William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet (Blu-ray)
Directed by Baz Luhrmann
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 120 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 5.1, French, Portuguese
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish, Portuguese
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: October 19, 2010
Review Date: October 17, 2010
Doing unconventional things to Shakespeare’s plays on both the stage and the screen is not in itself very revolutionary. The Bard of Avon’s works have been staged, adapted, reinterpreted, stretched, and mangled in innumerable ways for decades (in the years immediately before and somewhat after the film in question were a Nazi-interpreted version of Richard III and Kenneth Branagh’s musical version of Love’s Labour’s Lost), so Baz Luhrmann’s avant-garde take on William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet was hardly the first time something brazen had been done with the classic material. In his typical kinetic style, he’s hyped the material pictorially while giving us a reasonably faithful rendition of the tale (in modern dress and custom), and his eccentric take on the story of star-crossed lovers likely did resonate more strongly with Generation Xers than, say, Franco Zeffirelli’s ravishing 1967 screen treatment. Still, while visually and sonically interesting, this Romeo + Juliet doesn’t quite have the tragic impact of the best renditions of the story. It’s good but seldom great.
Things are tense in Verona Beach, Florida, due to the continuing rivalry between two hostile gang families, the Capulets and the Montagues. At a masquerade party held on Fulgencio Capulet’s (Paul Sorvino) estate, Romeo Montague (Leonardo DiCaprio) who has crashed the party with the help of his best friend Mercutio (Harold Perrineau) who actually had an invitation, spies Juliet Capulet (Claire Danes), and it’s love at first sight. But Romeo’s presence incurs the wrath of fiery Capulet cousin Tybalt (John Leguizamo) who vows revenge. Romeo arranges to marry Juliet the next morning but is afterward drawn into a fight with the angry Tybalt which ends in his death and Romeo’s banishment by police captain Prince (Vondie Curtis-Hall). Though the two lovers manage to consummate their marriage before Romeo leaves town, Romeo is hopeful that his confidante Father Laurence (Pete Postlethwaite) will find some way they can be reunited and bring the warring families somehow back together.
Those familiar with Shakespeare’s play will notice fairly lengthy gaps in speeches and some definite changes in plot and tragic resolutions (Shakespeare’s carefully arranged symmetry with the deaths in each of the three major households of the story is abandoned), and yet there is the aura of faithfulness to the iambic pentameter the actors are speaking, and the director stages the action scenes with so much dynamic force and frenzied editing that one’s attention is likely to be drawn away from the dialogue to focus on the actors he has cast in these iconic parts. Accents for the various characters are all over the place (Juliet’s mother as played by Diane Venora has a vaguely Southern accent that keeps coming and going), and the modern South Florida setting for the piece has moments of effectiveness and moments when it doesn’t really work very well (since when are people banished nowadays from an area for a self defense shooting?). You’ll see the genesis for some of Luhrmann’s directorial choices in Moulin Rouge! as you watch the Capulet ball with its riotous mass of lights, noise, and images (at one pointed filtered though the dazzle of Romeo’s acid trip), but the latter film’s effects are amped up exponentially compared to this film.
Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes are well cast as the title lovers, and though DiCaprio seems to speak the lines a bit awkwardly and self-consciously, Danes is very appealing and natural in her looks and delivery. Both actors feel their roles deeply and emerge as a most appealing couple. Harold Perrineau cuts loose typically as the wild jokester Mercutio (even appearing at the ball in drag), but his demise is less affecting than other Mercutios seen in previous films of this play. John Leguizamo gets to strut and bellow as the egotistical Tybalt and as the elder Capulet, Paul Sorvino does the same, both effective if a bit obvious. Pete Postlethwaite does perhaps the strongest job in the film as the earnest and loving Father Laurence while Miriam Margolyes is a memorable nurse, especially impressive in the scene where she brings back news of Juliet’s impending marriage but makes her charge wait to get the details.
The film has been framed at its theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. While brazenly colorful with hues which are solid and never bleed, the image doesn’t always register perfectly in sharpness, and some black levels vary in their effective levels of depth. Most of the video is reference in quality, but there are enough moments when quality ebbs just a bit to rob it of a perfect video score. The film has been divided into 29 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is another Baz Luhrmann-inspired masterwork. As the music score plays such a vital role in the effectiveness of the director’s emotional language for the movie, the score is serviced to perfection in the available surround channels and subwoofer (especially memorable with lots of deep bass throughout). The classic dialogue is routed to the center channel and is always delivered sonically to perfection while the sound effects and score inhabit the remainder of the soundfield in an immersive design of incredible quality.
Shaking Up Shakespeare mode offers the audio commentary with picture-in-picture windows of behind-the-scenes shooting, sketches and designs for the movie, branching featurettes which offer additional information about the making of the film (these are also available individually in other bonus feature sections), pop-up windows which offer tidbits of trivia about the production and information on each song as it begins on the soundtrack. The audio commentary can also be played apart from this PiP mode, and its contributors are Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald McAlpine, and Craig Pearce all adding their own comments about the movie’s production which fans will definitely want to hear.
The Bazmark Vault is a series of four 1080p featurettes (also available in the visual commentary mode) giving behind-the-scenes information about the film’s production.
- First Kiss (2 ¼ minutes)
- Beach Scene (4 ½ minutes)
- Uncut Rehearsals (4 ¾ minutes), with Sorvino and Margolyes arguing about their characters’ motivations in their confrontation scene
- Outside the Church (2 ¾ minutes)
Other sound featurettes are lengthier interviews about the music score which are excerpted in the above documentary. They are : “Everybody’s Free” – The Journey of the Song (1 ¾ minutes), The London Music Mix (4 ¼ minutes), and Temp Music – The Journey of the Song (2 minutes). They’re all in 1080p.
The Director’s Gallery is a series of 1080p interviews and behind-the-scenes footage given by Baz Luhrmann about his involvement with the project from beginning to end. They are:
- Impact (4 ¼ minutes)
- Why Shakespeare? (3 minutes)
- Pitching Shakespeare (10 minutes) which includes a video of the beach scene shot with DiCaprio as a promo reel for Fox
- Directing the Gas Station (7 minutes)
- Directing the Pool Scenes (5 ¼ minutes)
- Tybalt’s Execution (4 ¼ minutes)
- A Hole in the Wall ( ¾-minute), a quick way to do an overhead shot
- The Fish Tank Scene (1 ½ minutes)
- Filming the Lift Scene (1 ½ minutes)
- One Light (1 ¼ minutes)
- Filming in the Church (1 minute)
The international theatrical trailer runs 1 ½ minutes in 480i. Interestingly, it’s made up of images and music with none of the Shakespearean dialogue.
The disc include Live Lookup using BD-Live which connects to the imdb to look up actors and their credits on the fly.
4/5 (not an average)
While not a complete masterwork, Baz Luhrmann’s William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet has its effective and affecting moments. The Blu-ray release is near reference in quality with excellent bonus features to extend the value of the package. Recommended!