In Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Romeo and Juliet, is a traditional adaptation of Shakespeare’s original Romeo and Juliet, with some variations. Baz Luhrmann directed the 1996 version, also known as the MTV Romeo † Juliet. This version is very modernized, but keeps the language intact with few changes. There are many differences between Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet and the Signet version of Romeo and Juliet. Romeo’s entire speech that begins “Alas that love, whose view is muffled still, Should without eyes see pathways to his will! ” (at act 1 scene 1 line 174) is deleted.
With the deletion of these lines, the audience, is not privy to his longing for Rosaline. Even though Friar Lawrence mentions Rosaline later in the movie, we are not shown Romeo as a boy whose heart is easily captured, but rather, ready to be caught. In Luhrmann’s version of Romeo † Juliet, this scene, even though cut in some ways, is shown with Romeo writing in his diary. He talks of his love, but he does not seem like he’s in love, but rather a repressed adolescent or a typical teen. Romeo doesn’t confide later to Benvolio as in the Signet version.
In the MTV version of Romeo † Juliet, the Nurse’s role is cut considerably. Her speech about “weaning” Juliet, and Juliet falling with her first steps, and the reference to the earthquake are deleted. This is a major change because it completely changes the dynamics of the relationship between the Nurse and Juliet. We do not get the same sense of closeness between the two as we do in the Zeffirelli film. We also do not see the scene where the Nurse tells about Romeo’s banishment and Tybalt’s death. The reason for this is because of the speed of the film.
Luhrmann keeps the pace of this film at very high speeds, and when you look back at the text, the Nurse’s role slows the pace considerably. She’s older, she’s slower, and she’s trying to extend her importance to Juliet and Romeo, but in the MTV Version, her role is cut drastically, which only contributes to Juliet’s isolation. In both movies, the presence of Paris at Juliet’s grave is discluded. This is probably for the better. While reading the play, it seemed like overkill, like just one more obstacle to prevent Romeo from getting to Juliet. Even though the audience know the outcome, they are still anxious to see Romeo get to her.
Plus it helped keep the movies within two hours, give or take some. We also do not get the lamentation speeches from Juliet’s family after her fake death. Both films go straight to the funeral. The film allows directors to keep the audience from investing too much grief for the family by swiftly showing the funeral. The lamentation speeches of Shakespeare’s plays were needed, because they did not have the same visual choice that the filmmakers of today have. Romeo, being one of the protagonists of Romeo and Juliet, is played very differently between Leonardo De Caprio and Leonard Whiting.
While Leonard Whiting plays the typical adolescent to a tee, Leonardo De Caprio has much more depth and expresses his anguish in much more dramatic ways. For example, when Romeo being played by De Caprio is challenged by Tybalt he knows the consequence of his fighting and tries with all his might to prevent fighting with Tybalt, even though Tybalt is kicking his butt. We get the impression that he is truly trying to befriend him and make him understand that fighting should be left aside and that there will be great regrets. In Zeffirelli's version, Leonard Whiting plays a younger spirited Romeo.
When Whiting is challenged by Tybalt, he is playful and does try to prevent a fight, but it is more with playful words and not because he knows the consequence of the fight or duel. We also get the feeling that De Caprio is much more mature than Whiting. While Whiting plays a lovesick kid from an upper class family, he still appears to be naive and does not grow to the depths that De Caprio does. From the very beginning, De Caprio is seen as a street smart, savvy, mature young man. His writing in his diary shows us depths that does not show on Whiting, where he is only twirling a twig of flowers.
The balcony scene is another scene that shows the differences between the two actors. In the '68 version, Whiting is very childish and playful. He plays around in the trees while he's waiting for Juliet. This reminded me of the young Kevin Costner in Silverado when he was swinging from the jail cell bars, showing his youth. He is also like a puppy, very young and immature; he seems unconcerned about his safety; he only has eyes for Juliet. We can see that is his only thought or concern. When he leaves we see him jumping and skipping, and once again we are aware of his youth. Leonardo De Caprio shows much more passion and desire.
We do not get the sense of immaturity with De Caprio, but rather a sense of manhood. His eyes show deep desire, like he knows what she looks like naked. He also is very sure and thrilled, he is aware of the danger by his presence and takes caution to be careful. Whiting seemed oblivious to his danger. His only concern is his love and desire for Juliet. De Caprio is more aware of the consequences of their love; Whiting is only aware of his love. One of the most important relationships in Romeo and Juliet is the relationship between the Nurse and Juliet. In Act 1, Scene 3 we are introduced to the most vivid character of the play, the Nurse.
