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When he was writing his plays, I donít think that William Shakespeare ever thought that they would have had the kind of staying power to last all these centuries. Additionally, I donít think could have possibly envisioned how others would choose to adapt his works, sometimes so far removed from the original source that they are barely recognizable as a Shakespearian play. Of course, the best adaptations are those that remain true the text and language of Shakespeare, but choose to find some other new and invigorating way of presenting the play to an audience. In the 20th Century, film has been one of the best ways of bringing a freshness and new luster to the works of the Immortal Bard, and within the realm of film, one of the more striking cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare has been director Baz Luhrmannís ROMEO + JULIET. With ROMEO + JULIET Luhrmann pulls out all the stops by wrapping the story in a very hip and modern style, which uses its visual flash to complement the emotional depth of Shakespeareís story.

Although Baz Luhrmannís ROMEO + JULIET moves the timeless love story into modern day, the language of the story retains the poetry of Shakespeareís verse. Set in the city of Venice Beach, ROMEO + JULIET tells of the gang war that continually erupts onto the streets because of a long-standing fued between the cityís two most powerful families- the Montagues and the Capulet. During a party at the Capulet mansion, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio), the gatecrashing son of Montague clan meets and falls instantly in love with Juliet (Claire Danes), the daughter of the house. Although Juliet also falls instantly in love with Romeo, the two star crossed lovers quickly learn that their family ties may doom their love before it ever begins. The cast of ROMEO + JULIET also features John Leguizamo, Paul Sorvino, Brian Dennehy, Christina Pickles, Diane Venora, Miriam Margolyes, Pete Postlethwaite, Jamie Kennedy, Dash Mihok, Paul Rudd, Jesse Bradford and M. Emmet Walsh.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made ROMEO + JULIET available on DVD in a 2.35:1 wide screen presentation that has been enhanced for 16:9 displays. This is a really great looking transfer of somewhat difficult material. Director Baz Luhrmann and cinematographer Donald McAlpine have gone for a stylized look for the film that utilizes a rather intense color palette, one that is tough to render in the video realm. Many of the hues push towards over saturation, but fortunately they are rendered here without noise and only minimal fuzziness. Despite the intensity of some of the hues, flesh tones are reproduced in an attractive and seemingly natural manner. The image itself is crisp and appears very nicely defined. Blacks are pure and solid, while whites appear clean and stable. Contrast is sometimes a bit harsh, but for the most part is smooth. The film element used for the transfer is free from excessive defects and displays minimal grain. Dual layer authoring keeps digital compression artifacts very well concealed.

ROMEO + JULIET comes with a rather aggressively mixed Dolby Digital 5.1 channel soundtrack. The heightened intensity of the filmís visuals are well complemented by the sound design that doesnít shy away from utilizing sound effects and music in all of the discrete channels. While there is sometimes a maelstrom of sounds in the mix, the filmís dialogue is always cleanly rendered and distinct. Even those who need to listen intensely to the Shakespearian prose to gather its meaning shouldnít have any difficulty here. Surprisingly, the soundtrack has a rather potent bottom end that comes to thunderous life now and again. English and French Dolby Surround tracks are also encoded onto the DVD, along with English and Spanish subtitles.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the DVDís interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the DVDís supplements. Director Baz Luhrmann, cinematographer Donald McAlpine, costume designer Catherine Martin, and screenwriter Craig Pearce are featured on a running audio commentary that proves to be both entertaining and informative. The DVD also includes a Director's Gallery and a Cinematographer's Gallery which offers an inside glimpse into the process of getting the production off the drawing board and how its look was achieved. The Design Gallery looks at the visual styling of ROMEO + JULIET through various aspects of the production design. The Interview Gallery offers members of the cast and crew talking about the production of the movie. Music clips offers two pseudo music videos from the film. The Marketing R+J offers a theatrical trailer, TV Spot and Poster. If ROMEO + JULIET is purchased as part of the Red Curtain Trilogy box set, then additional materials can be found on the bonus disc BEHIND THE RED CURTAIN, which offers an interactive documentary that contains hours of behind the scenes footage for this film, as well as MOULIN ROUGE and STRICTLY BALLROOM.

ROMEO + JULIET certainly isn't your father's Shakespeare. The movie hip and visually impressive, as well as remaining quite faithful to the text of one of Shakespeare's most often performed and interpreted plays. Fox's DVD looks and sounds great, making it a must have for fans of the Immortal Bard, as well as those of the film's stars and director.


ROMEO + JULIET is available on DVD individually for $19.98 or along with MOULIN ROUGE and STRICTLY BALLROOM as part of the Red Curtain Trilogy box set for $69.98.





William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (Special Edition) (1996)

Baz Luhrmann's Red Curtain Trilogy (Strictly Ballroom / Romeo + Juliet / Moulin Rouge)}


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2002 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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