Get ready for another interpretation of “Romeo and Juliet,” because Sony is producing yet another retelling of the Bard’s most well-known tragedy.
Look, it’s not just superhero movies that keep getting recycled! However, this version might be superhero-esque. According to an exclusive by the Hollywood Reporter, Sony is in final negotiations to pick up “Verona.” From the limited description, it sounds like a very butched-up version of the classic. This time it’s being envisioned “through a lens of an epic, 300-style world.”
Hmmm, “Romeo and Juliet,” Spartans-versus-Persians style. That should make for some interesting costuming.
This project is in super-duper early stages, but it affords the opportunity for a look back at the great — and not-so-great — adaptations of the tale of two star-crossed lovers and their warring families:
This film was not well-received, despite its impressive cast and true-to-the-period art direction. Paul Giamatti was Friar Lawrence. Ed Westwick, who was so brilliant as the skulking, scheming Chuck Bass of “Gossip Girl,” seemed like a perfect Tybalt. At 16, Hailee Steinfeld was actually a pretty age-appropriate Juliet. “Downton Abbey” creator Julian Fellowes penned the adaptation. But the film, while visually satisfying, was panned for lacking energy and chemistry. It probably didn’t help that it was somewhat overshadowed by a competing stage production starring Orlando Bloom that was also running on Broadway in the fall of 2013.
It seems like the most common downfall of productions or adaptations of “Romeo and Juliet” lies in lack of chemistry between the two title characters, which was one of the problems with “Romeo Must Die.” This was a modern-day adaptation that most remember because of Jet Li’s impressive martial arts performance, and the fact that it was Aaliyah’s film debut. According to Bob Graham of the San Francisco Chronicle, Li was more Mercutio than Romeo:
At first glance, the rival Chinese and African American clans might seem a plausible substitute for Shakespeare’s Capulets and Montagues in “Romeo and Juliet,” but it’s a stretch to squeeze the plot into this framework. After too many sidetracks, a viewer may wonder why they bothered. It becomes someone’s “concept.” Straight-ahead action would have been more than sufficient.
This was actually quite charming and cute, and for once, the star-crossed lovers get a happy ending, seeing as a double-suicide wouldn’t have been too appropriate for a family movie. In the tale of star-crossed garden gnomes, it’s their owners, who are acrimonious neighbors Mr. Capulet and Miss Montague, separated by an alley and a fence. The blue Montague gnomes (that would be Gnomeo’s clan) have been taught to despise the red Capulet gnomes, but Gnomeo and Juliet fall in love when she wanders out for a flower.
In this instance, we’re treated to a war between zombies and humans rather than Capulets and Montagues. It works pretty well. A zombie named R (played by Nicolas Hoult, the adorable lad from “About A Boy,” now all grown up) protects the very-much alive Julie (Theresa Palmer) from his brain-eating brethren and starts to fall for her. In the process, he feels himself … feeling. It’s a nifty take on the zombie genre, even if you’re not an aficionado of cinema dedicated to the undead.
This version of “Romeo and Juliet, starring Orlando Bloom and Condola Rashad, marked “Romeo and Juliet’s” return to Broadway after a 36-year absence. Though it’s a stage production, you can stream it. It’s given a contemporary setting — Romeo rides in on a motorcycle to certify his bad news boy credentials — and critics praised it for an interpretation of 13-year-old Juliet that imbued her with agency and maturity. Still, it loses its momentum in the second half, according to the New York Times’ Ben Brantley:
Good as she is in the early scenes, Ms. Rashad doesn’t yet have the vocal heft and variety to take Juliet into the echoing halls of tragedy. Juliet may learn to deceive her parents, especially after her forced betrothal to the eligible Paris … But we don’t feel that she grows up, to the point that in the scene after their wedding night, I wasn’t even sure that her marriage had been consummated.
Baz Luhrmann’s 1996 interpretation has probably done more to influence how we visualize Romeo and Juliet than any other modern film. This version was a riveting post-modern melodrama that replaced swords with guns and set the title characters in Verona Beach, Calif. As usually with Luhrmann’s films, critics were divided over his frenetic visual interpretation of the story but, ultimately, it was redeemed by strong performances from its leads. Thanks to “Romeo + Juliet,” Leonardo DiCaprio became the face that launched a thousand teen and tween crushes. Seventeen years later, DiCaprio was playing another doomed lover in Luhrmann’s “Gatsby,” but he’s still searching for his first Oscar.
Norma Shearer and Leslie Howard were obviously nowhere close to being teenagers, the biggest weakness of director George Cukor’s version. The treacly, idealism of adolescent love reads differently coming from the mouths of individuals who are clearly very much adults. Shearer and Howard’s combined ages were 75 when they made the film. Still, they managed to sell it.
Franco Zeffirelli’s counterculture retelling starred Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey. It’s still one of the most visually arresting film versions of “Romeo and Juliet,” and is regarded by many as the best all-time film adaptation. More so than other versions, Zeffirelli was praised for capturing the earnest young romance between Juliet and Romeo, which is so difficult to convey correctly.
“In the classic speeches, one begins to worry about diction and wish the modern would recede and let Shakespeare play through,” wrote Renata Adler of the New York Times. “But the scenes, the ball, the duels, are so beautifully thought out and staged that things I had not noticed — the puppy play character of the duels at first — become extraordinary, temporally present, and remote. But for the poetry, and the fine archaic dignity of Romeo and Juliet, the story could be taking place next door. It is the sweetest, the most contemporary romance on film this year.”
Everyone remembers that Gwyneth Paltrow won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1999 in that simple, cotton-candy pink Ralph Lauren gown for her portrayal of Viola De Lesseps portraying Juliet. She even gave us a reminder with her choice for this year’s ceremony, which was basically a grown-up version of the first one. However, fewer remember that Boss Dame Queen of All Things Thespian Judi Dench won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for eight minutes of screen time.
“Shakespeare in Love” was smartly done, stuffed full of inside jokes about Shakespeare’s life and references to his other works that made it a hoot, but didn’t make it impossible to follow if you weren’t familiar. Still worth re-watching on Netflix.
With its still-relevant commentary on race and class in America, “West Side Story” might still be the most timeless adaptation of Shakespeare’s story. The choreography and Leonard Bernstein’s orchestration made it a classic, and Rita Moreno, who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress for her portrayal of Anita, is still tapping out Anita’s unforgettable rhythms from “America.”
“West Side Story” was hugely influential, informing Zeffirelli’s “Romeo and Juliet,” and even Bloom and Rashad’s Broadway version. There’s no escaping it.