About the Film
William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, directed by Australian filmmaker Baz Luhrmann, is an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s well-known classic, Romeo and Juliet. A unique adaptation, Luhrmann’s version transports the story from Verona, Italy in the 1600s and places it in the fictional seaside town of Verona Beach, but keeps the classic Shakespearean dialogue. When released in 1996, the film received mixed reviews, but has come to be known as a cult classic in the years following its release.
Film In Context
Consdierations of an Adaptation
When adapting a play into a film, there are many things to consider. Romeo + Juliet is a great example because it not only takes the classic play off the stage and onto the big screen, it also takes this classic story out of the past and sets it in the modern world.
Although written almost half a century ago, the themes of love, fate, and conflict are still relevant today. In order to adapt the original work, many changes were made to the setting, costumes and props, yet the original dialogue remained the same. Consider the following topics, and how the filmmaker transitioned the story from the past to the present, and then from the stage to the screen.
- Costumes - Pay close attention to the choice of costumes used in the film. Notice what the characters wear in the costume party scene—what do these costumes say about the characters? Would the modern day clothing used in the film work in a stage version of the play? Why or why not?
- Props - This adaptation replaces Shakespeare’s swords with handguns. Take note of how the guns are held and used by the characters like swords. What other props have been updated for the film adaptation?
- Dialogue - Baz Luhrmann made many changes, but chose to use the original dialogue. Why? How would you describe the experience of hearing “old-fashioned” dialogue while seeing present-day images?
- Setting - The original play takes place in the Italian city of Verona. In keeping with that setting, the filmmaker chose to set this adaptation in Verona Beach, a fictional town based on Venice Beach in Los Angeles. What had to be done by the filmmaker to make this fake town seem realistic? Do you imagine that the film’s setting is more engaging than a set used on stage for play? Is it more distracting? How and why?
Other Modern Day Shakespeare Film Adaptations
- West Side Story (1961) - A musical adaptation of Romeo and Juliet set in 1960s Manhattan, switching the Montagues and Capulets for two rival gangs, the Jets and the Sharks.
- 10 Things I Hate About You (1999) - The Taming of the Shrew set in a modern day high school where a “No-Dating Rule” enforced by a young girl’s father is challenged by the new boy in school.
- Hamlet (2000) - The story of this tragic play is moved from a royal family in Shakespearean times and placed into a modern day company called “Denmark Corporation,” but still uses Shakespeare’s original dialogue.
- O (2001) - Othello, Shakespeare’s classic tale of racism, love, jealousy and betrayal, rewrites the title character as Odin James, a high school basketball player and only African American student at his school.
- Scotland, PA (2001) - Macbeth retold as the power struggles within one family as they fight for control of their dead father’s diner.