How does Baz Luhrmann modernise Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet?

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I have always really appreciated this production of this excellent tragedy for the extremely effective updating that it gives. This has the benefit of making this play tremendously accessible to a wide range of students, whereas other versions that are still locked into a Shakesperian medieval setting, are not as immediately accessible.

Firstly, let us focus on setting. This film version of the play is set in a modern gang setting in Los Angeles. The Capulets and Montagues seem to be Hispanic settlers in the United States who are immensely wealthy. The opening scene is set in a gas station and invovles a shoot out between the two different houses. Police come in a helicopter and the Prince speaks through a megaphone to stop the violence.

Secondly, mention must be made of the wonderful modern soundtrack, including tracks from bands such as Garbage. Music is an important part of the film, with Mercutio appearing at the Capulet's ball in drag and singing a number for them. The ball is a fancy dress ball, with Juliet being dressed as an Angel and Paris as an astronaut. Romeo takes drugs before entering the ball.

Thirdly and finally, I forgot to mention the role that the Chorus has. In this version, the Chorus actually takes the role of a news reporter, appearing on television to give us an update on the latest problems in Verona. The Prince is actually the Chief of Police who is exasperated and frustrated with both families for their continued violence.

All in all this is an excellent production and it would be great to use this version to spark the imagination of learners who are studying the play and see what is possible with Shakespeare.

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