I’ll admit, I was at a little lose of where to begin for this post. The Great Gatsby novel is somewhat beyond reproach at his point with it’s status as ‘classic literature.’ The near 90 year old story has been loved and revered by many. Now, in 2013, we’re treated to the 5th film adaptation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald tale brought to life by director Baz Luhrmann. If you’re unaware of his previous films, marketing will make sure you are well aware, as it’s plastered all over every advertisement that this is the man behind Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! He was also responsible for box office bomb Australia, but we’re not going to mention that. This incarnation stars Leonard DiCaprio as Gatsby, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carrawy, and some other people I never really heard of other than Isla Fisher (I love her).
Gatsby was brought to life for the first time the year after it was released, in 1926, as a silent film. Sadly, no known copy of the movie exists today. It wasn’t until 1949 that the movie was filmed again, starring Alan Ladd and Betty Field. Keeping pace with a new release every 25 years, 1974 saw another version. This one starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow, but was critically panned. Again, nearly 25 years later in 2000 a made for TV adaptation was made for A&E and had Paul Rudd as Nick Carraway. Now, breaking tradition and coming a little early, we have the 2013 film. Originally, the movie was to be released Christmas of 2012 but was delayed in August to May 2013.
I saw the film in 3-D, only because the regular showing were sold out. I didn’t even know the movie was in 3-D, because if there was ever a story that needed to be told in 3-D, it was this. Many of the backgrounds were obviously green screens as they were portrayed with loud colors. Much of the scenery looked beautiful and vivid, but was distracting juxtaposed against people. All the effects made the movie appear in a hyper reality. It wasn’t necessarily a detraction, considering that was the point to begin with.
The controversial addition was the soundtrack, featuring numbers by Jay-Z, Amy Whinehouse, and U2. The music was featured prominently during the movie. While I don’t care for Jay-Z, the score actually worked in the movie’s favor considering the previously discussed scenery.
I would tag this section as spoilers, discussing the differences between the book and movie, but that’s like saying “Spoilers: Vader is Luke’s father.”
The film opens up with Carraway narrating, or more specifically, talking to a psychiatrist. I was given the distinct impression from the novel of Carraway writing the tale as a cathartic way of helping him cope. Here he’s become an anxiety ridden depressed alcoholic, as we see from the medical report. The doctor suggests he writes the story. From there the movie continues as you’d expect, with nearly all the lines lifted directly from the source material. A few times we cut back to him still writing with the doctor present. This mechanic seemed to be a bit of a stretch as I never saw this as an eventual outcome for the character. The only other major difference comes from the end, where no one attends Gatsby’s funeral, where in the book the man from the library and Gatsby’s father were present.
If you have an affinity for the book or Luhrmann’s style of story telling, this adaptation is very serviceable. As to why it’s become the critic’s whipping boy, earning a 47% on rottentomatoes, is beyond me. Personally I didn’t care for the book but didn’t think the movie was a waste of time. For me it falls in the category of ‘wouldn’t see it again, didn’t mind seeing it once.’
“Write like Mark Twain, Jay Gatsby, I park things”