How does the opening of Baz Lurhman's William Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet appeal to an audience?

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copelmat's profile pic

copelmat | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

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Baz Lurhman's film opens with two of three elements that Shakespeare himself used to open his plays: violence and references to teenage sex. Some even suggest that the mention of the tempting of fate represents the third element: references to witchcraft.

However, Lurhman modernizes these elements so that they are emphasized on the screen. The music, the rapidly changing camera shots, the computer added visuals all contribute to a stunningly--almost overwhelmingly--creative assault on the audience's senses. It should not be overlooked that we encounter the prologue in three different forms in the opening sequence: in the Prince's voiceover, in the newspaper headlines, and in the quick clips and screen shots from later in the movie itself. Lurhman works hard to not only catch the audience's attention but also to "beat us over the head" with the prologue to--like Shakespeare--engage us in the story's plot before it even begins.

ktmagalia's profile pic

ktmagalia | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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Baz Lurhman's opening of Romeo and Juliet juxtaposes Shakespeare's famous Prologue with contemporary images and music. This combination appeals to a modern audience accustomed to living in a fast-paced and visual world.

The beginning words of the Prologue

Two households, both alike in dignity, In fair Verona, where we lay our scene

are  dramatically read and illustrated through visuals flashed on the screen. Booming, opera music fills the background slowly at the start but deliberately quickening its rhythm to create a mounting tension.  Clips of downtown skyscrapers touting billboards marking possession of the Capulets and Montagues set the scene for this modern day feud. Clips of newspaper headlines from the Verona Beach and Verona Today, capture the current media influence and intrigue within our current society. Civil unrest and violence is captured with the thumping of helicopter blades and police arrests, all  displaying a world  "Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean."Main characters are dramatically caught in still photos, much like a paparazzi shoot, with the chief of police (Prince Escalus) and the governor (Paris) changing up the character list.  Fireworks. Bullets. Gun Barrels. More fireworks. More bullets. More guns. Mix in the innocence of a choir boy singing, and the audience is exhilarated and hooked on a fast-paced, forthright presentation of  two people in love who are forbidden to do so.


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