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Romeo and Juliet (1996) - A Modern Adaptation of Shakespeare's Tragedy

Romeo and Juliet is one of the most famous and influential plays by William Shakespeare, a story of two young lovers who are doomed by their families' feud. The play has been adapted many times for different media, such as opera, ballet, musical, and film. One of the most popular and acclaimed film versions is Romeo + Juliet (1996), directed by Baz Luhrmann and starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes as the titular characters.

In this article, we will explore how Luhrmann's film updates the original play to a modern-day setting, while still retaining its Shakespearean language and themes. We will also discuss some of the technical aspects of the film, such as its cinematography, editing, music, and production design. Finally, we will review some of the critical and audience responses to the film, as well as its legacy and impact on popular culture.

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Setting and Plot

The film is set in Verona Beach, a fictional city that resembles Los Angeles in the 1990s. The Capulets and Montagues are two rival business empires that are constantly at war with each other. The violence between them escalates to the point where the Chief of Police, Captain Prince, warns them that if they cause another civil disturbance, their lives will pay the forfeit of the peace.

Meanwhile, Romeo Montague, a depressed young man who is in love with a woman named Rosaline, attends a masquerade party at the Capulet mansion with his friends Mercutio and Benvolio. There, he meets Juliet Capulet, the daughter of the Capulet patriarch, Fulgencio. They fall in love at first sight and share a passionate kiss, unaware of each other's identities. Later, they discover that they belong to rival families, but they decide to pursue their love anyway.

With the help of Juliet's nurse and Friar Laurence, a priest who hopes to end the feud between the families, Romeo and Juliet secretly marry. However, their happiness is short-lived, as Tybalt, Juliet's cousin and a hotheaded Capulet loyalist, challenges Romeo to a duel for crashing the party. Romeo refuses to fight him, but Mercutio intervenes and is fatally wounded by Tybalt. Enraged by his friend's death, Romeo kills Tybalt and flees from the scene.

As a result of his actions, Romeo is banished from Verona by Captain Prince. He spends one night with Juliet before leaving for Mantua. Meanwhile, Juliet's parents arrange for her to marry Paris, a wealthy and handsome suitor. Desperate to avoid this fate, Juliet seeks Friar Laurence's help. He gives her a potion that will make her appear dead for 42 hours. He also sends a letter to Romeo informing him of the plan and asking him to come back to Verona to reunite with Juliet.

However, due to a series of unfortunate events, Romeo never receives the letter. He only hears from his servant Balthasar that Juliet is dead. He buys a vial of poison from an apothecary and returns to Verona to see Juliet's body in the Capulet crypt. There, he encounters Paris, who tries to stop him from entering. They fight and Romeo kills Paris. He then enters the crypt and finds Juliet lying on a bed of flowers. He kisses her and drinks the poison.

Soon after, Juliet wakes up from her fake death and sees Romeo's corpse beside her. She tries to kiss some poison from his lips but fails. She then takes his gun and shoots herself in the head. The sound of the gunshot alerts the authorities who arrive at the scene along with both families. Friar Laurence explains what happened and how their children's love was destroyed by their hatred. The Capulets and Montagues finally reconcile and agree to end their feud in honor of their children's memory.

Style and Technique

One of the most distinctive features of Luhrmann's film is its use of Shakespearean language in a contemporary setting. The film preserves most of the original dialogue from the play but adapts it to fit modern situations and contexts. For example, swords are replaced by guns with brand names such as "Sword" and "Dagger", and the prologue is delivered by a news anchor on a television screen.

The film also employs a fast-paced and energetic style of filmmaking that reflects the passion and intensity of the characters. The film uses rapid editing, zooms, freeze frames, split screens, and other techniques to create a dynamic and chaotic atmosphere. The film also incorporates various genres and influences, such as westerns, musicals, gangster films, and pop culture references. The film's soundtrack features a diverse range of songs from artists such as Radiohead, Garbage, Des'ree, and The Cardigans.

The film's production design is also remarkable for its contrast between the old and the new. The film mixes elements of Renaissance art and architecture with modern urban landscapes and technology. The film creates a visually stunning and colorful world that is both familiar and exotic. The film's costumes are also designed to reflect the personalities and allegiances of the characters. For example, the Capulets wear dark and flamboyant clothes with Latin American influences, while the Montagues wear bright and casual clothes with Hawaiian motifs.

Reception and Legacy

The film was released on November 1, 1996, by 20th Century Fox. It was a commercial success, grossing over $147 million worldwide against its $14.5 million budget. It was also well received by critics, who praised its originality, creativity, and performances. The film has a 72% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes based on 64 reviews, with an average rating of 6.8/10. The website's critical consensus reads: \"Baz Luhrmann's visual aesthetic is as divisive as it is fresh and inventive.\"

The film also won several awards and nominations, including an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction/Set Decoration for Catherine Martin and Brigitte Broch. Leonardo DiCaprio won the Silver Bear for Best Actor at the 47th Berlin International Film Festival in 1997, where Luhrmann also won the Alfred Bauer Prize for opening new perspectives in cinematic art. The film also won four BAFTA Awards, two MTV Movie Awards, two Satellite Awards, and a Grammy Award for Best Film Soundtrack.

The film has had a lasting impact on popular culture and has influenced many other adaptations of Shakespeare's works. The film has been parodied, referenced, and homaged in various media, such as The Simpsons , South Park , Gnomeo & Juliet , and High School Musical . The film has also been credited with introducing Shakespeare to a new generation of viewers and inspiring them to appreciate his works. The film has been included on several lists of the best films of all time, such as the BFI list of the \"50 films you should watch by the age of 14\" and Empire magazine's list of \"The 500 Greatest Movies of All Time\".


Romeo + Juliet (1996) is a bold and innovative adaptation of Shakespeare's classic tragedy that transports the story to a modern-day setting while retaining its original language and themes. The film showcases Luhrmann's distinctive style of filmmaking that combines fast-paced editing, eclectic music, and lavish production design to create a vibrant and captivating world. The film also features stellar performances from DiCaprio and Danes as the star-crossed lovers who defy their families' feud for their love. The film was a critical and commercial success that won several awards and nominations. It also had a significant influence on popular culture and inspired many people to discover Shakespeare's works.


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