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Romeo & Juliet (SE)
DVD disk
10.08.2004 By: The Arrow
Romeo & Juliet (SE) order
Baz Luhrmann

Leonardo DiCaprio
Claire Danes
John Leguizamo


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The Bardís classic tale of young star-crossed lovers (Danes, DiCaprio) heading towards tragedy is slapped in the hip modern suburb of Verona. Think a cross between Miami, Mexico and a Gay Pride Parade. The environment might be mucho different, but the story thankfully remains the same. Aaaah...the magic and agony of young love.
Even though I studied Shakespeare for a year and am able to understand the manís poetic language, I was never able to make myself love it. Now what I do appreciate about The Bard are the themes which he brings up in all of his plays. They will always be relevant, whatever time theyíre read in because theyíre universally human themes. Romeo and Juliet is the ďbe all, end allĒ of love stories. It perfectly captures the passion and tragedy of young love. This film adaptation mostly keeps to the authentic text of the play but sets the scene in an outlandish modern setting. The swords are guns, the horses are hot rod cars, religious symbolism is very prominent, drag queens are plentiful, the soundtrack is varied (Rock, Latin, Hip Hop, Punk and a children's choir), acid is in (go Romeo go!), banner ads are all over the place and Hawaiian shirts are the fad. On a visual standpoint, Baz goes haywire and injects every MTV trick on the screen. I enjoyed the manís quick cuts and his restless camera movements but amongst all that eye/ear candy did he manage to retain what the play is really about? Can we feel the love? You bet we do!

For me, this film succeeds due to its two gifted main actors: Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo) and Claire Danes (Juliet). Theyíre the core of the story and pull off communicating the passion, the innocence, the sadness and the pain of young love in a genuine fashion. With two lesser performers and chemistry, this flick wouldnít have worked. Being a romantic at heart (when Iím not watching Michael Myers slit some throats), I was totally wooed by the moments which they shared together. The initial fish tank encounter (beautiful), the elevator first kiss, the pool love scene and the tragic ending had me feeling like a teen girl, hoping that love like this existed in reality (yeah, right!). And yes, I also cried like Meryl Streep on a good day a few times. I do have some qualms with the picture though.

Some of the side players overdo it (Paul Sorvino...calm down daddy-o), others arenít developed enough (Brian Dennehy as Romeoís father says like, one word) and not all of the thespians know how to deliver the Shakespearian dialogue. I also had trouble digesting that poseur gas station action sequence. Baz shouldíve concentrated on the rawness of the violence instead of going over-glossy with it. In consequence, that scene, apart from some John Woo wannabe posturing, wound up being about nothing. In the end, I was still satisfied with this ballsy rendition though. Itís very colorful, has a touching score, awesome costumes, gripping emotional moments, superb sets, gorgeous cinematography, some good supporting shows (John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau and Pete Posthwaite rocked in their respective roles) and even though the piece is maybe a tad too loud and brash, the most important ingredient still shines through: love. Get the tissues.
Commentary: This engaging full-length commentary has writer/director Baz Luhrmann, co-writer Craig Pearce, art designer Catherine Martin and cinematographer Don McAlpine talking shop. If you like technical background on a film, youíll be well served here: costumes, set designs, specific shots, and the actors, all are covered here. We also get to hear the intentions of all in regards to what they set out to do with this modernized update.

DIRECTORíS GALLERY: Here we get 5 vignettes of about 2-4 minutes each, which take us on the set of the picture. This is, without a doubt, the best extra of the DVD. We get:

Impact: The director and the stars talk about the flick and we also get clips of critics talking (and some panning) about the film.

Why Shakespeare: Two years after the flick, Baz talks about his perception of Shakespeare, the research he did for the movie and the different genres Shakespeare touched. This bla-bla session takes place during a live seminar. Baz is one funny dude!

Pitching Shakespeare: Still at the seminar, Baz explains in his own humorous way, how he pitched the movie. He also explains how the studio gave him a $1000 to shoot a reel in order to test out whether or not the concept of Romeo + Juliet set in present time would work. He called up Leo who flew down from Australia and shot some scenes with unknown actors. We get to see clips from that reel...fun times!

The Gas Station: Here we get to see Baz directing the gas station sequence, as well as the actors rehearsing it and John Leguizamo practicing his gunplay. I love this behind-the-scene stuff!

The Pool Scene: We see the staging, rehearsal and shooting of the famous love pool sequence. Man, Leo and Claire went through a rough time!

Tybalís Execution: We go on set to see how they shot the massive car accident and the shooting of Tybal. Interesting.

CINEMATOGRAPHER GALLERY: This feature offers six 1-2 minute on-set clips with cinematographer Don McAlpine giving us a commentary on how he made it all happen. This segment isnít as satisfying as the Directorís Gallery (the clips are too short) but itís somewhat fun to watch.

A Hole In The Wall: We see the crew make a hole in the wall of one of the sets to get an overhead shot. OkayÖ

One Light: We see the crew lighting a scene with one light to project the shadow of a cross behind DiCaprio as he speaks. Too short but interesting in a technical way.

Operator: Here our brave cinematographer goes hands-on with the camera during the party scenes as he explains how he feels when heís handling the cam. Itís aight.

The Fish tank: We get to see how they properly lit the fish tank sequence. Again, interesting from a technical standpoint.

The Elevator: We get to see how they shot the circle kissing scene in the elevator and what they had to do to make it work. Pretty whacked stuff! Kudos to the actors for being able to stay in the moment with the entire ruckus around them. Funny stuff!

The Church: We get to see how they lit the final candle-heavy Cathedral sequence. We hear the problems with the scene and how they solved it. Itís okay.

DESIGN GALLERY: This groovy feature shows us short montages of 2-5 minutes each (with hip tunes in the background) of: The books - Guns of Verona Beach - Production Designs - Fashion Of Verona Beach - Branding of Verona Beach (the ads and product placement in the film). A kool and harmless feature thatís very compelling from a design POV.

INTERVIEW GALLERY: Here we get some well-shot 2-5 minute capsules that have the actors and other folks involved talk about their experiences on the picture. The folks in the house are: The co-writer - the editor - the choreographer - the costume designer - Leonardo DiCaprio - Claire Danes - John Leguizamo.

Add to that, Music Clips (Young Heart Run Free- Kissing You), Marketing R+J (TV Spots, Trailer-Posters) and a beautiful poetic Animated Menu and you get one solid DVD.
If youíre a Shakespeare purist, you will probably spit on this update with all of the saliva that you can muster. But if youíre uninitiated to the Bardís work and dig a strong love story with slick visuals, two strong leads and a booming soundtrack, then maybe this is the film youíre looking for. The only obstacle I can see the average viewer encountering is the language, which might be hard to fully comprehend. But if patience is one of your virtues and your cinematic tastes rise above Steven Seagal pics, you might be able to jump that hurdle and still enjoy this poignant and heartbreaking love story. Either way, this is a solid DVD and any fan of the film should own it.
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