Original vs. Remake – Romeo + Juliet

It’s time again for Catie Rhodes and me to break down another cinematic original and its remake.  Returning to our usual ways, Catie reviews the original and I take on the 1996 remake.  This month we tackle the classic, Romeo and Juliet (or in my case, Romeo + Juliet).

Usually I jump right into Catie’s homemade summary at this point; but she didn’t write one this month.  However, I will borrow her words because as usual they are spot-on: if you don’t know the basic plot of “Romeo and Juliet,” this blog post will probably be lost on you anyway. 

So, let’s just go straight to the trailer:

Before I begin my review, let’s talk briefly about Shakespeare’s play, Romeo and Juliet.

One of Shakespeare’s most popular works, Romeo and Juliet may be the most tragic love story ever told.  Many people have complained about reading Shakespeare, but I personally feel that his brilliant use of unrhymed iambic pentameter throughout Romeo and Juliet sends the reader back in time to the intended period and setting.  Shakespeare also connects with audiences of all generations with the universal themes of love and fate, and the destruction of the star-crossed lovers.

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

As Catie discusses on her blog today, Shakespeare’s tragedy was depicted into a motion picture in 1968. Sir Laurence Olivier narrated the film, while Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey played the young lovers.  The music composed by Nino Rota still gives me goose bumps when I hear it today.

The classic love story was adapted again in 1996, starring two of Hollywood’s biggest young stars (at the time) – Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.  This time titled, Romeo + Juliet, Shakespeare’s story is modernized (for example, using guns instead of swords) while the cast still uses Shakespearean dialogue.  One might ask, a modernized Shakespearean play with traditional Shakespearean dialogue?  Yes!  It’s simply wonderful… and creative… a great way to attract the youth of today… and masterfully performed by all involved.  And the cast is extensive: Brian Dennehy, Paul Sorvino, John Leguizamo, Dash Mihok, Jamie Kennedy, and Paul Rudd to just name a few.

But let’s talk about Leo for a second. Yes, I call him Leo.  Although his portrayal of Romeo came early in what we now know to be a very long and fruitful career, his performance was still impeccable.  But it wasn’t until Romeo + Juliet that I truly fell head-over-heels for him (and again in Titanic… and again in the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby).   However, celebrity crushes aside, rarely do I watch him in a film where he does not nail whatever role he is playing; and I firmly believe he will be remembered as one of the greatest actors of my generation.  And for the purpose of this post?  He can be my Romeo anytime.

And while I wasn’t thrilled about Claire Danes playing Juliet, I still weep pretty much uncontrollably every time I  watch this film (even though I know the ending… and very well at that).  To me, this makes Romeo + Juliet a classic.  I honestly believe it will live throughout the decades.  Shakespeare’s story will be told and adapted countless times in the years to come; but there is just something about this film that will survive the test of time.  Baz Luhrmann’s (writer, director, and producer) creation is unique and it will take some sort of new and fresh creative genius to top this particular rendition of the classic tragedy/love story.

Oh, and before I forget, the soundtrack is amazing.  Despite the fact it’s pushing almost twenty years old, I still listen to this disc on almost every road trip.  This ‘90s fun/blast from the past features Garbage, Everclear, Des’ree, Butthole Surfers, The Cardigans, and Radiohead.

So, overall, is the 1996 version worth a watch?  Yes!  I think so.

Does it compare to the original film?  Absolutely.  It its own right.

Should people forget about the original version?  No.  It’s a classic and originals should never be forgotten.

Remember to stop by Catie’s blog to see what she thought of the 1968 classic.

What do you think?  Have you seen either the 1968 or the 1996 version of Shakespeare’s classic love story?  If you’ve seen both, which do you prefer and why?  If you haven’t, do you want to?  I’d love to hear from you! 

*****

Tiffany A. White is the author of the YA mystery Football Sweetheart series available on Kindle and Nook.  She is available for contact via Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or via email at tiffany {at} tiffanyawhite {dot} com.

Friday FabOoolousness: Classics That Keep Us Coming Back for More

Reading is one of the most widespread pastimes today.  Almost everyone reads something, whether it is newspapers, books in print or articles on the World Wide Web. 

Think about it – walking through the airport, what do we most commonly see? 

