Compare and Contrast the Opening Scenes of Franko Zeffirelli and Baz Lurhman film Versions of Shakespeare Romeo & Juliet

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The title of the play being used in the two films is ‘Romeo and Juliet’. It was originally written by William Shakespeare in the 16th century. It is a romantic tragedy set in the 15th century with two main characters, Romeo and Juliet, who fall deeply in love with one another but end up both committing suicide believing that one another is dead.

The story line is a timeless love story that can be used again and again in lots of different romantic classics. Other themes are hatred, feuding and fighting between the two families the Capulet’s (which is Juliet’s family) and the Montague’s (which is Romeo’s family).

The story has every ingredient a good story needs and so in turn many people have decided to use it for other things as well as just theatre such as films, two examples of these are Franko Zeffierlli and Baz Lurhman. Both these men have interpreted the same play in different ways and as result their two films are different too. Franko Zeffierlli made his film suit the age with Elizabethan clothes and culture. Baz Lurhman decided to make his version set in a modern city with guns and cars.

At the beginning of both films there is a prologue which is used to describe what happens. This makes it easier for the audience to follow the story and not get confused; it also lets people know what’s going to happen. The only difference is that in Zeffierlli’s film, the prologue is delivered as a voice over and sounds God like by Laurence Olivier, who is a famous Shakespearean actor of film and theatre. Whereas Lurhman has conveyed his prologue as a newsreel on the television as a news reporter reading it out which makes it seem realistic.

Although in both films the prologue is not presented in a chorus as in the play, they have still managed to put it into their films effectively. Greek choirs thousands of years ago used choruses because the actors wore large masks and couldn’t project their voices much. Lurhman uses quick flashes of the prologue at the beginning of the film either as news paper headlines or just large bold white writing.

The first film was directed by Zeffirelli in 1968 and is set in a Mediaeval Verona and this emphasises the romantic mood more than if it was set in a modern town or village. The film opens with a birds eye view of Verona with a hazy early morning makes the effect of romance visible and softens the mood with the haze blocking out hard edges of the set or scenery. Slowly it focuses on the Sun as soon as the words from the prologue “two star crossed lovers” are read out meaning that fate is in control here. After the sky shot the camera focuses the audience on an empty street that slowly becomes busier as the morning progresses. The music in the film is made to sound as if it belongs in this period of time and is written in a minor key which is normally used for sad or romantic songs. The clothes worn are in the style of the era and are in the colours of each household.

The second film by Baz Lurhman made in 1997 is different to the Zeffirelli film because he has chosen to set his version in a modern day Los Angeles but instead of being quiet and peaceful it is loud, brash and violent. This film opens with a women reading the prologue as a news report on the television and when it is finished it again starts with an aerial view of the modern ‘Verona Beach’ with camera shots and flashing words from the prologue as newspaper headings or large white writing. The camera doesn’t focus on any particular thing straight away and then all of a sudden it picks out a yellow car with three people in it from the Montague family dressed in Hawaiian shirts and 3/4 shorts. The Catpulets are dressed in suits like the Mafia, black suits, tie and a white shirt. Each family has its own music. In the film there is some slight humour and slow motion in parts where it lets the viewer guess what happens next.

The music in both films is important because it adds to the moods of the films. In Zeffirelli’s Mediaeval film the music is in a minor key to make the mood more romantic. It can also create a soft relaxed atmosphere that can reflect on more moods in the scenes. The volume is not too loud and so enjoyable it uses all old instruments to make it sound authentic.

Lurhman’s film however is loud modern music that creates a mood of violence. At the beginning during the prologue it uses a full orchestra and opera choir to make the audience feel alert to the loud sounds. Its style is of modern rap, R&B, pop and many other fashions. The atmosphere created by this music is a feeling of danger and violence.

Some people might prefer the Zeffirelli film to Lurhman’s because it stays more faithful to the play viewed by William Shakespeare but gives the director all the advantages of movie making technology.

In conclusion I like both films because of the moods they create. I mainly prefer the modern film by Lurhman because it is more suited to what I like. I think that the Zeffirelli film is all ready out dated because more people are preferring more modern things and growing with the times such as computers and other modern appliances. The use of music and camera shots is used to the full effects in both movies and now they are being improved by computers making the films more and more spectacular.

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