With her speech that begins "Even or odd, of all days in the year, Come Lammas Eve at night shall she be fourteen. " (1. 3. 16-48), we learn that she nursed Juliet, she lost a child the same age as Juliet, and also lost her husband. The Nurse’s role is very important to Juliet. The Nurse is the one that is there for Juliet, she is her confidant, she is her friend. This is especially important near the end of the play when Juliet realizes she is alone after the Nurse tells her to go ahead and commit bigamy and marry Paris. In Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet the Nurse plays the role of the Nurse as it's written in the play.
She is affectionate; she is giggly, and loving. We see Juliet and the Nurse being openly affectionate with each other and can tell from this film that Juliet depends on the Nurse. This is especially so when Lady Capulet tells Juliet about the marriage to Paris. After Juliet gives her "I'll look to like, if looking liking move" (1. 3. 97) speech, she looks to the Nurse for approval. After the Nurse smiles back at Juliet, we see relief and trust in Juliet's eyes. In Luhrmann's version of Romeo † Juliet, we get a very different version of the Nurse, and a very different version of Juliet because of the changes.
The Nurses speech about how she weaned Juliet and the reference to the earthquake are omitted. The affection that is so apparent in the Zeffirelli version is non-existent in the MTV version. This changes the character of Juliet considerably. She is perceived as more isolated and alone from the very beginning. We see her as a teen that does not have someone to confide in other than God. When the Nurse tells her to commit bigamy, we do not get the same sense of betrayal as we do with the Zeffirelli version. There Juliet was extremely pained and had to take a stand for herself, by herself, for the first time in her life.
As the Nurse is Juliet's confidant, the Friar is Romeo's trusting friend. In the MTV version of Romeo † Juliet, Pete Postiethwaite plays a very different Friar compared to the 1968 version and the text. Pete Postiethwaite plays a tattoo bearing, Jerry Garcia-like horticulturist who is Romeo's only confidant. Milo O'Shea's version of the Friar is very sympathetic and caring. He only has the best of intentions in mind. Friar Lawrence is very important to Romeo. The Friar is the one who guides him and also picks him up when he is down.
Even though both Friars are different in appearance and personality, I believe they both portray a very sympathetic, caring friend to both Romeo and Juliet. The Friar may ultimately be the one to blame, but he only led Romeo and Juliet because he believed their union would bring the feuding families together. I believe both played a regretful Friar when it all ended. The '96 version shows Friar Lawrence frantically tracking the express letter. He is sweating and projects urgency into his voice, albeit his role in the church is omitted.
In the '68 version, when the Friar sees the Page outside the tomb, he frantically rushes to Juliet's side. He is careful with Juliet but in the end must abandon her to escape blame. Once again Juliet is abandoned. The most dynamic conflict is between Tybalt and Romeo. Tybalt is not nearly as literate or well spoken as Romeo, plus he harbors much hate for Romeo. In both films we get the sense that Tybalt might be aware of Romeo's and Juliet's love during Capulets party, even though it is not played out any farther, but may be the fuel for Tybalt's challenge.
In Zeffirelli's film, Romeo, Leonard Whiting, is oblivious to Tybalt's challenge and when he is called a "Villain" he does not seem fazed, while Tybalt, played by Michael York, is extremely perplexed. He does not understand why he is not getting a reaction from Romeo. He came ready to fight, and when Romeo does not face his challenger, Tybalt tries to provoke Romeo by slapping his hand away and smelling his own, as if Romeo has a stench. But Romeo is still not provoked, and his friend Mercutio steps up to the plate for him. The fight between Mercutio and Tybalt is light hearted and playful.
The crowd is laughing and cheering them on. The only one who sees the seriousness is Romeo, who is trying to stop them. Once Mercutio is killed, Romeo is fueled and goes after Tybalt. The conflict for Romeo is revenge for his friend's death. The fight between Romeo and Tybalt takes on a much more serious tone; the crowd is no longer cheering and laughing. The anger and hatred show in both characters. They are fighting till the end. In Luhrmann's version, Tybalt, played by John Leguizamo, is very much like a gang member whose mind is set on destroying Romeo. He appears much more dangerous and dark and looming.
