In the Zefferelli version the Capulets and the Montagues are two Roman Catholic families with a long on-going feud, both living in the town of Verona in the time of the middle-ages. Whilst the Lurhman version is set in the 20th century in the West Coast State, Venice Beach, with the Capulets being typical West Coast American Hispanics and the Montagues being White Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
Although many things differ in the more recent film from the original film, two main aspects are kept the same; the general storyline and language used. Comparing the two films, bits of the storyline differed but as for the actual Shakespeare story, that had not changed. In both versions, we are introduced to Benvolio, the Montague gang ‘leader’ who was actually quite a peace keeper, very much unlike Tybalt, the Capulet gang ‘leader’ who is a very firey character. Also in both versions the directors chose to use original Shakespearean English throughout the movie even though in Lurhman’s version it has been slightly modernised for the audience’s sake. You could familiarise the two films through the aspect that the two families/gangs are dressed as if in uniforms. However the similarity stays there as the in the first the Capulet family are dressed brightly and the Montague’s dully and in the second the Capulets are now dressed in dark colours and the Montagues in bright.
Unlike Zefferelli, who used just the clothing to identify the two families from one another, Lurhman uses this but also iconography using gang crests, and freeze frames to identify the two sides in a more obvious and sharp manner.
One of the main differences between the opening scenes of the Zefferelli version and the Lurhman version is the prologue. In the original Zefferelli version we are given a rather long prologue read slowly, calmly informing us of the feud. However in the second, the Lurhman version, we are given a hugely contrasting prologue where it bursts onto the blank screen out of nowhere as a news report with “breaking news”, and is read in a fast, informative and more serious way.
Also in the first, the prologue is greeted with a calming ballad and panoramic views of the town of Verona. Whereas in the second it is greeted with loud choral music grabbing your attention, and a mosaic of different clips and pictures (teaser reel) from further on in the film to give us an idea of what we are in for. He did this as the audience of today can relate to it a lot more than Zefferelli’s as they will be used to seeing breaking news reports on the TV.
After the introductory prologue in the first, the camera then takes us into the busy Verona market where we first meet the two families. We can see the feud between them almost immediately as the Capulets immediately try to mock the Montagues when they see them. The Montagues did not retaliate and looked the more peace-keeping of the two families, although when the Capulets became physical, this is when the retaliation from the Montagues came, and a huge sword fight broke out. When watching we see the Capulet, Benvolio try and break up the fight and make peace although he fails. This was because, at that point the firey, fearsome Capulet, Tybalt arrived and almost staright away, the camera zoomed in up close to his face, showing the audience he was a man of high stature. He refused to keep peace and fought, i.e. “Peace? I hate the word!”
The fight went on for a short while with the camera showing us many different parts of the action, but was then broke up by the Verona boss, the Prince. Instantly the camera zooms in onto his face and looks up at him, indicating he is of a very high stature in the village, and is hugely respected and authoritative. He declared that if anyone was to start a fight again in the village, that person would be put to death, in turn hoping it would stop any conflict.
However, after the prologue in the Lurhman version it cuts into action with us with a whole different mind set and expectance. Firstly we are greeted with the Montagues being shown as the younger, more child-like gang. We then meet the Capulet gang who look a lot more intimidating as they give the impression of being more experienced, fearsome and organised than the Montagues, and we can see that the Montagues know this, as they are showing lots of fear towards the Capulets. At this point the two gang ‘leaders’ are in the petrol station shop and outside where the gangs are a small argument is breaking out. We then see that the Montagues know their leader is returning to them and so this is when the guns are raised. At this point we meet Benvolio, the Montague leader and to show us he is a main character, there is a ‘freeze-frame’ with “spaghetti Western” style music in the back ground for a couple of seconds, and he is trying to keep the peace, when Tybalt, the formidable Capulet leader comes out (another freeze-frame this time with typical ‘bad guy’ music) and things get really tense. All of this shows that Zefferlli uses the camera to give a point of view whereas Lurhman doesn’t use it for this, and instead uses it for impact on his audience.
This is when the gun fight breaks out and you can clearly see the difference in quality, composure and experience between the two gangs. The Montagues are clearly scared, very uncalm and very unfocused and keep shooting wildly hitting the petrol sign time after time. Whereas Tybalt is extremely focused and virtually dances around the station shooting at the Montagues as if it came naturally to him. This then breaks out into a fight of a huge scale and causes masses of destruction to the city. This is then followed by a news report showing videos of the army, police and helicopters trying desperately to calm things down across the whole city and ends up having the two gang leaders (Benvolio and Tybalt) pointing guns at one another. This overall gives us a bigger feeling of shock than the Zefferrelli version as there has been a lot more damaged caused, this fight was on a much bigger scale and that just a simple biting of the thumb has caused all of this, in turn showing us how great the feud between the two gangs was.