Baz Luhrmann's modern take on William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet caused quite a stir upon its release, and I suppose that was the whole point. Teenagers, God bless 'em, are all about drama, and yet the timeless tales of Sir William can seem inaccessible to high schoolers partly because they are required reading (how uncool!), partly because the tights and swordfights and fancy words are extremely off-putting.
In Luhrmann's richly reimagined world, Verona is a picturesque city/beach town, the clothes are ultra-hip, and the heroes pack nine-millimeter "swords" while cruising around in custom cars. This is Shakespeare? Well, when the stellar cast opens their mouths, there can be no doubt, but the fusion of abundant '90s style and classic Elizabethan dialogue is at once inviting for the youngsters and fascinating for us grownups. The camerawork, the editing, the music: Any way the filmmakers can enliven the hallowed text is explored in this landmark production.
Kudos too to stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, whose performances manage to capture the bittersweet spirit of first--and last too, in their case--love.
There is a distinctive softness to the 2.40:1 image, perhaps chosen to impart a dreamlike quality to the proceedings. Which is not to say that the detail is not there: An electric-lit rainstorm at night reveals countless precise raindrops, while the barely-there pinstripes on Paris' dark suit are present in this master. Blacks are deep and natural-looking, and the colors in this deftly-designed production are always strong. Film grain and video noise are both minimal.
Viscerally, the movie seeks to grab the audience with its bold approach to the subject matter, and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does its job ably. There are terrific "home theater" moments like fireworks, in addition to solid bass activity for thunder, or the rumble of the lowriders' engines. A helicopter can be heard in the rears in multiple shots, the din of the throng at the party surrounds us, and the multichannel remix of the pop songs is unexpectedly dynamic. The new music is aggressively presented, too.
The "Shaking Up Shakespeare" Bonus View picture-in-picture mode overlays song credits, photos, text, video windows, and an icon to branch away to additional pods. This feature combines with the existing DVD audio commentary, which assembles director/co-writer/co-producer Baz Luhrmann, production designer/title designer/associate producer Catherine Martin, director of photography Don McAlpine and co-writer Craig Pearce. We can also watch with the audio-only commentary.
"From the Bazmark Vault" comes an array of behind-the-scenes and rehearsal footage, while video galleries from both Luhrmann and McAlpine offer even more "making of" insight. All of these segments are presented in high definition, surprisingly, although once again utilizing Moulin Rouge's trick of shrinking them down to a window within a stylized static border to improve the perceived quality. An interview gallery collects vintage on-camera musings from the two stars and the crew.
There's also an extensive section about the music from the film, including the 49-minute "Romeo + Juliet: The Music Documentary," a study which actually goes beyond a single topic. A full listing of all bonus content can be found below. And the disc is BD-Live-enabled with Fox's "Live Extras," comprised of the "What's New" cross-promotional content from other new Blu-ray titles as well as Live Lookup of the cast and crew while the movie plays, brought to us by IMDb.com.
By design, this Romeo + Juliet is like a 2-Hour Energy Shot for the eyes and ears, one well-suited for Blu-ray, now strapped with extras that will surely titillate buffs of Shakespeare, of filmmaking, and of the talented young cast.
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