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  • Widescreen 2.35:1
  • 16:9 Enhanced
  • Dual Layer (RSDL 53:25)
  • English: Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
  • Theatrical trailer
  • Audio commentary
  • Photo gallery
  • Animated menus
  • 2 Music video - Kissing You; Young Hearts Run Free
  • Behind the scenes footage
  • 2 TV spot
  • DVD-ROM features - Script-to-screen Comparison
  • Interviews

William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet: SE

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 115 mins . M15+ . PAL


Baz Luhrmann’s visionary masterpiece retelling of the classic Shakespearian story has (once again) graced our television screens on the DVD format – this time with the Special Edition treatment as a part of the Red Curtain Trilogy package.

Not only is this piece of filmmaking a landmark for Shakespearian literature on-screen, but also the catalyst for Luhrmann’s creative filmmaking splurge that later turned into the 2001 hit Moulin Rouge. An Australian creative team worked on this piece for years, yet sadly it is still classified as an “American film”. Moulin Rouge also suffered this same fate. Luhrmann’s creative team from Strictly Ballroom including a talented cinematographer in Donald McAlpine, a brilliantly minded production designer Catherine Martin and co-writer Craig Pearce worked hard for several years researching the social status, symbolism and modern day retelling options for the film, and when the idea was set, the extensions of this idea spurted out like water from a tap. Graphic design and social costume choices moulded the onscreen versions of the Elizabethan characters, and the modern-day version of Verona quickly describes the tone of the film, easily conveying the goals of Luhrmann and his team.

Romeo + Juliet is a tale of hope, despair, love and tragedy. The leads played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes scream the perfect chemistry on screen, and the sinister presence of John Leguizamo as Tybalt adds to the potent concoction of this retelling. Studded with a large supporting cast including Jamie Kennedy, Brian Dennehy, Pete Postlethwaite, Paul Sorvino and Diane Venora, this modern retelling successfully conveys the ideal themes of the play, and uses artistic license to mould the play to a Hollywood-safe screen version. The contemporary score and soundtrack that pulses throughout the film adds to the modern tone conveyed through the film. While these songs are alternative on their own, they compliment the action, and even dialogue, on screen.

Romeo and Juliet come from two different households who are each others' enemy, Montague and Capulet. But it is love at first sight for these two, who are pressured into choices between their love for one another and their families’ dignity and name.

" A glooming peace this morning with it brings
The sun for sorrow will not show its head
Go hence, to have more talk of these sad things
Some shall be pardoned, some punished
For never was a story of more woe
Than this of Juliet and her Romeo."


The video is presented in a CinemaScope aspect of 2.35:1, and is 16x9 enhanced. As far as one can see, this video transfer appears to be the same as that included on the 2000 disc.

Firstly it’s Baz Luhrmann, so many aspects are pushed to the limits on this disc – colours, MPEG artefacts, shadow details, you get the idea...

The colours are simply stunning and faultless. A lifelike luminousity is conveyed through the fluorescent portrayal of the storybook lives. Reds are bright, solid, vibrant and stunning, as are the deep blues, golden orange tones and pensive greens. The extraordinary tones such as the fluorescent hues in the fishtank sequence, as well as the range at Sycamore Grove, just shoot this transfer to the top. That’s one test passed with a High Distinction.

Blacks are solid, yet at times severely lack definition. This is the biggest flaw of the transfer, with some scenes getting murky and overshadowed by a black frame. Slight cases of low-level noise can be seen in some of these sequences, but generally it isn’t a big problem.

From the opening Fox title, the sharpness of the image is razor fine, with a rich and superb clarity that should be seen more often. The crispness of the image is spot on, and has pushed the limits yet still stands safely on the right side of the fence. Detail levels are quite high, except in the murky scenes described above.

At no point can any MPEG artefacts be seen, even during the problematic super-fast motion sequences, of which there are many. Occasionally film artefacts such as dust, hair and scratches can be seen, and should have been improved from the last version of the disc. Grain is not a problem at all, with a clear and clean picture throughout the film.

