Sad for all the wrong reasons
Unfortunately Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet fails to reach any great heights
It’s one of Shakespeare’s best known plays, a tragedy of epic proportions with much to tell us about society, humanity, love, life and death. It features the most well-renowned and celebrated lovers from the vast, dusty pages of Western literature. It presents some of the most famous and recognisable lines ever uttered on a stage — ‘O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?’. The play is a masterpiece and any director who wishes to bring it to the silver screen certainly benefits from the strength of the existing material. So why is it that Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 screen version of Romeo and Juliet doesn’t quite hit the mark? A film interpretation of this work of genius should have the audience gasping in shock, balancing precariously on the edge of their seats, laughing and crying (sometimes all at once). Zeffirelli never quite achieves these reactions, although, he sometimes comes close. The movie definitely starts strongly. Young audiences will appreciate the action of the opening scene where hot-blooded Capulets and Montagues go at it hammer and tongs. Zeffirelli’s editing and use of the camera enhances the action here. We are subjected to a series of fast-paced cuts that periodically frame the chaos in extreme long shots, which clearly illustrates the extent of the ruckus. Market stalls explode in a shower of fresh produce and dust, bodies fold and buckle in battle, the people of Verona form a chaotic mob. Interspersed throughout these wide shots are a collection of tight medium close ups, mid-shots and long shots which display frenetic, well-choreographed swash-buckling. While the other action scenes of the film are decent, they do not reach the same great heights as the opening fray. In fact, the fight preceding the death of Mercutio is decidedly lacklustre and, at times, comic to the point of ridiculousness. After watching the...
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