Someone’s nose is buried deep inside the latest fiction release or entertainment magazine, or they’re glued to one of the popular reading devices like a Kindle, Nook, Notepad, or even a smart phone.

Most works anymore are a onetime read.  But, there are materials out there that we can read over and over again – Classics.

Classics most oftentimes relate to classic works of literature, stories written decades and decades ago that most of us were introduced to in English class as mandatory reads.  Were we excited to read these stories when forced down our throats?  Maybe not.  But, do we appreciate them today?  Most of us do.

Classics can also refer to movies, particularly a few motion pictures adapted from those very same literary tales.  Of course, there are thousands of classic films that don’t retell a famous piece of literature, but for the sake of today’s post, we’re taking a look back at a few that do. 

*****

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare in the 1500’s

One of Shakespeare’s most popular works, Romeo and Juliet may be the most tragic love story ever told.  Many people have complained about reading Shakespeare, but I personally feel that his brilliant use of unrhymed iambic pentameter throughout Romeo and Juliet sends the reader back in time to the intended period and setting.  Shakespeare also connects with audiences of all generations with the universal themes of love and fate, and the destruction of the star-crossed lovers. 

For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo.
~ William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

Shakespeare’s tragedy was depicted into a motion picture in 1968. Sir Laurence Olivier narrated the film, while Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey played the young lovers.  The music composed by Nino Rota still gives me goose bumps when I hear it today. 

The classic was adapted again in 1996 starring two of Hollywood’s biggest young stars – Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes.  This time titled, Romeo + Juliet, Shakespeare’s story is modernized while the cast still uses Shakespearean dialogue.  It’s simply wonderful. 

Oh, and the soundtrack is amazing ‘90s fun featuring Garbage, Everclear, Des’ree, Butthole Surfers, The Cardigans, and Radiohead. 

*****

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens in 1861

Even though Dickens wrote Great Expectations a hundred and fifty years ago, he explores themes very prevalent to today such as social class and ambition.  The story is narrated by orphan Pip as he navigates his life from his poor childhood upbringing through a very well provided for adulthood.  He travels his journey believing that his mysterious benefactor is the wealthy and callous Miss Havisham, but later learns that it is actually the criminal he stole for as a child. 

Take nothing on its looks; take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule. ~ Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

Love and tragedy represent two additional themes in Great Expectations.  Pip experiences devastation associated with every relationship in his life, whether it is with his sister, Estella, Miss Havisham, or even The Convict.   

Dickens’ novel was adapted into a British film in 1946, again into a British television series in 1989, and most recently into a modernized motion picture starring Ethan Hawke (Pip’s character was renamed to Finn), Gwyneth Paltrow, Robert De Niro, and Anne Bancroft in 1998.  While the 1998 film did not attract the same critical acclaim as its 1946 predecessor (won two Academy Awards), I personally enjoyed it. 

Much like Romeo + Juliet, the soundtrack for Great Expectations is another ‘90s great featuring artists Tori Amos, Chris Cornell, Duncan Sheik, and The Verve Pipe.

*****

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee in 1960

To Kill a Mockingbird exemplifies a work beyond its time, tackling racial stereotypes, socio-economic classes, and gender roles.  The mockingbird symbolizes the loss of innocence, one of the most prevalent themes throughout the novel.   Equality amongst all men and women also carries from start to finish, a courageous act by Lee. 

I think there’s just one kind of folks.  Folks.  ~ Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird

Characters Scout, Jem, and Atticus Finch captivate audiences through their bravery and strong core values.  The story not only follows the children’s acceptance of Boo Radley, a neighbor plagued with nasty town rumors, but also Atticus’ representation of a black man, Tom Robinson, accused of raping a white woman.

Lee’s work was adapted into a film starring the great Gregory Peck, as Atticus Finch, and Robert Duvall as Boo Radley, in 1962. Peck won the Academy Award for Best Actor, and child actress, Mary Badham was nominated for the Academy Award for best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Scout.

*****

What are some of your favorite classics that you have read over and over again?  Does your favorite work have a motion picture adaptation?  What are your thoughts on the new generation’s Romeo + Juliet and Great Expectations films?  Do you prefer the originals? Should Hollywood ever remake To Kill a Mockingbird? I’d love to hear from you!

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