respective houses, the Capulets in striking red and yellow and the Montagues in darker attire.
This makes them stand out from the crowd and instantly recognisable in the chaos that follows, and also ties in with the line “Two households both alike in dignity” which is read in the prologue, as they are both dressed in elegant, rich looking clothes. Gregory and Sampson plan to insult the Montague men. Gregory – I will frown, as I pass by, and let them take it as they list. Sampson – Nay, as they dare, I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it. Line 33-36.
In the day of Shakespeare, biting your thumb at someone was considered highly insulting, possibly one of the worst insults you could use on a person. This was likely to infuriate Abraham and his friend. Abraham – Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? Sampson – I do bite my thumb, sir. Abraham – Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? Sampson (aside to Gregory) – Is the law of our side, if I say ‘Ay’? Gregory (aside to Sampson) – No. Sampson – I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir. Line 37-44 Abraham repeats the line “Do you bite your thumb at us, sir?
” because Sampson has refused to answer him the first time. Sampson consults Gregory and, knowing that the law will not be on their side if he says yes, tells Abraham that he does not bite his thumb at him, but bites his thumb. As the swordfight between the two houses is about to start, Sampson says; “Draw, draw if you be men! ” Sampson repeats the word “draw” twice to emphasise its importance, and tries to goad Abraham into drawing his sword for a battle. Abraham draws his sword, but Benvolio enters to try and restore some peace.
Benvolio is trying his best to bring calm to the situation, but the entrance of Tybalt sparks things off again. Benvolio – Part, fools! Put up your swords! You know not what you do. Tybalt – What, are thou drawn among these heartless hinds? Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death. Benvolio – I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me Tybalt – What, drawn, and talk of peace? I hate the word, As I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. Have at thee, coward! Line 56-65 He mocks Benvolio, who is trying to be civil towards Tybalt. “What, drawn, and talk of peace?
I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. ” This line underlines just how much hatred Tybalt has for Benvolio and his Montague family. Tybalt also says; “… Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death. ” Tybalt is even threatening to kill Benvolio, just because he is a Montague and is trying to keep the peace. This scene says a lot for the two characters personalities, with Benvolio being polite, civil, and peaceful. Tybalt, however, is arrogant, aggressive and bitter. When Tybalt says “What, drawn, and talk of peace? ” he almost finds it amusing, and laughs, mocking Benvolio.
His mood changes however, and his tone becomes sinister when he says, “I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. ” Suddenly, there is chaos and everyone is fighting, the screen is filled with people fighting but in the entire calamity, Tybalt and Benvolio still stand out in their house colours. Zeffirelli shows the scale of the conflict by using aerial and ground shots, plus hundreds of extras. The leaders of the households even get involved. Capulet – What noise is this? Give me my long sword, ho! Lady Capulet – A crutch, a crutch! Why call you for a sword?
Capulet – My sword, I say! Old Montague is come, And flourishes his blade in spite of me Line 67-71 Capulet calls for his sword, but Lady Capulet cannot understand why. She tries to restrain him but is unsuccessful. Capulet is furious that Montague could be winning the battle. Montague – Thou villain Capulet. – Hold me not, let me go. Lady Montague – Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe. Line 72-73 Montague spots Capulet fighting, and goes to battle him. His wife, Lady Capulet, tries to hold him back and says;”Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe.
” which means that he will not go out looking for his enemies. It is then that Prince Escalus, followed by his cortege, enters to a flurry of trumpets sounding. Everyone immediately stops, and pays attention to the Prince. He delivers his speech to the two households, finishing with the lines; “If you ever disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of peace. ” He warns the two leaders of the households that if there is any more trouble from them, they shall be killed. During his speech, he is atop a horse, which shows his authority over the civilians.
