Monday, September 23, 2013

Resurecting Romeo and Juliet

After only three years, a new film adaptation of Shakespeare’s tragic play of star crossed lovers is returning to theatres.  The story is timeless.  Two feuding families from Verona experience reconciliation that is only achievable through the deaths of their own children.  Mixed with complications, miscommunication, and classic lines, this play is one of the scripts with the highest rate to be turned into films.  
In the past, there have been countless film adaptations of this play.  Here are some of the past adaptations that have stood out compared to others:
Romeo and Juliet: This multi-Oscar nominated film was directed by George Cukor in 1936.  It had only become a true consideration after seeing how successful Warners’ adaptation of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” was.  The film features the talents of Leslie Howard as Romeo and Norma Shearer as Juliet, and also featured John Barrymore as Mercutio.  The film received nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor and Best Art Direction.  Producer Irving Thalberg's stated intention was "to make the production what Shakespeare would have wanted had he possessed the facilities of cinema.”  Elaborate research on Verona and Shakespeare’s time was done to make sure this film would avoid being anachronistic.  Overall, the film received indifferent feedback.  Although not too many people disliked this adaptation, many people didn’t love it.  Cukor even said in an interview 24 years after the film was made that if he could go back in time to change any film, this one would be it. 
Romeo and Juliet: This 1968 film directed by Franco Zeffirelli is a classic, and probably the best one.  Unabridged and staying true to Shakespeare’s air, this accurate adaptation is a true masterpiece.  It is the closest film to the play that we have.  Zeffirelli is also known for his adaptation of Shakespeare’s “Taming of the Shrew.”  Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey starred as the young lovers, and it made an impression at the Academy Awards.  The film won Oscars for Best Cinematography and Best Costume Design, and also received nominations for Best Director and Best Picture.  This film is definitely the best adaptation to check out if you are too lazy to read and is looking for something accurate to the play. It is a complete feast for the eyes.
West Side Story: This play tells the tale of Tony, a “Jet” and native New Yorker, who falls in love with a Puerto Rican lady, Maria.  Their love ensues, and they cannot be together because of cultural difference.  Set in the West side of Manhattan, the two social groups are unable to coexist peacefully, as gang fights erupt and the plot  follows the events our two lovers of Verona become entangled in.  Filled with music, dance, and passion beyond the norm, “West Side Story” is an effective adaptation.  The storyline stays the same, as two opposing forces can’t be together without pleasing everyone else.  The film adaptation of the play came out in 1961 starring Natalie Wood as Maria and Richard Beymer as Tony.  Even though the dialogue isn’t early Modern English, the dramatic changes of incorporating song and dance turn this piece into an entirely different animal. 
Romeo + Juliet: This 1996 film was aiming to please the “MTV generation.”  The only reason this film is mentioned on this list is because it stood out in such a horrific way.  Baz Luhrmann took this classic Shakespeare play and tore it apart with his modernization.  Taking place in contemporary Verona Beach, Florida, this version does very little to foster the spirit of Shakespeare’s time.  The film tore apart Mercutio, one of the key players, and everything else going on distracted from the beautiful language. Gang fights isn't what we think when Shakespeare comes to mind, and unfornatelty Luhrmann makes this so.  However, we do need to give credit where credit is due.  Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes played the pair of lovers, and their performance would have been enough to appreciate without all the dumb show Luhrmann creates in the background. 
Gnomeo and Juliet: One cannot set their expectations high for a Disney version of a Shakespeare film. If you are looking for an accurate adaptation, here is not where you would find it.  Especially 3-D animated ones with talking lawn decorations.  In this adaptation, two neighbors, Mr. Montague and Ms. Capulet absolutely hate each other.  Their hate spreads to their garden gnomes, as the opposing yards dislike each other.  This 2011 film is cute, but it is no more than dumb show.  The cast includes the talents of Emily Blunt, James McAvoy, Michael Caine and Maggie Smith.  Filled with the musical talents of Sir Elton John, this film is lighthearted and very whimsical.  The last thing you should do is take this film seriously, as the ending has been altered along with significant plot details. 
These notable adaptations have taken Shakespeare’s tragedy into many different directions.  Though the story is still the same, the environment in which the players interact varies.  We go from Shakespeare’s time in Verona, Italy to Verona Beach in the 1990’s and even to front lawns with garden décor.  In this latest adaptation, director Carlo Carlei sets the scene in Renaissance era Verona.  However, this film is unlike any other that has been done in the past.  The language used isn’t the same as what Shakespeare has written.  The story line stays constant, but that’s about it.  This is controversial because the film may lose meaning overall.  It will go from Many critics believe that this film has the potential to be unsuccessful.  However, it can go really well.  By maintaining the plot-line and incorporating tasteful contemporary elements, the play may have a successful adaptation.  This will be something for critics (such as myself) will have to look into. 
We can only hope that Carlei does this screened-play justice.  This is the first time he is taking on the silver screen in over 20 years.  The cast includes Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth as the infamous pair, along with Paul Giamatti as Friar Lawrence.  As we await its release on October 11, we should mentally prepare ourselves for a modest attempt at Shakespeare, for “there has never been a tale of more woe, than that of Juliet and her Romeo.”

1 comment:

  1. One more for you; Warm Bodies, which yes, is a zombie film and I reviewed here:

    Nice articles; I'll be back.