Romeo & Juliet: Uninspired and Unnecessary?

It’s legitimate to ask, what is the raison d’etre for the new version of “Romeo & Juliet”?

After all, Shakespeare’s famous tragedy has received countless stage and film revivals over the past eight decades. In 1926, George Cukor directed a vesrion of Romeo and Juliet, with Leslie Howard and Norma Shearer in the lead roles; both stars were too old to play the young lovers.

Currently, you can see the play on Broadway with the movie heartthrob Orlando Bloom (“Lord of the Rings”) and Condola Rashad.

Reportedly, the first picture since Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 film to return Shakespeare’s tragedy to its Veronese roots, director Carlo Carlei’s poor version has simply no particular reason to exist, not even as an acting vehicle for its two leads, Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth.

Some (not me) may like the short and streamlined adaptation of the British scribe Julian Fellowes (Oscar-winner for Altman’s “Gosford Park”), who’s also credited as producer.

The new, purportedly classic version leaves much to be desired, lacking eroticism and more importantly emotional intensity, even in the big and proven scenes.
Financially backed by enterprising Swarovski, the tragedy goes through the motions, but the directorial choices are both obvious and uninspired.

The movie, is released by Relativity Media this Friday, October 11, but likely to be dismissed by most critics, it’s bound to have a very short run.

On paper, Hailee Steinfeld and Douglas Booth are well cast as the drama’s star-crossed lovers, and each thespian has a couple of commendable monologues, but there is no erotic chemistry between the youngsters, and thus no particular reason to be upset by their fate, product of familial rivalry and politics.

Over the past four decades, we have seen the beautiful Olivia Hussey and charming Leonard Whiting in the Zeffirelli version, which was targeted at the countercultural youth of the late 1960s, who cherished free love and sex.

With all my reservations for the work of Australia’s enfant terrible Baz Luhrman, his 1996 postmodern interpretation of the play, titled Shakespeare’s Romeo+ Juliet, is more rewarding due to the incandescent appearances of the young Leonardo DiCaprio (just before he became a star the following year with “Titanic”) and Claire Dance (now riding high on TV’s popular series “Homeland”)

Both Zeffirelli and Luhrmann found effective ways, albeit in an entirely different cinematic mode, to talk directly to adolescenets, making Shakespeare’s timeless tragedy timely and relevant to their own times.

This version is straightforward and conventional to a fault. I doubt that young hip viewers would be tempted to see for the first time or revisit one of Shakespeare’s most enduring works.

As director, Carlei possess basic technical skills but he lacks a fresh or inventive perspective on the familiar material. As is well known, the play served as the source for one of the best stage and then movie musicals ever made, “West Side Story,” which swept the 1961 Oscars, including Best Picture.

Part of the problem of this uninspired version is the numerous producers who are credited, though one never knows what exactly each producer did (or not).

Having watched this bargain-basement production makes it clear why Relativity has placed an embargo on critics, fearing with good reason the effect of negative reviews and word of mouth.

Credits

MPAA Rating: PG-13.

Running time: 118 Minutes.

A Relativity Media release presented with Swarovski Entertainment and Blue Lake Media Fund.
Produced by Ileen Maisel, Lawrence Elman, Julian Fellowes, Nadja Swarovski, Simon Bosanquet, Alexander Koll, Dimitra Tsingou, Doug Mankoff, Andrew Spaulding.
Executive producers, Markus Langes-Swarovski, Steven Silver, Neil Tabatznik, Marco Cohen, Benedetto Habib, Fabrizio Donvito, Philip Alberstat, Jackie Walsh, John Walsh III.
Co-producer, Milena Canonero.
Co-executive producer, Shezi Nackvi.
Directed by Carlo Carlei.
Screenplay, Julian Fellowes, adapted from the play by William Shakespeare.
Camera, David Tatersall.
Editor, Peter Honess.
Music, Abel Korzeniowski; music supervisor, Natalie Baartz.
Production designer, Tonino Zera; supervising art director, Armando Savoia; set decorators, Maurizio Leonardi, Christina Omori.
Ccostume designer, Carlo Poggioli.
Sound, Tullio Morganti; sound designer, Rob Ireland; supervising sound editor, Lee Herrick.