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Romeo + Juliet: Special Edition

In creating William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet (1996), director Baz Luhrmann's theory was thus: Previous film versions of Shakespeare's plays had veered far afield of the plays' bawdy, earthy origins. He wanted to transport the story to a modern setting and capture the sort of play-to-the-cheap-seats joyride that was offered at the Globe Theater in the good ol' days. It's a noble experiment, but it just doesn't happen. The story remains the same, but in Luhrmann's version, "fair Verona" is Verona Beach, Fla., and instead of swords, the warring clans carry guns. There's a whole lot of gorgeous art direction, clever camera work, and beautiful sets, but the whole thing feels hollow. To his credit, Luhrmann understands his Shakespeare — he script hits all the of the play's high points and low points. But his visual gimmicks overshadow the story, and most of the actors he's cast are way out of their depth. Claire Danes was just 17 when she played Juliet here, and she's clearly uncomfortable with the language. Leonardo DiCaprio is no slouch as an actor, but he's obviously working at trying to sound natural (he doesn't). And DiCaprio and Danes have absolutely no chemistry together. A handful of actors in Romeo + Juliet seem at home with Bard-speak, most notably Pete Postlethwaite and Harold Perrineau, and there's a real spark of brilliance in John Leguizamo as Tybalt — he's evil, graceful, deadly and he actually masters iambic pentameter. The film is something of a mess, but that makes it no less interesting an achievement. It's an ambitious mess. Fox's Romeo + Juliet: Special Edition, which replaces the original DVD, offers a stunning anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) and rich Dolby Digital audio. Supplements include a commentary with Luhrmann and crew, as well as a "Director's Gallery," "Cinematographer's Gallery," "Design Gallery," "Interview Gallery," music videos, a trailer, poster designs, and script-to-screen as DVD-ROM content. Keep-case.
—Dawn Taylor

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