Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
3.5 Stars
HD Video Quality
3 Stars
HD Audio Quality
4 Stars
Supplements
3 Stars
High-Def Extras
1 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

Romeo + Juliet

Street Date:
October 19th, 2010
Reviewed by:
Nate Boss
Review Date: 1
November 11th, 2010
Movie Release Year:
1996
Studio:
MGM/UA
Length:
120 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Rated PG-13
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

The works of the great bard have been adapted so many times, in so many mediums, that they may as well be a part of the collective consciousness. In particular, it's almost impossible to miss the random references and nods found so frequently to Romeo and Juliet, his tale of star-cross'd lovers from warring households that may well be Shakespeare's most popular (though not greatest) work. In almost any story of forbidden love or even mere friendship, we can find parallels to the Capulets and Montagues, and the varying themes found entrenched in their feud.

The modernization and/or localization of classic works, particularly Shakespearian, is nothing new. Even the use of the classic Elizabethan dialogue in a different time period is common. It's odd, really, then, that Baz Luhrmann's take on the story of Romeo and Juliet feels so unique, one of the better adaptations of the story. With budding stars in the leads, a fantastic supporting cast, and as much modern music as could fit into a two-hour film, the mood of the film still matches the classic romanticism against tragedy and tradition, and is easily one of the best ways for youths to experience the story for the first time.

We all know the story, of the lone children of both the house of Montague and the house of Capulet, who fall in love despite their family-wide hatred for the other's. As Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Juliet (Claire Danes) engage in a secret love, the pressure from Fulgencio Capulet (Paul Sorvino) for his daughter to instead marry the wealthy Dave Paris (Paul Rudd) and the attacks on Montagues by Tybalt (John Leguizamo), the prince of cats, threaten the sanctity of their union. For the love to strive without restraint, drastic measures and risks are taken, that prove the true love the pair feel for the other, though the very vehicle for their freedom will also be their downfall.

Luhrmann's 'Romeo + Juliet' isn't perfect, nor is it the best adaptation of Shakespeare, or even the famous play. It's repetitive, playing the prologue twice in succession (a device, claimed in the extras, was used to try to get the audience into the mood for the language), full of repeated shots and gimmicks. Its imagination, portraying the various swords and daggers as branded firearms of the same names, at times can be both its greatest strength, and its downfall. The pace of the film can sometimes suffer from modern influences, rather than classical sensibilities and theme, while camera movements can feel anything but traditional.

The acting for the film is quite inspired and mixed, with a handful of brilliant casting choices and an equal number of mistakes. DiCaprio was at the perfect time in his career to portray Romeo, sporting the innocent good looks that could easily pass for any adolescent, and no other film with the star has the awkwardness exhibited here, the sheer clumsiness that has a charm all its own. Danes doesn't fare as well, but in her first Shakespearian role, she doesn't exactly fail either. The scene-stealer, in my eyes, is Sorvino, as Juliet's controlling father. It's the role the man was born to play. He's burly, classical (as is evidenced by his operatic capabilities), has the most amazing dominating voice and facial expressions, and has a commanding presence. Leguizamo has a wonderful sneer, I'll give him that much, but it doesn't work well when that's the only thing the character does for each and every second he's on screen. Pete Postlethwaite is a great Father Laurence, even if that massive cross tattoo is a bit unnerving, an under-appreciated actor if ever there was one.

The music for 'Romeo + Juliet' takes on a life of its own, as should be evidenced by the fact that it receives more attention in the supplement package of this release than all other elements of the film combined. While none of the songs heard by their lonesome seem to be fitting for such a tale, they're all used so perfectly, it's hard to not be pulled in by the melodies. That may be Luhrmann's biggest mark left on the story, more so than the extreme modernization.

I do find it odd, really, that in a film full of helicopters, shootouts, and even some vehicular mayhem (who knew Shakespeare had it in him?!) logic is sometimes abandoned. The paralysis-inducing poison Juliet ingests to appear as though dead really, really doesn't translate. There's this funny thing called autopsies, you know, where science is used to find out exactly why someone died. It's been around for some time now, and you'd think the death of a young bride-turned-bride to be, the daughter of an amazingly wealthy man, would call for such, particularly since Father Laurence snatches the vial he provides the young Capulet. There's also the whole embalming process.

