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When he was writing his plays, I don’t think that William Shakespeare ever thought that they would have had the kind of staying power to last all these centuries. Additionally, I don’t think could have possibly envisioned how others would choose to adapt his works, sometimes so far removed from the original source that they are barely recognizable as a Shakespearian play. Of course, the best adaptations are those that remain true the text and language of Shakespeare, but choose to find some other new and invigorating way of presenting the play to an audience. In the 20th Century, film has been one of the best ways of bringing a freshness and new luster to the works of the Immortal Bard, and within the realm of film, one of the more striking cinematic adaptations of Shakespeare has been director Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET ($35). With ROMEO + JULIET Luhrmann pulls out all the stops by wrapping the story in a very hip and modern style, which uses its visual flash to complement the emotional depth of Shakespeare’s story.

Although Baz Luhrmann’s ROMEO + JULIET moves the timeless love story into modern day, the language of the story retains the poetry of Shakespeare’s verse, even if it is in abridged form. Set in the city of Verona Beach, ROMEO + JULIET tells of the gang war that continually erupts onto the streets because of a long-standing fued between the city’s two most powerful families- the Montagues and the Capulet. During a party at the Capulet mansion, Romeo (Leonardo DiCaprio), the gatecrashing son of Montague clan meets and falls instantly in love with Juliet (Claire Danes), the daughter of the house. Although Juliet also falls instantly in love with Romeo, the two star crossed lovers quickly learn that their family ties may doom their love before it ever begins. The cast of ROMEO + JULIET also features John Leguizamo, Paul Sorvino, Brian Dennehy, Christina Pickles, Diane Venora, Miriam Margolyes, Pete Postlethwaite, Jamie Kennedy, Dash Mihok, Paul Rudd, Jesse Bradford and M. Emmet Walsh.

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has made ROMEO + JULIET available on Blu-ray Disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio presentation that has been encoded onto the disc with the AVC codec. The 1080p presentation is another glorious visual treat certain to delight any fan. With ROMEO + JULIET director Baz Luhrmann and cinematographer Donald McAlpine adopted a stylized look for the film that relies upon a rather intense color palette. Many of the hues push towards over saturation, but fortunately they are perfectly rendered on Blu-ray. Additionally, image sharpness, depth and dimensionality are all very impressive. Fine details in the texture of fabrics and other objects, not to mention imperfections in the actor’s skin are all clearly visible. Sure, there are a few shots that are a little soft, but they are the exception, not the rule. Blacks are pure, as are the whites. Contrast can sometimes be a bit harsh, but for the most part, appears smooth. The elements from which ROMEO + JULIET has been mastered demonstrate virtually no imperfections. Modest grain is noticeable, and helps to maintain an organic quality for the presentation.

ROMEO + JULIET is presented on Blu-ray Disc with a 5.1 channel DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack. No surprises here, ROMEO + JULIET sports the kind of wonderfully overblown sound design that perfectly complement the over-ripe visuals. All of the discrete channels are fully engaged, with the movie’s action sometimes stirred into a sonic frenzy. Thanks to the lossless encode, the music sounds incredible, as does the wholly convincing sound effects. Surprisingly, the soundtrack has a rather potent bottom end that comes to thunderous life now and again. While there is sometimes a sonic maelstrom emanating from one’s speakers, the film’s Shakespearian dialogue is always cleanly rendered and perfectly distinct. Even those who need to listen intensely to the immortal bard’s prose to gather its meaning shouldn’t have any difficulty here. Spanish and Portuguese Dolby Digital 5.1 channel tracks are also encoded onto the disc, as is a French stereo track. Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and Portuguese.

Full motion video, animation and sound serve to enhance the disc's interactive menus. Through the menus, one has access to standard scene selection and set up features, as well as the supplements, some of which have been ported from the previous DVD release. Starting things off is the Shaking Up Shakespeare Picture-In-Picture Mode, which incorporates a running Audio Commentary with director Baz Luhrmann, cinematographer Donald McAlpine, costume designer Catherine Martin, and screenwriter Craig Pearce, along with behind the scenes footage, sketches, designs and storyboards (requires a Profile 1.1 player), not to mention allowing access to other content relative to a given moment in the film. The Bazmark Vault offers individual access to the content contained in the Shaking Up Shakespeare Picture-In-Picture Mode.

Romeo+Juliet: The Music features a fifty-minute documentary on the film’s soundtrack, as well as a few ancillary music programs. Also included is a Director's Gallery and a Director Of Photography Gallery which offers an inside glimpse into the process of getting the production off the drawing board and how its look was achieved. An Interview Gallery offers members of the cast and crew talking about the production of the movie. An International Theatrical Trailer closes the standard supplements. ROMEO + JULIET is also BD-Live enabled (requires a Profile 2.0 player).

ROMEO + JULIET certainly isn't your father's Shakespeare. Director Baz Luhrmann’s hyper visual stylings and musical choices makes this an altogether different kind of Shakespeare. The Blu-ray perfectly reproduces the exquisitely over-ripe color palette, as well as every other aspect of the stunning visuals. Sonically, the Blu-ray is equally glorious. Recommended.


Romeo + Juliet [Blu-ray] (1996)


DVD & Blu-ray Disc reviews are Copyright 2010 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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