He reads his speech in a commanding, aggressive voice, as if he truly means what he is saying. Those who were fighting pay attention to his every word, and the scene is silent apart from his voice and the sound of his horse’s hooves on the dirt. This shows that people respect him and are interested to hear what he is saying. At the end of his speech, Prince Escalus orders Capulet to come with him for talks to put an end to this civil war, and orders Montague to report to him later. As soon as the Princes speech is finished, everyone but Montague, Lady Montague and Benvolio leave.
Baz Luhrmann, is his version of the play, presents the first prologue as a news bulletin. Presenting it as a news bulletin underlines its importance, and makes people sit up and take notice of an important part of the play. With the bulletin being on television, this sets up the play to be a more modern version, much apart from Franco Zeffirelli’s version, which is set in the day of Shakespeare. The television is in a darkened room, with no other objects and nothing else at all to distract you from the prologue. Toward the end of the prologue, the camera zooms in toward to television, and drags the viewer into the play.
Another thing to point out is the caption above the newsreader’s left shoulder. It is a picture of a broken ring, with the words “star-crossed lovers” underneath. The ring is a pictorial representation of the line “death-marked love”, whilst the words underneath are probably the most important of the prologue, and are emphasised in both prologues of Baz Luhrmann’s version The second version of the prologue in this film is not read in whole. Instead, only the first six lines are read, as these are the most important of the prologue and tell you the plot and outcome of the play.
They are emphasised in many different ways. The phrases “ancient grudge” and “new mutiny” are shown as newspaper headlines, to make them seem important. Although one line in the prologue, the line “star-crossed lovers take their life” is split into two parts in the second prologue. First, we see the phrase “star-crossed lovers” on screen. It is in bold, block capitals, white writing and set against a black background, which is very striking and stands out. Straight after, the phrase “Take their life” flashes on screen, in the same effect, white writing against a black background.
The writing, however, is bigger, and the letter T is shown as a cross (i?? ). This symbolizes Christ, who sacrificed himself for our sins, and ties in with the belief that Romeo and Juliet sacrificed themselves. Symbols of Christ appear many times during the prologue and opening scene. We learn that the play is set in a fictional area called Verona Beach. This updates the setting to make it sound more modern and cool, while still keeping with the setting of the play, Verona. We see a board welcoming people to Verona Beach just after the words “In fair Verona, where we lay our scene” are on screen.
As the camera pans around the city, we see two skyscrapers, each with the names “Montague” and “Capulet” on top of them. This shows the social status and influence of the two warring families, and fits in with the line “Two households, both alike in dignity”, as both skyscrapers are identical and would not be able to be told apart but for the family names on top of them. In between the two skyscrapers is a statue of Christ, which again symbolizes the sacrifice he made. The first scene starts with the Montague boys speeding down a highway in their car.
In the car are Benvolio, Sampson and Gregory. On the back of Gregory’s head is a tattoo with the word Montague and three interlocking circles above it, which is a symbol that is also seen on the top of the Montague skyscraper. The shot is frozen, and the words “The Montague Boys” appear, and if it had not already been established that it was them, this confirms it. They are dressed in colourful tropical-style shirts, and this makes them easily identifiable. The car pulls into a service station, and the camera focuses on the license plate of the car. It reads “MON 005”.
As Benvolio steps out of the car to go to the toilet, he warns his passengers; “The quarrel is between our masters,” and one replies “and us their men”. This shows that they are prepared to battle for their master, and are not scared of the Capulets. As the two Montague Boys are waiting for Benvolio, the Capulet car pulls into the garage. The license plate of it reads “CAP 005”. The license plates of the cars make them easy to identify. Tybalt steps out of the car, and stubs his cigar out on the ground. Just then, a group of nuns emerges from the shop, and the Montague boys begin to mock them and also their strict Catholic ways.
When their mini-bus drives away, Abra, of the house of Capulet, is seen. He is angry, because the Montague boys have made fun of his Catholic religion. We learn that the Capulets are Catholic by the many times that symbols of Jesus appear on their clothing and guns. The Montague boys think that there is going to be trouble, and pull back their shirts to reveal their guns to Abra, who does the same. On the butt of the guns are the crests of the respective houses. Abra smiles to reveal a silver mouthpiece with the word SIN emblazoned across it. This scares the Montague boys and they fall back in shock.
