Romeo and Juliet (Blu-ray)
20th Century Fox / 2013 / 118 min / PG-13
Shakespeare's immortal play of tragic romance can be interpreted in many different ways. Be it Franco Zeffirelli's faithful location piece or Baz Luhrmann's bombastic modern revision, the story has been told in several forms through various mediums. Director Carlo Carlei seems to have been aiming for a more visual approach, shooting the film on location in Italy. And that's okay as he chooses a number of lavish sets shot beautifully for the screen. There's just one little thing he forgot to make work in the production: the characters of Romeo and Juliet.
Maybe it's that they are too young or that they pale in comparison to the other characters, but Douglas Booth and Hailee Steinfeld just do not fit well into the title roles. The most important part of Romeo and Juliet's story is the romantic energy and drive of the star crossed lovers that dared them to continue during the war of houses. I never once felt that in their performances. They both seemed like they're in a high school play being more concerned about memorizing the texts than displaying the emotion. They shouldn't seem this awkward and dead as they rattle off lines and kiss each other without passion. Meanwhile, all the other actors (including a very effective Paul Giamatti as Friar Laurence) are acting circles around these kids.
It's too bad these two actors don't work as just about every other element of this production is a masterpiece. The shot locations in Italy are all gorgeous and used quite well especially during the fight scenes. Everything from the decadent interiors to the detailed exteriors are nothing short of cinema eye candy and almost makes you want to hop on plane to Italy right that very moment. The skillful direction also benefits from some dazzling costumes that completely wrap you into the era. They're not too flashy and not too amateur. As a visual production of Romeo and Juliet, this adaptation is spot on.
But all the gorgeous cinematography in the world can't make up for a lackluster performance of the leads. It's really just a pretty picture without heart if we can't buy the intense passion that drove these two to death. I don't even care about the production as long as the director can make the love story believable and emotional. As long as that factor is present, they could have Romeo and Juliet take place on Mars where the Capulets are alien creatures and I'd still be pleased. But If you have a film where the audience is more interested in the friar than they are Romeo and Juliet, you know your movie messed up.
Romeo and Juliet shines particularly bright on this Blu-ray. The 1080p transfer is a visual masterpiece accenting the gorgeous architecture and costumes well. The 5.1 audio does a superb job with the clanging swords and heaps of dialogue presented in a clear mix.
The Blu-ray comes with a handful of short featurettes on the production covering the aspects of shooting on location, casting the roles and working with makeup.
Carlei's Romeo and Juliet is a deal with the devil trading in competent acting for lavish cinematography. Despite the stunning visual appeal, it still felt like watching a school play rather than a lavish production. For fans of the text, this is not an adaptation I'd recommend. Even those seeking a base level of the story with some great production values should only consider this a rental. It's neat to look at, but there isn't a whole lot else to recommend for repeat viewings.