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2.15.2011

What Happens When Elton John Interprets Romeo + Juliet

You're not supposed to take it seriously. Because who can take a gnome seriously, and who can take a rated G version of Romeo and Juliet seriously? Rated G means all the violence is gone, the tragedy of William Shakespeare becomes farcical parody.

In a way, you can look at the new release Gnomeo and Juliet as a parody adaptation. The chorus's soliloquy is cut short and made fun of, because you've heard this story before--star crossed lovers and feuding families who are highly entertaining. William Shakespeare (voiced by Patrick Stewart) even makes an appearance to state that his version, where everyone dies ,is the better version.

While it is another high money making film for Hollywood, we on the literary underbelly have to ask: is this called for, and would Billy Shakespeare have approved?

On the one hand, it's certainly not called for and the production doesn't matter. Hollywood has been making adaptations (of Shakespeare) since forever. Other Shakespeare plays that have gotten the Hollywood bug includes Hamlet (in The Lion King) and The Taming of the Shrew (in 10 Things I Hate About You).

Shakespeare is a standard that been freely remixed over and over again.

Yet unlike movie adaptation of novels, Shakespeare's dramatic form (like any dramatic form) is open to such renditions. Plays are meant to be performed, each director gives his own vision of the words on paper, even if the words on paper need to be tossed and dumbed down (it is not a production but an adaptation).

Thus, it could be very well that Shakespeare (as a dramatist who knows that his work would be manipulated by other directors) would have approved to a certain extent. You cannot be a playwright if you are a control freak. The thing about playwriting is letting that control go, which is what writing is partially all about: when you get something published, that piece of work is no longer yours, it's open to the eyes and minds of readers. In the case of drama, it's open to eyes and minds of directors as well as audiences and of course Hollywood.

The Elton John production (he was the exec. producer on here, thus the songs) is actually a decent take on the original. 'Decent' in the postmodern-pop-culture-reinvention-for-the-sake-of-losing-all-meaning-except that-of-a-contrived-formula-plot-that-is-socially-acceptable kind of way. It's entertaining and doesn't make you think too much.

Yet while funny, it's lacking. (Are you surprised?) For one, it cuts out Mercutio, the Romeo's flaming gay friend (what straight guy of any time would say: "If love be rough with you, be rough with love/Prick love for pricking, and you beat love down.") who was the crux of the play (at least in the  Baz Luhrmann production) And of course being a cartoon, everything is knotted up in a neat package by the end (spoiler: Tybalt didn't die!),which completely obliterates Shakespeare's work: if there is no death, what's the point?

But tonight I am wondering where my copy of Shakespeare's works is (a thick purple volume with columns and tiny lettering). I never thought Shakespeare was anyone special (his only good work was argubly King Lear or maybe Hamlet). He is overead and overcredited. But the film is sure to make viewers google his name to read more about him, the same way I got distracted after a friend posted up a link to ZooBabies on Facebook. If it's a classic like Shakespeare, such a production (even a cartoon) is good exposure to an audience of elementary school kids who will have to eventually SparkNote him in high school.

Because it's old, it is due to reinterpretation and remixing.  Gnomeo and Juliet is a natural progression.

Remember writers: you ain't big until half a century later and they're making your story into a 3-D cartoon and you're voiced by Patrick Stewart.

The film is also great in that it is not Justin Bieber.

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