The Capulet’s burst out laughing, and begin to taunt and mock them, before getting back into their car. Sampson is clearly humiliated, and says; “I will bite my thumb at them, which is a disgrace to them, if they bear it. ” He bites his thumb at them, and Abra sees Sampson mock him in the mirror. He steps out of the car. Abra – Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? Sampson – I do bite my thumb, sir. Abra – Do you bite your thumb at us, sir? Sampson – Is the law of our side, if I say yes? Gregory – No. Sampson – I do not bite my thumb at you, sir; but I bite my thumb, sir.
Gregory – Do you quarrel, sir? Abra – Quarrel, sir? No, sir. Sampson – But if you do sir, I am for you. I serve as good a man as you Abra – No better? Sampson – Well sir…. Gregory – Say better, here comes our Master’s kinsman Sampson – Yes, better, sir. Abra – You lie. Sampson – Draw, if you be men! Their guns come out, and it is at this moment that Benvolio comes from the toilet. He sees that there is going to be trouble, and brandishes his gun. The camera zooms in on his gun, and it reveals the words “Sword 9mm” etched on the barrel of the gun. “Put up your swords!
” he says. The camera focuses on a sign saying ‘Add more fuel to your fire’ as if to say that by telling them to put up their guns, he is making the situation worse. Tybalt steps from the car, and says; “What, are thou drawn among these heartless hinds? ” Turn thee, Benvolio, look upon thy death. ” Benvolio replies; “I do but keep the peace. Put up thy sword, Or manage it to part these men with me. ” Tybalt is infuriated by what Benvolio has just asked him to do. He lights a cigar, and says; “Peace? Peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montagues, and thee. ”
Between saying “all Montagues” and “and thee” Tybalt drops the match with which he lit his cigar, and grinds it into the ground, as if showing Benvolio what he plans to do to him. Tybalt then reaches into his jacket, and pulls out his gun. On the handle of his gun we see a picture of Jesus, and also one on his jacket. He fires a shot at Benvolio, who falls to the ground clutching his chest, and his gun drops to the ground. During the gun battle that follows, we see that one of the Capulet Boys has a cross shaven into the back of his head, which is another representation of Jesus.
Sampson and Gregory flee to the car, and begin to speed away. As they are doing so, Tybalt aims his gun toward Gregory and shoots him in the chest. Tybalt then drops his cigar to the ground, which ignites that spilling fuel. He is surprised to see Benvolio pick himself up from the ground, grab his gun and run off into the traffic firing shots back at Tybalt. As Tybalt chases after Benvolio, we are left to look at the crumbling service station, and the camera centres on a newspaper headline, which reads “RIOT AND DISHONOUR”. This is most likely reporting on one of the previous skirmishes between the two households.
There is also a burning flyer, which says; Montague vs. Capulet 2nd Brawl This tells us that there have already been two brawls between the two households. The next scene gives us a panning shot of the two skyscrapers, with helicopters whirring around them and the city in total chaos. We see Captain Prince’s helicopter with both his name and the number “0001” on the side. This gives the impression that he holds the most important job in the Verona Beach Police Department. Montague is sitting in his office, when he turns round and sees the news bulletin reporting a “3rd Civil Brawl”.
Above the caption, there is a picture of Benvolio wielding his gun, as if to make it seem he is the aggressor when really he was the peacemaker. Montague is furious, and says to his wife; “Give me my long sword, ho! ” His long sword is a bigger version of the pistol used in the gunfight at the service station. Lady Montague replies; “Thou shalt not stir one foot to seek a foe,” and pulls his hand away from the weapon. Luhrmann has given Lady Montague more influence over her husband, which is more suited to a modern version. After this, the next thing we see is Tybalt and Benvolio, guns drawn, aimed at each other and screaming at each other.
