William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet is fully summarized in Shakespeare's prologue: "Two households, both alike in dignity, in fair Verona where we lay our scene. From ancient grudge break to new mutiny where civil blood make civil hands unclean. From forth the fatal loins of these two foes, a pair of star crossed lovers who take their life" (Universal, 1996). This movie is a masterful culmination of the director's phenomenal ability to create a powerful introduction, to select a realistic, but surreal setting, to choose realistic actors, and to enact specialized dramatic effects.
Sitting in the theater, watching this movie for the first time, I heard static break in to interrupt the beginning credits. A newscaster, sounding serious, came on the screen in a special report. I sat up to pay attention. She was reporting a tragedy that had recently happened in some place called Verona. I was pulled in thinking it to be a true special report. Ah-hah!! It was a trick. A trick to get people to do just what I did. Trained are we to listen to newscasts, our life-line in present day society, where we receive a lot of our information. A trick, and I fell for it--so did everyone else--how clever. Then the sound of crying, chorusing angels screaming angry chants echoed around the theater (great surround sound effect). Images (clips from the movie) flashed sporadically on the screen. A dark, sinister voice retold Shakespeare's prologue given in the telecast moments before. The angels were still screaming, and then, silence. A big truck flashed on the screen and gave a hearty engine growl. The truck sped loudly down the road. Stringy electric guitars and booming drums thump a loud vengeful beat. The Montague boys took the scene, standing up in the back of the truck waving their guns and shouting. At this point, I was hooked. The music had lured me in. It gave the scene life, and, in turn, the scene gave life to the music.
Leah Rozen of People Weekly would disagree. She states there should be some sort of disclaimer to warn audiences about "mistaking the audacious version of his (Shakespeare's) star crossed teen lovers for an extended music video." For her, this movie should have been called Baz Luhrmann's Romeo and Juliet; Rozen says the director plunked down the tragic romance into a "modern urban hellhole." Within this hellhole, are "warring gangs, piled on religious iconography, and pointless water imagery, and, oh yes, Mercutio is a singing drag queen." Rozen says what's missing amid the "frantic activity and eye candy" is the poetry. She says there is nothing wrong with updating a classic, but hopes this "rocket fueled Romeo and Juliet won't be the only version its young audience ever sees. That would be a tragedy" (Rozen).
I found the introduction to the movie to be riveting. It certainly got my attention as well as many others in the theater. Without all the effects I just mentioned above, this...