I suppose one has to maintain an unusual state of mind to accept Elizabethan dialect in a modern beach setting, disregard medical science, and the whole legal process concerning the act of marriage. Suspension of belief is a must, here, where it has never been an issue for the tale of Romeo and Juliet. The second part in Luhrmann's so-called "Red Curtain Trilogy," it's somewhat amazing what is done here in just the director's second film, with little film experience in varying other roles in production. While the film may find itself buried in the annuls of time, a relic of an era, it is most certainly a fun way to spend two hours time, and can help imaginations blossom due to its own efforts.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

The sticker on the front of slipcover indicates this release was remastered with approval by Baz Luhrmann himself. I would be curious to see what it would have looked like before the work done, as this 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode (2.40:1) is troubled, to say the least.

Noise, she be everywhere. Let's not mistake grain with noise, and noise with grain, as the very healthy grain elements are hardly a deterrent. Artifacting also rears its head from time to time, briefly, mostly around the edges of actors. Edges don't look too true, and sometimes are over-pronounced, highlighted by blue rings that are reminiscent of poor green-screen effects, possibly caused by some sharpness tampering. Random blurry and soft shots, as well as flatness, aren't frequent, but they're most certainly present. Blacks are perfect, but in dark shots, can overwhelm the picture. Over-saturated colors seem to be an aesthetic choice for the film, and it literally screams of the Mexico City heat in which many scenes were filmed in, with skin tones getting incredibly hot.

A shame, too. There's no aliasing to be found, not even in the tightest of fabric details, textures can be invigorating, and fine detail is strong any time the picture isn't shamefully ugly. Facial features are amazing and crisp, in this film so loaded with close-ups, and colors are particularly (overly) strong. Enter with minimal expectations, and you should be more than satisfied.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

The highlight of this release is the audio, as Luhrmann's take on Shakespeare sounds really damn good through a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix. Dialogue stays in the front channels, as the film doesn't really have conversation scenes that would fill a room. Range is unimpeded, while clarity is very strong and directionality is spot on. Volume spikes appropriately, helping the film maintain the balance between chaos and serenity, while rear activity helps craft a fairly lively Verona, even if it's not exactly immersive. The greatest strength and worst weakness has to be the bass element, as it can be truly thunderous, highlighting songs in the soundtrack, but occasionally, doing so with little regard to the rest of the sound in a scene, overpowering a few moments too forcefully. The film sounds great, and packs a punch, perhaps too much of one.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

The majority of the extras on this release are pulled from previous editions.

  • Audio Commentary - With Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald M. McAlpine, and Craig Pearce. The themes, combining of ancient with modern, are an interesting listen, as they discuss the ways they chose modern equivalents to classical places, the characters, and how they interpret them, is almost as interesting. This track isn't dumb by any means, it pokes fun of continuity errors, maintains a playful attitude, and gives a fairly low amount of detail about the film, other than some difficulties with filming. Fans, if you miss out on this track, it won't be the end of the world. There have been numerous commentary tracks for this film, across the DVD releases, and this track appears to be the same one as found on the 2002 Special Edition release, which differ from the later DVD-rerelease "Music Edition."
  • 'Romeo + Juliet': The Music (HD) - The Music Documentary (49 min) is really, and actually, 49 minutes, that's not a typo. The countless men and women behind the entire music process of the film speak out on the sounds that became synonymous with the film, and launched multiple best-selling albums, giving an amazingly in-depth look at this singular aspect of the film. Count me as impressed, and looking for my CD soundtrack for a spin in the truck at work! Everybody's Free- The Journey of the Song (2 min) covers the song's history in the film, from an audition over the phone on a different set, to showing the end result on scene, the littlest star in the film gets a brief moment in the sun. The London Music Mix (4 min) is the only meandering extra in this section, not quite sure of what it is it wants to tell us about. Temp Music- The Journey of the Song (2 min) doesn't show us the film with unused music cues, sadly, but rather discusses the song selection for a few scenes.
  • Director's Gallery (HD) - Another set of extras, with no play all option. Impact (4 min) sets an ominous tone for this set of extras, as it pulls away for a full minute to show the film, rather than discuss it. What's the point? Talking up the film. Pointless. Why Shakespeare? (3 min) has Luhrmann discussing why he made the film. He's a great orator, though he really doesn't quite convince me of why he did anything, and repeats what we have seen already in the extras a few times. Pitching Shakespeare (10 min) features Luhrmann again discussing the making of the film, this time playing an audience (that is really into him) about how he pitched the film to studio reps. We even get to see some early footage used to further pitch the film, with different actors and settings. I honestly liked the alley sets, and wish the film wasn't as beach-y, having seen this. Now, Directing the Gas Station (7 min) is just awkward. I went in half expecting to see Luhrmann yelling at the gas station itself what to do, but no, instead we see the idea of directing the scene at the gas station, with rehearsal footage thrown in for good measure, from various ages of the production process. Directing the Pool Scene (5 min) fares a bit better, now that I know Luhrmann isn't yelling at the water. It's kinda dorky to watch these young actors rolling around in the (watery) hay, but that's what it is. Tybalt's Execution (4 min) rounds out this section, as we see the filming of the violent scene, in all its forms.
  • Director of Photography Gallery (HD) - More of the same, mini featurettes, with no play all option. A Hole in the Wall (1 min) shows crewmen (get this) drilling a hole in a wall. The Fish Tank Scene (1 min) fares much better, as we see how the great fish tank sequence was lit and filmed. Filming the Lift Scene (2 min) would be self-explanatory, except for the way the lift was simulated due to the way they lifted and dropped the walls for the spinning of the camera. Check it out, it's truly awesome. One Light (1 min) is a short moment explaining how a scene was filmed using...one light. Filming the Church (1 min) rounds out this featurette grouping, as we hear about the lighting and snuffing out of the countless candles in the scene at the climax of the film.
  • Interview Gallery (HD) - Plenty of interviews ahoy, featuring Leonardo DiCaprio (2 min), Claire Danes (2 min), John Leguizamo (2 min), Catherine Martin (2 min), Craig Pearce (2 min), Jill Bilcock (2 min), John O'Connell (2 min), and Kym Barrett (2 min). The cast and crew are candid, and given only so much rope, so as to not hang themselves, but most of them are fairly boring. Personally, Danes is the best listen, as she's honest, and quite interesting in her take on the experience.
  • Trailer (SD, 1 min) - The only extra in the Marketing tab, the international theatrical trailer is shown in standard definition.

