A fresh-faced Leonardo DiCaprio (this was his first major role in a film, after all) takes the part of Romeo, while Claire Danes becomes his famous lover, Juliet. While a lot of the film feels rushed, Luhrmann's intriguing directing style manages to get all of the necessary parts across, but with enough energy and action to make the fact that you are listening to Shakespeare's original text not seem quite so out of place.
For those that don't remember their high school English classes, Romeo and Juliet are the heirs to two warring families, the Capulets and the Montagues. While Romeo falls in and out of love constantly, and Juliet is about to be betrothed to the bachelor of the year, Dave Paris (Paul Rudd), their meeting and passionate love starts a chain of events that end in tragedy. When Romeo and his friends, including his closest companion, Mercutio (Lost's Harold Perrineau), crash a Capulet party, his newest love ends up being Juliet. All of Romeo's friends believe this is just another romantic whim, but Romeo swears it is real.
While the couple secretly get married, the fighting between their families escalate when Tybalt (John Leguizamo), Juliet's cousin, runs into several of the Montague boys led by Romeo's cousin, Benvolio (Dash Mihok) as well as Mercutio, and the ensuing "sword" fight leaves Mercutio dying in Romeo's arms.
What follows is a slippery slope where Juliet is forced into getting married to Paris, but before their wedding day, she takes a solution to make her appear dead. While Romeo and Juliet's priest, Father Lawrence (Pete Postlewaite) was supposed to get Romeo a message about the fake death, an error in the letter's delivery leaves Romeo to believe that she is really gone. Upon returning to Verona (Verona Beach, Miami in this version of the play), Romeo stops by an apothecary and picks up a poison of his own. What results is the very scene that makes Romeo + Juliet such a classic tragedy.
Luhrmann's modernization of the classic play not only brings the story to the current time period, but also to a modern location and updates many of the era's staples. The most noticeable updates are horses becoming cars and swords turning into guns (labeled swords, of course, so that the text still makes sense).
Of course, one of the main aspects of Romeo + Juliet is the music that runs through the entire film. In fact, it is such a major aspect of the movie that there is a lot of time in the special features devoted to it. One documentary goes on for 45 minutes and goes through the entire scoring process and the fact that they were working on the music right up to the last minutes of development.
Other special features include a slew of interviews with both cast and crew, as well as short featurettes showing behind the scenes footage from both the Director's perspective, as well as the Director of Photography, Kim Marks. Quite frankly, this Blu-ray release has every featurette you might ever want on the subject of this film. The sheer number of special features combined with the crisp colors and great resolution that comes with the high definition media makes this the perfect release for anyone who already liked this movie.
As for those that haven't had the chance to see Romeo + Juliet, but fear the classic language, trust me, the modernization of the film really helps convey what is being said.