Captain Prince is shouting orders at them from his helicopter in an aggressive and command tone of voice. The fact that he is in a higher position than them gives him a sense of power and influence. “Rebellious subjects, enemies to peace, Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground. On pain of torture, from those bloody hands, Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground. ” Obeying his orders, Benvolio and Tybalt drop their weapons to the ground. The action switches from the chaotic streets to Captain Prince’s office. This makes things seem more formal. In the room are Capulet, Montague, Tybalt and Benvolio.
Tybalt is standing behind Capulet, and Benvolio standing behind Montague. They are like silent supporters. During Prince’s speech, the only sound that can be heard is his voice. This shows that he has their respect. He says; “Three civil brawls, bred of an airy word, By thee, old Capulet, and Montague, Have thrice disturbed the quiet of our streets. If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. ” He warns the two leaders of the households that if there is any more trouble and either is to blame, they will be killed.
When he says “Three civil brawls” the camera moves from Montague, to Capulet and then back to Prince. In all this time, he is the only one speaking. This gives an impression of his influence over Montague and Capulet and their silence shows how much they respect him. He ends on the words “If ever you disturb our streets again, Your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace. ” This makes him seem more serious and threatening and underlines the power and authority he holds over the two leaders of the households. This is probably his most important line of his speech.
Both versions, although set in completely different time periods, bear some resemblance. Luhrmann manages to use almost exactly the same language as Franco Zeffirelli does, without making it seem outdated, or making it difficult to understand. The prologues of each are certainly the most different. It is easy to tell that Zeffirelli and Luhrmann were aiming for completely different audiences when filming their movies. Zeffirelli aimed for authenticity, right down to filming the scenes in Verona, while Luhrmann wanted to modernise the script and update the setting.
Zeffirelli was most likely aiming for a theatre-going audience who would be interested to see how the play would be adapted for the big screen, and he did not disappoint. He provides a realistic, authentic version of the play that would be fit for theatre. The script is accurate and the battle scenes draw you in give you a fantastic impression of the scale of the battle, at some points it seems as if everyone on the screen is fighting. Zeffirelli does this with aerial and ground shots that make it seem as if there are more people than there really are.
Luhrmann, however, aimed for a much younger audience. He set of the film in Verona Beach, and many of the scenes were filmed in Venice Beach in California. Most of the main actors and actress were, at the time, young up-and-coming actors who many youngsters then will have heard of. They wore casual clothes, had spiked hair and many of these seemingly unimportant things would appeal to a young audience as they feel they would be able to relate to them. While the story may seem ‘soppy’ to men, they would be drawn in by the gunfights and conflict between the two families.
Luhrmann most likely aimed for a teenage audience, of both genders, while Zeffirelli was probably looking for an older, mature audience when he set out to make his. Of the two versions, I much preferred Baz Luhrmann’s. Right from the start, I was interested. There was far most action, the pace was more frantic and I felt more at home watching a film based in the modern day rather than one based in Shakespearean times. I thought that Franco Zeffirelli stuck to the script too much and very little of his own work went into the movie, but rather he was realising Shakespeare’s text in a very unoriginal way.
Baz Luhrmann’s team obviously thought long and hard as to how they would present the movie, and I think they did a very good job with it. It is an original idea and works well. There was not one moment in Franco Zeffirelli’s version that was better than the same part in Luhrmann’s version. My favourite part of both movies was the fighting scenes. Of the two, Baz Luhrmann’s was far superior and well thought-out, and the timing was very good with the camera focusing on the faces of the Montague’s and Capulet’s at critical times.
The Prince’s entrance in Zeffirelli’s version was rather disappointing as, although he had their respect and they listened attentively to him, I never fully got the impression that he had a lot of power over them. I thought that Captain Prince’s entrance in Luhrmann’s version was much better as we all recognise police officers as authoritative figures. Overall, I thought Baz Luhrmann’s version was much better than Franco Zeffirelli’s and, if the opening scene is anything to go by, I would definitely consider watching the film in its entirety.