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William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996) Print E-mail
Friday, 22 October 2010
ImageLike many films, “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” has a generational following.  Its release in the mid 1990s captured junior high and high school teens across the country.  It was that terrific date movie that both the guy and girl could enjoy seeing together.  At the same time that were exposed to classic literature, however butchered it may have or have not been.

Teens were enamored with DiCaprio and Danes.  For them, they made a great screen couple.  The love between them was simple, much like those of the teens seeing the film.  Everything was perfect.  But only for those generational few.

On the flip side of the coin we have the Shakespearian lovers and those that fall outside the age range intended to be the audience.  Purists of Shakespeare find this adaptation to be abhorrent.  They will go on and on about the pace of the film, how the Shakespearian language was read and acted, etc., etc.

In fact, where these purists criticize the film, is where I find the film really succeeds.  It is a standalone adaptation of a classic romantic tragedy.  The spin on the original Romero and Juliet story was brought to the big screen in way never done so before, and it captured young audiences in way no other adaptation could before.  While I love Kenneth Branagh’s versions of “Hamlet,” “Othello” and certainly “Much Ado About Nothing,” they weren’t intended for the audience that “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” was intended.  The criticism goes both ways here folks.

Analyzing the film as its own, “WS R+J” is a great success.  Modernizing Romeo and Juliet is only something that Baz Luhrmann could have come up with and pulled off.  My only criticism may be that the setting was not tremendously established and some the emotion is lost amid the mad rush of editing.  However, at the same time those observations are also what contribute to the film’s appeal, so it is hard to make them purely negative.
This film pulls people in two directions.  First, the setting is very time period specific.  It will not hold up well over time as the setting is based on the early and mid 90s when gangsta’ rap was all the rage.  The other direction is that the film is so visionary that it will last over time.  I supposed only the old adage “time will tell” applies here.

Topping the quality of the film itself is the video transfer.  It is near perfect and perhaps one of the top three best catalog transfers I have seen to date.  The colors are exactly as Luhrmann intended.  They are bold, saturated and beautifully rendered.  They pop form the screen with enthusiasm.  Chroma bleed and noise is nowhere to be found which is terrific considering the amount of different colors in any given scene.  Details and textiures are excellent rendered.  Every wrinkle and crease in each costume can easily be seen, adding to the terrific costume design that already exists.  Set design is excellent.  Black levels are deep and rich, rarely swallowing details in shadows unless intended.  The blues of the ocean and the Capulet’s swimming pool are deep and warm.  This is one excellent transfer.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers just as excellent quality as the video transfer.  Let’s get the one drawback out of the way.  The dialogue can at times be difficult to hear, mainly due to the original sound design and not the transfer.  However, it is a bit of a downer.  That aside, the surround channels are fully engaged throughout the film.  Music, ambience and effects all drive the rear channels.  From subtlety to bombastic, the rear channels deliver.  Directionality is excellent.  It is always fluid from one channel to another.  The LFE channel is full and supple, supporting both music and effects, especially gunfire and helicopters.  Teens fell in love with the film’s theme, “Kissing You by Des’ree, and I’m happy to report that it is beautifully captured in this lossless audio track.  Dynamic range is expansive, but without annoyance.  The frequency range is wide with only some minor anomalies in the low mid frequency range.

The Blu-ray comes with a new picture-in-picture commentary track.  There are four crew members in this commentary and they deliver the most insightful information that I have heard on a commentary track, at least in recent memory.  You will be thoroughly engaged from beginning to end.  The PiP function offers behind the scenes footage and storyboards.  At select moments you can activate a feature that will take you to parts of the other special features present on the disc.

“Uncut Footage from the Bazmark Vault” contains rough cut scenes or alternate takes.  “Romeo + Juliet: The Music” is supposedly new, but mainly contains elements from the past music featurettes on the standard DVD.  Still, this is a worthwhile documentary on Luhrmann song selection.  Finally, there is a host of filmmaker featurettes and cast interviews.  Most are under five minutes but are still interesting.  The disc is also BD-Live enabled and linked with  And FYI: the cardboard cover for this Blu-ray release has a beautiful holographic shine that is probably the best use of a cardboard sleeve that I have ever seen on any disc release.

While this isn’t going to be a film that I watch over and over again, it definitely has some repeatability and thus perhaps some staying power.  The video and audio qualities alone are enough to invest in this Blu-ray release.  I highly recommend.

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