Being a dual-layered disc, a layer change occurs. This is place nicely at 53:25, and is smack bang in the middle of a scene, but is not disrupting at all.


The audio track supplied on this disc is superb, and just a stone’s throw away from reference quality. Nevertheless, the audio track is Dolby Digital 5.1 in English with a bit-rate of 384Kbps. The second audio track is the commentary which is discussed later. The bitrate may be slightly lower than other 5.1 tracks, but this one comes with one helluva punch.

Dialogue is the driving mechanism of the film, and is located primarily through the centre speaker only. It is crisp, clear, precise and audible throughout. Decipherability is up to the ear of the audience, but every word is clearly articulated with a rich tone.

All six speakers get a heavy workout – this is Baz Luhrmann's work after all. The sensory overload begins shortly after the one-minute mark, and doesn’t let up until the final television screen disappears. The front left and right channels get a deep, directional and driving signal constantly, and continually throw discrete effects around. At times the surround speakers are subtly enveloping, yet at others are as pulsating as a jackhammer. The soundstage that is built around the audience sucks them in and throws them around like a washing machine, violently assaulting the senses. The subwoofer is the icing on the cake, with a pulsating and beefy track that just thumps its way onto this stage.

There are only a few downsides, which occur on both the 2000 disc and the Special Edition, and they appear to be mixing problems. At 29:31, a case can be heard where, after Romeo speaks, the background effects abruptly cut off and ADR from Juliet can then be heard. Another case is at 92:26 where the centre channel cuts out, and is taken up by the front left and right channels. These are not major problems, but ones that should have been avoided.


The menus are presented in a 16x9-enhanced widescreen aspect and bring together the elements of the “Red Curtain” theory, or in other words, they fit with the setting of the Moulin Rouge disc one menu, except set at the Sycamore Grove Theatre. There is a clip of audio (Talk Show Host by Radiohead) that plays in the background which suffers from a bizarre clicking at the start of the track which gets annoying when the audio starts to loop.

The Director’s Commentary features Baz Luhrmann, production designer Catherine Martin, co-writer Craig Pearce and cinematographer Don McAlpine. This commentary is very busy, yet well worth the journey. Baz Luhrmann always has something to say, and the others join in nearly as much. At times it is hard to determine what is being said as their dialogue gets muddled with too many voices at once. Still, it's a very interesting track, definitely one of the better ones, and you can find out information like why Mercutio is a drag queen... Everything in Luhrmann’s films is put there for a reason, and an important one at that. Listen to this baby and you’ll know about quite a lot of them.

The Director’s Gallery consists of different clips where Baz Luhrmann talks about the making of the film, all the way down from pre-production to production, from the director’s point of view. These offer an interesting insight into the pre-production stages of making a film, and are brief yet hold a high quality and quantity of information. All of these clips are presented in a 1.33:1 aspect with Dolby Digital 2.0 English sound. Impact runs for 4:02 and is an introduction to the film, and to its eccentric director Luhrmann. Why Shakespeare? runs for 2:43 and shows Luhrmann talking about the film at a convention two years after its release. Pitching Shakespeare describes the process of pitching a film, especially Elizabethan English in a film, and runs for 9:33. This clip also shows some pre-production screen tests where Leonardo DiCaprio came to Australia to test out the mood and tone of the film with Luhrmann to see if it would work. The Gas Station runs for 6:40 and is a Rehearsal-Staging-Shoot look at the opening Gas Station scene. There are two more of these Rehearsal-Staging-Shoot clips, one for The Pool Scene (5:01) and the other for Tybalt’s Execution (4:05).

