Welcome to the first of my Shakespeare Detours! This is a sub-category of my Film of the Book series that I didn't foresee, but since every single one of the Bard's timeless plays have been adapted to film multiple times (3 and counting this year alone), I felt it warranted discussion. This is an introduction to my first subject of study, and a personal favorite: Romeo and Juliet
(Side note: people always seem to think my favorite Shakespeare play is Macbeth
. No idea why.) (And yes, this is my sarcastic voice.)
So, there's a new movie adaptation out directed by Carlo Carlei, starring Hailee Steinfield (True Grit
) and Douglas Booth as the titular leads. I'm told screenwriter Julian Fellowes has something to do with Downton Abbey, which everyone but me is obsessed with apparently. As of this writing, it's barely cracked a million at the box office (only $500,000 on opening weekend), and reviews have ranged from dismissive to scathing. Rotten Tomatoes tallies opinions at a measely 22% "rotten."
Now, I've occasionally liked movies that critics and audiences alike were fairly unimpressed by, such as Silent Hill: Revelation
and John Carter
. Personally, I wrote off this movie as "not for me" the second I first saw trailers for it, and the reason is quite simple: they changed the language. >__< No. When you're adapting Shakespeare, the one thing that adamantly does NOT need "fixing" is the language. Not unless you're moving the entire story to a different setting and time period, and sometimes not even then. (This version did neither, by the way.) SO yeah, I was prejudiced from the get-go.
All that aside, cinematic quality is not necessarily a requisite for driving up box office numbers and generating a decent profit. Just looking at the other box office toppers this week, one of them has a Tomatometer rating even lower. Also, as any literary or theater geek will tell you (with rare exceptions), R + J
is not highly rated as one of the Bard's best works. But it is easily his most popular--in his day as well as ours--and the fact that it continues to gain followers many centuries after its first performance speaks volumes to its enduring success. Something about this story resonates with people no matter what era we're in. It seems like every new generation gets a fresh revisiting to swoon over.
The 1960s had not one, but two extremely lucrative and popular film adaptations of the play: Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet
(which is still the highest-rated among critics and movie-goers alike), and West Side Story
(a musical transplanting that moved the story to contemporary New York and added a racial prejudice angle to the animosity between the two families). When I came of swooning age in the mid-90s, we had Baz Luhrmann's William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet
with Claire Danes and Leonardo DiCaprio, which remains my favorite to this day, and not just for nostalgic reasons. There's even an anime version that turns Juliet into katana-wielding vigilante.
As it happens, Carlei's version is actually the second Romeo and Juliet
movie that came out this year. Although I don't know how many filmgoers picked up on the other one being an adaptation because, well, in that case the Montagues were zombies. (Warm Bodies
. It also has the best critical reviews since the Zeffirelli version in 1968. I'm not kidding.)
So where's the love for this latest movie? Are today's teens simply not interested in the idea of tragic romance? Do they not care about classic literary tales without something else--like zombies or whiplash editing--to spice things up? Has this story finally worn out its welcome to the point where it's no longer relevent to the current cultural atmosphere?
I don't think so.( Read more... )