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Zeffirelli's version of the story is done in period dress, and is a filmic representation of the actual historic period during which the play was written (set in Italy, as the play is). Baz Luhrmann's version is a contemporary setting, including many anachronistic elements that try to make the story relevant for contemporary audiences. The setting seems to be an urban area, possibly Los Angeles, and the characters are portrayed as American. Whenever a "sword" is mentioned in the script, it's clear the modern equivalent is a gun. The feuding families of Montague and Capulet are portrayed as warring factions of urban gangs who are extensions of two crime families; as if they are both the equivalent of the Mafia.
Whereas Zeffirelli's production is fairly straightforward, Luhrmann's is highly symbolic and eclectic, almost to the point of containing elements of fantasy and magic realism. Although Luhrmann is not especially known for being experimental, this film could certainly be seen as an example of experimental filmmaking.
In addition to comparing filming techniques, you might also want to consider the different ways in which characters are portrayed. For instance, Tybalt earns his title, "Price of Cats," in Zeffirelli's version. He is courtly even in the midst of fighting. On the other hand, in Luhrmann's version, Tybalt is most characterized by his extreme, tight-lipped, and dangerous rage.
Another example is Mercutio. He is played as a witty trickster in the 1968 version. In the 1996 version, Mercutio is moody and unstable. In fact, many of the characters in the 1996 version are portrayed with more anger and despair.
When I was asked to compare Baz Luhrmann’s and Franco Zefirelli’s versions of Romeo and Juliet one out of many things drastically separates the two videos for me. Zeferelli had set the play when it was written, and where it meant to be, which is Verona, Italy. Baz Luhrmann tried to make the play more relatable to his audiences by setting the movie in a more modern time. These details changed the overall movie, and it is a matter of opinion which one you prefer but there are things to value and appreciate in each of the different films.
A couple of examples showing the detailed differences between the movies are the costuming, props, and the characters. You can see throughout Zefirelli’s movie the direction he was giving, which was more traditional to Shakespeare’s original text. All the costumes in his movie were the costmary attire for that time period. As where Luhrmann tried to make the movie relatable to his contemporary audiences by making the character’s costumes appear to be modern clothing instead what was the norm in Shakespeare’s time.
As far as props go, there was one thing that caught my eye when watching both of the videos one right after the other. That was the use of swords. Zeferelli kept it real by using real swords. Luhrmann tried to update it by using guns in the place of swords. He did this comically by showing the guns being labeled as “swords.”
I liked watching both of the videos to see how different characters developed though out the entirety of the film. A few characters were the same; the nurse was always silly and made inappropriate jokes at time, and Romeo was always so impulsive. Two specific characters that were portrayed very differently and are my favorite characters are Tybalt and Mercutio. Some would say that when Shakespeare was writing this play he mirrored himself through the character Mercutio. He could have possibly meant to do this, or did it subconsciously. But the two Mercutios did differ between the films. In Zefirelli’s movie Mercutio was much angrier and at times it seemed that he was even unstable. And in Luhrmann’s he was witty, amusing and comical. He played as the trickster of Romeo’s friends, and not as extreme as he was in Zefirelli’s film.
Tybalt is also portrayed differently in the films. For example Tybalt receives the title of “Price of Cats,” in Zeffirelli’s version. He is civil and well mannered even when he s fighting Mercutio. On the other hand Tybalt is most commonly distinguished as the extreme and quick tempered one with dangerous anger who is always looking for a fight. However, in both of the films Tybalt is willing to do anything to protect his honor and his family’s name and reputation.
I enjoyed watching both films and the ways the directors were able to interpret and develop the characters.
I would start with a T-graph and list the similarities between the two films on one side and the differences on the other. For example, both films use original Shakespearean language which is significant because many modern remakes of Shakespeare's plays translate the English into our 21st century jargon. Both films also present the same characterization--silly Nurse, impulsive Romeo, witty Mercutio, etc.
In contrast (remember that a comparison contains the contrasting elements too), the films have very different settings and costuming. Additionally, much was made of Luhrmann's quick-paced action version which was filled with modern filmmaking elements (it has a Fast and the Furious feel to it). Zeffirelli's film focuses on Renaissance styling and possesses a widely recognized soundtrack which stresses the play's pathos, while the music to Luhrmann's version quickly builds anxiety to match the impulsiveness of the play's characters.
These are just a couple of suggestions. If you're writing an essay, you might try the blocking comparison style in which you write a paragraph or two on the similarities and a paragraph or two on the differences--rather than first describing one film and then the other.
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