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Franco Zeffirelli
Olivia Hussey, Leonard Whiting, Michael York
Writing Credits:
Franco Brusati, Masolino D'Amico, Franco Zeffirelli

When two young members of feuding families meet, forbidden love ensues.

Rated PG.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English LPCM Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 138 min.
Price: $39.95
Release Date: 2/14/2023

Directing From Life Excerpt
• 1967 Interview with Actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting
• 2016 Interview with Actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting
• Trailer
• Booklet


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Romeo and Juliet: Criterion Collection [Blu-Ray] (1968)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 6, 2023)

I won’t even hazard a guess at how many times filmmakers have adapted William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet to the big screen. For one of the most notable versions, we go to this 1968 take.

Set in the Italian town of Verona in the 14th century, a long-lasting feud between the Capulet and Montague clans persists. Despite this simmering hatred, young Romeo Montague (Leonard Whiting) dares to crash a Capulet party.

There he spies lovely young Juliet Capulet (Olivia Hussey) and finds himself immediately smitten. The teens conduct a secret romance, one with much peril involved.

If you look in this site’s index, you’ll see no reviews of any version of Romeo other than this 1968 iteration – sort of. I did write up both the 1961 and 2021 versions of West Side Story, a modernized take on the tale, but this turns into my initial look at a faithful adaptation.

If you wonder why I never touched on other renditions of Romeo, the answer comes “because the property doesn’t really compel me”. I admit only moderate interest in Shakespeare period, and the nature of this story just never much intrigued me.

At the risk of sounding sexist, let’s face it: Romeo offers the definitive “chick flick” – or chick play, and so on. Though the story veers into other areas, the core romance remains the focus, and that just doesn’t deliver much to involve me.

Not that I think the story lacks dramatic appeal, of course. It exists as a classic for a reason.

A love story like this just becomes a hard sell for me, and that limits how much I can enjoy Romeo. Nonetheless, I can appreciate the tale on its merits as a film, and in that realm, the 1968 version does well.

Perhaps the strongest aspect of the 1968 Romeo stems from its accessibility. Modern audiences often struggle with Shakespeare because the language seems so “alien” to our ears.

Though this film sticks with Shakespearean dialogue and doesn’t attempt to “update” the lines, they never seem stilted or undecipherable. As imparted here, the material feels natural and easy to comprehend.

In addition, the actors largely avoid the overwrought pitfalls that often accompany renditions of Shakespeare. Not that I would call the performances truly naturalistic, as they can lean a little overdone.

Nonetheless, in terms of what we often get from Shakespeare, the acting feels well-achieved. Though the cast could probably tone things down a bit, they still pull off the roles nicely.

Co-writer/director Franco Zeffirelli manages to move the movie ahead at a good pace, and as noted, the story never gets bogged down or difficult to interpret. Zeffirelli gives the story the right “feel” for its era but avoids gimmicks or silly choices.

All of this leaves the 1968 Romeo as a solid depiction of the property. Though the story doesn’t particularly appeal to me, I respect the quality of the work on display.

The Disc Grades: Picture A-/ Audio B-/ Bonus C+

Romeo and Juliet appears in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. This became a pleasing presentation.

Sharpness consistently seemed positive throughout the movie. Next to no softness crept into the image, so it looked tight and well-defined – well, within stylistic choices, as the movie opted for a slightly gauzy/romantic vibe at times.

I saw no signs of jagged edges or shimmering, and edge haloes remained absent. No issues with digital noise reduction occurred, as the movie presented a natural layer of grain. Print flaws also failed to cause concerns, as no specks, marks or debris manifested through the film.

Romeo went with a mostly natural palette, albeit one that favored earthy hues. The colors felt warm and full.

Black levels looked deep and rich throughout the movie. Shadow detail also appeared clear and appropriately opaque. Overall, this was a highly appealing transfer.

The movie’s LPCM monaural soundtrack wasn’t quite as pleasing, but it seemed to be good for its era. Dialogue remained easily intelligible, though the lines tended to sound a bit tinny, and looping added an artificial air to speech.

Effects came across as acceptably clean and realistic, while the score showed reasonable pep. While the music lacked much range, those elements seemed concise and smooth enough. This was a more than acceptable mix for its age.

As we shift to extras, we open with an excerpt from 2018’s Directing from Life documentary. This segment lasts five minutes, 28 seconds and offers some comments from co-writer/director Franco Zeffirelli, his son Peppo Zeffirelli, producer Dyson Lovell, and personal secretary Sheila Pickles.

Life gives us a brief view of the Romeo production. Though we get a few good notes, the clip seems too short to tell us much.

In addition to the film’s trailer, we find two separate programs that feature actors Olivia Hussey and Leonard Whiting. A 1967 chat runs 17 minutes, while a 2016 Q&A panel lasts 32 minutes, 40 seconds.

In the 1967 segment, the actors chat about their young careers and aspects of their time on the film. Via the 2016 piece, the actors reflect on their experiences from nearly 50 years earlier and get into various memories of the production.

The 1967 chat becomes surprisingly engaging, as the interviewer doesn’t just focus on fluff, and it seems fun to watch the young actors together so soon after the shoot.

As for the newer piece, it gets into some added details. It can feel a little fluffy and heavy on praise, but I like the chance to see Hussey and Whiting together again after so long, and they bring some engaging insights.

Finally, a booklet presents art, credits and an essay from critic Ramona Wray. It concludes the set on a positive note.

Often regarded as the best cinematic adaptation of the tale, the 1968 Romeo and Juliet indeed provides a satisfying rendition of the classic story. It makes the piece accessible while it also remains faithful to the source. The Blu-ray brings excellent picture, appropriate audio and a decent roster of bonus materials. While I don’t expect I’ll ever find a version of the tale I love, I do think this one works well.

Viewer Film Ratings: 3 Stars Number of Votes: 1
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