Why might people understand the 1996 version of Romeo + Juliet better than the 1968 version?  

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The 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Julietdoes an excellent job of translating William Shakespeare 's most famous play to the silver screen. Aside from not taking place on a stage, it is quite traditional in treatment of the story. This adaptation is set in Renaissance Verona and...

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The 1968 film adaptation of Romeo and Juliet does an excellent job of translating William Shakespeare's most famous play to the silver screen. Aside from not taking place on a stage, it is quite traditional in treatment of the story. This adaptation is set in Renaissance Verona and deals with the love  between the teenage children of feuding noble families. Though this particular film stays quite true to the tradition of Romeo and Juliet as it has appeared on stage, most people today are so far removed from the original context (not to mention the language) that the play does not have as much impact as it might have at its premier.

In contrast, the 1996 Romeo + Juliet takes the essential plot and dialogue of the classic play and places this into the context of modern gang violence. Audiences of this modernized adaptation are more likely to have an understanding of the kind of turf wars and gang violence which have developed in the United States over the past century. There are implications in the film that the two warring families are of Italian descent and therefore may have connections to the Mafia or other forms of organized crime. The most significant difference between the 1968 and 1996 versions is in the relationship between dialogue and scene. Much of the context of Renaissance Italian culture is lost on a modern viewer, but in the 1996 adaptation, the scene is translated into a modern context to allow for better understanding of the dialogue.

Let's compare a few scenes from both films. First, the party where Romeo and Juliet first meet. In the 1968 film, the Capulet party is portrayed quite traditionally. To us, it may seem a somber gathering of people listening to a small group of musicians- but this is how Italian nobles liked to impress one another! The 1996 portrayal of a bustling party with music, costumes, and alcohol makes much more sense to a modern viewer, who is likely to associate a party with these things. Let us also consider the opening battle scene between young men from both the Capulet and Montague families. In the 1968 film, it is difficult to detect the anger and taunting intended by the thumb-biting and banter. Especially as swords are out of fashion as a personal weapon, the conflict in this opening scene hardly seems more than a scuffle to our modern eyes. In contrast, we understand from the 1996 version that the young men are taunting one another and instigating conflict based on their sense of familial honor. The director's choice to mark the guns with names like "Sword" is a clever tie to the original text, but we modern viewers understand the seriousness of gun violence and can relate it to the context of gang activity or turf wars.

In short, audiences today are more likely to understand what's going on in the 1996 film than the 1968 because it has been intentionally transformed to fit the original dialogue into a modern setting.

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