I appreciate the effort Baz Luhrmann made in his 1996 version of Romeo and Juliet. One of the most often mention cliches we English teachers are fond of throwing out about Shakespeare is that he and his work are "timeless." Lurhmann proves this very point. His movie was created to speak to a generation of teenagers in 1996. By modernizing the setting, the characters, and even the conflict in some ways, he created a movie that reached its audience in a manner that no "traditional" production of the work might have been to do.
However, his movie is not Shakespeare, nor will it ever be. It is merely a modern re-telling (an idea Shakespeare himself was quite fond of as well). Which is more interesting and appropriate? That probably depends on your purpose in viewing. If you are looking for a good "bridge" to help access the basic story, the 1996 film works well. If you want Shakespeare, however, you'd be best to go straight to the horse's mouth.
I cannot stand the Baz Luhrmann 1996 adaptation of William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet. He should have called it MTV's R + J. It's a music video, not a movie. And certainly not a play.
First of all, Luhrmann modernizes the setting and characters but retains the Elizabethan dialogue. Why? It's silly. Why would gang bangers talk like this? Why do they say they have "swords" and wave around 9mmers? Preposterous!
Recent adaptations of O (Othello) and Hamlet (2000, starring Ethan Hawke) have modernized both the setting and language, which makes much more sense.
Secondly, the actors (except for Friar Lawrence and the Nurse) have very little acting experience, let alone Shakespearean voice training. Instead, they shout all their lines while music blares in the background. Shakespearean plays are meant to be heard; their iambic pentameter is like a song. It takes years of training and experience. The couple in Franco Zefirelli's 1968 version were much better trained.
I am an originalist and enjoy the original play. However, I respect the 1996 version's ability to honor the original text and interpret the text making it appealing for a new generation. The use of color, symbols of costumes and their colors at the Capulet's party, and propaganda throughout the movie demonstrating the struggle between the families enhances my experience of the original text.
On the other hand, the closing scene disappoints me because it leaves the character Paris out of it and it fails to demonstrate the reality of the original play. When Juliet actually wakes BEFORE Romeo dies, I get frustrated because things would have been entirely different if that happened.
I do feel the movie is appropriate, but not a replacement.