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Romeo and Juliet (1996) – Special Edition DVD Review

Romeo and Juliet (1996) DVD cover art


Written by: Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce, based on the play by William Shakespeare
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Claire Danes, John Leguizamo, Harold Perrineau, Pete Postlethwaite


  • Running audio commentary with Luhrmann, Pearce, production designer Catherine Martin & cinematographer Don McAlpine
  • Director’s Gallery: Luhrmann discusses the concept and the pitch; brief featurette about the film’s impact; three scenes showing read-through to finished product and everything inbetween
  • Cinematographer’s Gallery: McAlpine discusses several scenes and the way shots were constructed for each
  • Design Gallery: Martin discusses the design of everything from the guns to the cars and more
  • Interview Gallery: Cast & crew snippets
  • Music Videos: “Kissing You” by Des’ree and “Young Hearts Run Free” by Kym Mazelle
  • Theatrical trailer, TV spots and other promotional bits
  • DVD-ROM: screenplay to original play comparison excerpts

Released by: Fox
Region: 1
Rating: PG-13
Anamorphic: Yes

My Advice: Own it.

[ad#longpost]Story sounds familiar…almost. Romeo (DiCaprio) is the son and heir of the Montague Family, and Juliet (Danes) is the child of the Capulet Family, both big time families in Verona Beach. The feud between the two families is pretty harsh, as it has been known to destroy entire gas stations and wreak havoc in the city, making Captain Prince (Vondie Curtis-Hall) enraged. However, one night at a party, Romeo runs across Juliet…and it’s love at first sight. And it quickly becomes apparent that nothing will stand between them.

You know the story. The guns and cars and whatnot are all that’s different. The language is there, so is the raw passion and the tragedy. When this project was announced many moons ago, I was one of the ones saying, “Erh?” Being unfamiliar with Luhrmann, I was willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. And it paid off in spades. Unlike other films that recently have tried to “update” the Bard into some form of the present day (Ethan Hawke’s Hamlet, anyone?), this flick manages to take the conceit, run with it, improve on it as it goes and never blink. The thing is uncannily well crafted and extremely well-acted. Many have poked fun at DiCaprio’s “passionate” interp of Romeo, but the entire character screams Mr. Overreacting Hormone Boy. He was dead on target, and so was the rest of the cast. Personal favorite, though, is still Harold Perrineau’s Mercutio–just brilliant.

Not only is the film top notch, but Fox has chosen to give it a hellaciously special edition. First off, of course, there’s the running commentary. Lunging between comical and insightful, it features Luhrmann and his posse stepping all over each other excitedly most of the time–the rest of the time, someone recalls an anecdote about a specific scene and then calls upon Luhrmann to elucidate the significance. Very, very interesting stuff–and entertaining to boot, so that’s always a plus.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes from Romeo and Juliet

However, it’s not enough these days to impress with a cool commentary. Therefore, the galleries come into play. In the Director’s Gallery, you get Luhrmann giving a speech somewhere about the origins of the project. That’s all well and good, but the scenes that comprise the rest of this particular gallery take you from one end of production to the other. The scenes are intercut between read-throughs, blocking sessions, actual film footage and every stage in between. This is accompanied by “pop-up” bits of info on the screen as well. This is utterly fascinating, especially when dealing with the complex sequences they’ve provided info on.

Other galleries follow suit. Don McAlpine’s Cinematographer’s Galley discusses everything from how in the hell they shot the 360 tracking shot in the confines of the elevator to how to work with sets to get the shots you need in a very quick manner–using power tools. Entertaining and revealing.

Menu from the Romeo and Juliet Special Edition DVD

Then there’s the Design Gallery, wherein production designer Catherine Martin talks you through stills, as well as the various bits created for Verona Beach. This covers everything from the brands of guns to the a propos billboards you might have missed in certain shots.

The three galleries on their own make this a stellar entry in the stacked DVD arena. The fourth gallery, that of cast and crew interviews, appear to be snippets culled from other sources and are less impressive than perhaps they could have been. The music videos on the disc are…well, music videos, and we all know that one in a hundred of those actually impress. Suffice to say, these are not one in a hundred. The Des’ree video is the singer intercut with bits from the film and the Mazelle video is nothing but bits from the film.

Romeo and Juliet (1996) special features

Last bit to discuss here is the DVD-ROM portion, which allows you to compare snippets of the screenplay with the corresponding pieces of Shakespeare’s original play. This is nice in that it flips back and forth from one to the other at your request, but it would have been far nicer to have a side-by-side comparison. Or at least let you flip back and forth while watching the film in a smaller window.

The downsides to this special edition are more than outweighed by the upsides; this really is a choice rendition of the film on DVD. It’s certainly more than you can expect to get from most so-called “special” editions. Helping matters is that it’s a stacked DVD in support of a truly excellent film, so you’ve got to love that. This falls easily into the must-own category for yours truly. Trust me, it’s worth the coin.

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