The Cinematographer’s Gallery starts with scrolling text, and then shows a slideshow of images featuring Don McAlpine, the director of photography. This runs for 2:44, and acts as an introduction. A Hole In The Wall runs for 0:43 and features production footage with a “commentary” so-to-speak by McAlpine. One Light runs for 1:02 and shows the making-of the Banishment sequence. Operator runs for 1:12 and describes McAlpine’s opinion of operating a camera. The Fishtank runs for 1:22 and shows the secrets behind the Fishtank sequence. The Elevator runs for 2:14 and shows the amazing creativity behind the Elevator scene, and the complexity of it. The Church runs for 0:55 and shows the making-of the final Church scene... and yes, all the candles are real.

The Design Gallery features clips from production designer Catherine Martin, and holds great insight into the graphic design behind the film and its artwork, as well as the sets and locations. The first clip, Design Gallery runs for 2:22 and is an introduction to Martin, as well as her role in the film. The Books runs for 4:40 and takes you through the storyboards for the petrol station sequence. This clip is presented in a widescreen aspect of 1.85:1 and is 16x9 enhanced, as are the remaining clips in this feature. Guns of Verona Beach runs for 0:55 and shows the concepts of the weapons such as “sword,” “dagger” and “long-sword.” Cars of Verona Beach runs for 0:53 and shows the concepts for the cars for Verona Beach. Production Design is an interactive menu where we are shown the Verona Beach city map. Each of these feature Martin giving comments over still images, and are informative, yet they are still only still (haha, no pun intended) images. All of these are also divided into chapters to allow you to skip segments.

  1. 1. The Capulet Mansion (4:10)
  2. 2. The Gas Station (2:05)
  3. 3. Sycamore Grove (2:33)
  4. 4. The Jesus Monument (1:19)
  5. 5. St Peters Church (1:46)
Fashion of Verona Beach features two separate clips. The first on the Montagues (1:42), the second on the Capulets (1:17). These feature Martin describing the social economics behind the clothing and styles created for these groups. Branding Verona Beach features 17 different images of billboards and advertising used in the film.

The Interview Gallery features interviews from different cast and crew members. All of these videos are presented in a full frame aspect of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 audio. Interviews exist with Craig Pearce (the co-writer, 1:36), Jill Billcock (the editor, 1:37), the choreographer (1:01), Kym Barrett (the costume designer, 1:52), Leonardo DiCaprio (Romeo, 1:43), Claire Danes (Juliet, 2:17) and John Leguizamo (Tybalt, 1:42).

There are two Music Clips, one for Kissing You by Des’ree, and the other Young Hearts Run Free by Kym Mazelle. The first runs for 4:14, and has Dolby Digital 2.0 audio, with an aspect of 1.33:1. The second runs for 4:09, and too has Dolby Digital 2.0 audio and an aspect of 1.33:1.

The Marketing R + J section holds two TV spots, a theatrical trailer and poster concepts. The two TV spots run for 1:08 and are in a continuous video file, with two chapters. The trailer runs for 1:34, and is presented with a 2.35:1 widescreen aspect and is 16x9 enhanced. Funnily, though, this isn’t the same theatrical trailer used on the earlier version of the film. The poster gallery runs for 1:33, with the Kissing You theme running in the background, and has 18 poster images.

The DVD-ROM features consist of a Script-to-Screen comparison, which is a Macromedia projector file featuring the screenplay and the script which you can flick between, and still hold the same scenes. There is some music playing in the background which makes it a bit hard to read... well anything is hard to read when Young Hearts Run Free screams through in the background music...


The time has come to trade in your old copy of Romeo + Juliet and to splurge on this Special Edition. For once, a disc worthy of the title...

  • LINK: http://www.dvd.net.au/review.cgi?review_id=2000
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      And I quote...
    "Forget a written study guide for the film, this Special Edition gives such an insight into the creative and technical process behind the dramatic recreation of Shakespeare’s classic work."
    - Martin Friedel
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Philips DVD 736K
    • TV:
          TEAC EU68-ST
    • Speakers:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Centre Speaker:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Surrounds:
          Teac PLS-60 Home Theatre System
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard RCA
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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