Romeo and Juliet comparison

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Media Coursework

“Compare and contrast the ways in which Baz Luhrmann and Franco Zeffirelli present act 1, scene 1 of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’.”

Hello Film Weekly fans and in today’s 100th issue the main topic will be to compare the two ‘Rome and Juliet’ Films.  The first one was directed by Franco Zeffirelli in1968 and the most recent version in 1997 by Baz Luhrmann. I will be comparing the opening scene (including the prologue) up to the end of the first fight between the two families.

As you watch scene 1 in each film you will see the obvious differences in the ways that both approach the prologue n different ways, they seem to be intended for different audiences and the setting, i.e. Verona and Verona beach and time set one in medieval times the other in modern day times.

Luhrmann and Zeffirelli use very opposite effects and techniques in each of the Romeo and Juliet films. The contrasts between the Zeffirelli 1968 and the Luhrmann 1997 versions are vast.  Even though the directors of each film use different effects and techniques, they both tell the story in their own unique way. Zeffirelli’s traditional, English, authentic piece of almost theatre with basic use of lighting, camera and sound.

Luhrmann’s modern, loud, and emotionally gripping piece of film uses a special variety of lighting, camera and sound to emphasise the piece to the max. Luhrmann’s is certainly far more powerful than Zeffirelli’s in all aspects. Its use of music creates tension, joy, sadness which really adds a great deal of emotion compared to Zeffirelli’s. The camera and lighting creates another world and I certainly prefer Luhrmann’s to Zeffirelli’s.

I will begin by talking about the prologue in each and show the differences and if there are any some similarities.  The prologue is an introduction to the play giving a very brief explanation of what happens during the play.

In Franco Zeffirelli’s production of ‘Romeo and Juliet’, the prologue is very brief and short.  The film starts off with the details, the opening credits.  The font to the credits is in white and in a quite gothic style of writing making it fit in with the traditional theme.  While the details are slowly appearing on the screen, around the screen there is a thin border of orange geometric shapes on a yellow background.  As the border is so bright and colourful, it is able to immediately catch the audience’s eyes and therefore grabs their attention.  The border suggests a very sixties styles.  You would probably expect a more formal, dark edged kind of border.  A soft and slow melody played on a harpsichord plays quietly in the background.  The effect that Zeffirelli tries to create here is to create a nice calm beginning to the play.

        In shot one, you can see the camera panning over the city of ‘Fair Verona’ and slightly out of focus.  The light is blue and hazy, gradually brightening up as the camera pans, suggesting that it is dawn.  The colour of the light in the sky shining over the city, creates a dreamy and peaceful effect, and adds to the beauty of the city that is being shown.  You could only just make out the tops of tall buildings and churches at first, but as it gradually gets lighter, the buildings and other features become more into focus.  The rooftops of houses, church spires and a river are seen clearly.  You are able to feel the quietness of the city in the early morning, which again gives the effect of the city being very calm and peaceful.  The camera pans round the whole city, and then moves up towards the sun and stop with the sun being directly in the middle of the screen shot.  The sun suggests the hot foreign climate of a hot foreign country, such as Italy.  Shakespeare’s name appears when the camera has stop panning and focused on the sun.  All of this equals one continuous shot.  The panning is slow, and the brightening of the day is slow, creating a slow pace to the shot.  It gives me the impression of a slow climax to the prologue, getting more and more intense as it goes along, and stopping at the sun gives me the impression that it represents the end, with an either tragic end or a very happy end.  I think that it is trying to relate to the whole play itself, with the gradual climax with an intense ending.  Throughout shot one, the speaker slowly recites the prologue in a poetic style.  He speaks slowly going with the steady flow of the slow motion of the panning of the camera, so that it would not effect the background’s creation of peace.  The speaker of the prologue is a man whose voice is gentle, soothing and rhythmic as he echoes the prologue.  He still speaks when going into the second shot.

        Shot two is of a medieval courtyard.  In front of the courtyard there is the city wall with battlements made of stone and brick, which gives the impression of the setting being in the medieval times.  The camera stops moving and shows the shot of the courtyard while the speaker finishes reciting the prologue.  As he completes his speech of the prologue, the camera moves slightly round to the left, which shows that where the camera is next to the city wall, it is also one of the ends of a busy marketplace.  The sun’s golden bright morning light shines over the city wall and through the street of the marketplace, representing that it is the start of a new day.  The sound of the hustle and bustle of a busy marketplace gradually builds up and the first act of the first scene begins there.  This effect is to bring in the play with a more calm start and not rushing into the play with a different shot, bringing the audience into a slow and calm beginning.

        Zeffirelli does not create any huge special effects.  The title of the play, ‘Romeo and Juliet’ appears as the speaker says the words ‘star-crosse’d lovers’.  Zeffirelli’s purpose of having the title and the words ‘star-crosse’d lovers’ coming up at the same time, is to reinforce visually and aurally the main point of the play that it is a tragic story about the lovers Romeo and Juliet.  

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So to sum up Zeffirelli uses  soft music with a person simply reading the prologue while the camera using a soft focus pans over the city which gives the impression that Verona is a beautiful, peaceful and safe place.

Now I will be talking about how Luhrmann introduces the play using the prologue.  Baz Luhrmann’s version of the prologue is done in much more detail and is emphasised a huge amount more.  Luhrmann tries to grab the attention of the audience with very fast moving screen shots and very lively music.

        The first shot that comes up on the screen ...

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There is much detailed observation and insightful analysis here but the 5,300 words could easily be cut to 2,000. Three and a half pages are irrelevant material on the Prologue and many points are repeated several times at unnecessary length. Paragraph and sentence construction are mostly quite loose and there are lexical issues with spelling and word choice. With some serious editing the material could be restructured into a good essay. 3 stars