When Romeo, De Caprio, appears, he is instantly aware of Tybalt's hatred and is concerned for both their safeties. Tybalt is determined to go after Romeo, whether or not Romeo wants to fight. When Romeo tries to shake his hand, Tybalt slaps it away and attacks Romeo from behind when Romeo starts to walk away. Romeo keeps yelling to stop, he does not want to fight, but Tybalt is relentless. It isn't until Mercutio steps in that the scene changes to their fight and Mercutio's death. Mercutio's death is what fuels Romeo to fight and go after Tybalt. Romeo shows courage and hate, and he’s screaming at Tybalt.
It is highly emotional and charged. Romeo is aware of his consequences if he goes farther, but Tybalt pushed him to the limit. Then he kills Tybalt. De Caprio instantly regrets his actions. The setting for Zeffirelli's film is in classical Verona. The set has many domineering walls and tons of concrete. It gives the feeling of coldness. The only warmth is the balcony scene, with the trees and soft lighting. The setting keeps the audience's attention on the actors and helps them to see the actors as Shakespeare may have directed them. In Luhrmann's version, the town is called Verona, but resembles downtown Los Angeles more than Italy.
The set is current and up to date. It did not try to recreate Shakespeare, but rather, to show how Shakespeare evolves. The physical location of this film helps to understand the story better. It uses our own experiences and our own visual setting, and even though the language is still hard to understand, the setting brings it all together. Luhrmann handles the death scene very differently from the text and Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet. Luhrmann's version is much more intense and more tragic. It begins with Romeo, De Caprio, fleeing from the cops. There is a lot of action, with noise and intense music, to keep the audience in suspense.
We even see the apothecary scene which is deleted from the '68 version. When Romeo gets to the church he takes a man hostage before he enters the church. This also adds to the suspense. Once inside the church, and not a tomb, Romeo shows many of his emotions through his facial expressions. We can see the fear and foreboding in his eyes. The church is tacky with neon crosses and lights shaped as candles. When Romeo finally reaches Juliet, Claire Danes, he shows concern and anguish in his eyes over her death. He is crying, and the audience can see his pain. He lies next to her, pets her and cries uncontrollably.
We can tell he understands that death is final. Juliet begins to awaken from her self-induced sleep right as Romeo takes his deadly poison. We want Romeo to see Juliet is still awake, but he is too late. The look in his eyes as he becomes aware of Juliet is heart wrenching. It's that realization that he has made a mistake. While Romeo is still alive, Juliet whispers her line "O Churl! Drunk all and left no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips" This final kiss is so sweet and so desperate. If only Romeo saw Juliet's hand move. Juliet's choice of weapon in this movie is a revolver, rather than a dagger.
She blows her brains out. In Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, the scene is not changed much from the text, except we do not see Romeo, Leonard Whiting, go to the apothecary. As mentioned previously, the only omission is Paris as it is in the Luhrmann film; otherwise, it is true to Shakespeare. Romeo breaks the door of the tomb down with a rock. We do not get the same sense of urgency as we do in the MTV version. The tomb is dark and dingy and full of dead people. When he sees Juliet, Olivia Hussey, he is still very childlike and actually smiles. This gives the audience a sense that he does not realize the finality of death.
He tries to awaken Juliet with soft, cooing words. He does not seem serious until he sees Tybalt, who is not present in the Luhrmann film. At this point, he makes his final speech and says good-bye to life. This is where we get the feeling that Romeo is finally getting it: death is the end, and there is no turning back. When he takes his last kiss from Juliet, he cries for the first time and does show anguish. In the Zeffirelli version, the Friar comes into the tomb right as Romeo dies. This scene is omitted from the '96 version. The Friar sees the outcome of his actions.
He takes responsibility for the fate of these children. When Juliet wakens he tries to protect her from the news of Romeo's death. He pulls her gently away from where Romeo is lying. But he fails to protect her, and she finds Romeo all the same, at which point the Friar leaves. Juliet looks at Romeo with concern and confusion. She kisses him, and then cries like a child at the fact that he is gone and she is there. She kisses him all over his face; she does not want to give up, but then she hears a noise and finds the dagger. The final scene with them dead seems to embody them; they will be eternally beautiful.