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

The new extras are interesting, but not groundbreaking. My favorite part of this disc was, at first, the Resume Play feature, but after ejecting the disc a few times to do other reviews, it got a bit tiresome having to constantly tell the disc I don't want to start anywhere but the start. There are a few generic BD special features, like Bookmark capabilities, Live Lookup, and a BD-Live portal that has no exclusive content to this film.

  • From the Bazmark Vault (HD) - A series of behind-the-scenes goodies, often a mixture of video and photo, shown in a windowframed, artsy manner. There is no play all option. First Kiss (2 min) shows Danes, DiCaprio, and Luhrmann working on a scene with the two lovers in bed. Beach Scene (4 min) features behind the scenes footage of the filming of the Tybalt vs Mercutio fight surrounding the Montague boys, and shows us how truly windy it was on set. Uncut Rehearsal (4 min) has the amazing Sorvino and Miriam Margolyes (the Nurse) discussing staging a scene physically. Lastly, Outside the Church (2 min) is a real waste of time that sheds no light into the production whatsoever.
  • "Shaking Up Shakespeare" Picture-in-Picture mode - This feature has the same participants as the commentary, and, really, the same commentary. The point of this track, though, is that it's all souped up. We get text crawls for Elizabethan text, notes on what song (of which, there are many) is playing, trivia blurbs, and loads and loads of pictures. The commentary sometimes gets cut out for behind the scenes discussion. In short, this track is loaded with footage, storyboards, dress rehearsal footage, and a damn near information overload.

Final Thoughts

Sure, there are classier films concerning Shakespeare's romantic tragedy, but few are as entertaining as Luhrmann's colorful, excessive modernization. With a great, underrated cast, and a superb soundtrack, the film deserves more respect than it gets. This Blu-ray release, well, I'm not going to give it that much respect. For all the talk of exclusive features and a remastering, both were a bit less than impressive. Still, the film sounds great on Blu-ray. Bring this one home, as the film has solid replay value (amazingly), and who knows, maybe Fox won't rerelease this one in a few years like it constantly did with the numerous DVD editions.

Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD50 Dual Layer Disc
  • Region A

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.40:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • Spanish Dolby DIgital 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 2.0
  • Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH, Spanish, Portuguese, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish

Supplements

  • Uncut Footage
  • The Romeo+Juliet: The Music
  • Filmmaker and Interview Galleries

Exclusive HD Content

  • Shake Up Shakespeare Picture-in-Picture Viewing Mode - With audio commentary by Baz Luhrmann, Catherine Martin, Donald M. McAlpine and Craig Pearce and featuring behind-the-scenes footage and stills
  • BD-Live

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