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The Great Gatsby coming to DVD and Blu-Ray
Buy the book or the movie
"You always look so cool!"
Despite its lukewarm reviews from the critics, Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby may be one the best movies this summer, if not this year. The the art direction, the cinematography, and the casting are superb. The script retains much of Fitzgerald's original dialogue and narration and manages to preserve most of the book's key scenes.
The film comes off to a slow start, opening on an emotionally shattered Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguiere) as he relates his experiences in New York to a doctor at the sanitarium he now lives in. At the doctor's suggestion, Nick begins to write down his experiences, creating the main narrative of the film. This choice, while not suggested by the book, provides an interesting explanation for Nick's voice-over narration which came off as rather stilted and melodramatic in the 1974 version of the film. Here the narration fits in smoothly, leading the viewer on into the story.
Once Nick begins to write his story, the film picks up in speed, literally and metaphorically. The movements of the actors are artificially enhanced to create a sense of supernatural speed and the opening chapters of the book are condensed into a whirlwind half-hour. However, this roller-coaster pace slows as the emotional core of the film (and indeed the book) comes into full development. However, careful editing of the original plot saves the film from getting bogged down int he final act, as the 1974 film and the 2000 television movie do. Luhrmann leaves us to witness Gatsby's fate, then swiftly brings the film to its conclusion.
No doubt, some purists object to Luhrmann's choice to set the film to modern music and I must confess I had my own doubts. However, the music does not detract from the film. Instead, it enhances the story, reminding us that it is still relevant. The modern rap and pop songs also smoothly transition into more "accurate" period music. Overall, the effect creates a "new-old" feel for the film, much like the one Luhrmann achieved in Moulin Rouge. This effect is not inconsistent with The Great Gatsby because much of the novel is not historical fact but Nick's memories of the 20's when "the buildings were taller" and "the parties were bigger." The scenes of the film are not events as they happened, they are Nick's romanticized memories of his (probably alcohol fueled) impressions of Gatsby and his parties. Thus, the "larger than life" feel of the film actually plays better than the more historically accurate (and considerably more tepid) 1974 film.
Visually, the film is a treat. Every scene is impeccably staged, with costumes, props, and scenery creating a kaleidoscope before our eyes. The "Roaring 20's" indeed seem to come back, bigger and better than ever. Gatsby's mansion is impressive, as are the scenes in New York. The cinematography is excellent and, at times, breathtaking, as it moves effortlessly between intimate closeups and sweeping panoramas (aided I am sure by more than a little CGI). If there is one drawback, it is that the film was made in 3D and thus, rather than creating lifelike animations, the animators chose to focus on making images that would jump off the screen. I personally did not watch the 3D version, nor am I likely to do so. That said, the animations are still quite beautiful and their stylized appearance makes the film seem more artistic and less literal. This effect actually enhances the film overall, immersing the viewer in the hyper-reality of Nick's memories.
The casting of the film is particularly apt. Leonardo DiCaprio makes an excellent Gatsby. He is able to convey the panache, the menace, the passion, and the underlying insecurity of Gatsby. His accent sounds like a Midwesterner who has picked up a hint of a New York accent, but is desperately trying to affect a slightly British accent. Carey Mulligan may not get an Oscar nomination for her role as Daisy Buchanan but she certainly deserves one. She communicates Daisy's emotional torment in a way no actress in the role ever has. Her acting even renders the narration redundant on a number of occasions. In a scene where Gatsby shows off his shirts to Daisy and Nick, Daisy bursts into tears, then tells Gatsby she is only crying because she has never seen such beautiful shirts. Nick's narration cuts in to explain that Daisy is crying for another reason but his words are unnecessary. Mulligan's face explains everything. Joel Edgerton, as Tom Buchanan, supports DiCaprio and Mulligan very well, playing Tom somewhere between pathetic and despicable. Tobey Maguiere rounds out the cast and proves one of the best of them all. Unlike Sam Waterston's rather confused performance, Maguiere's is touching and profound. He plays Nick not as the detached outsider Waterston protrayed, but a somewhat reluctant participant in the events of the story. His narration gives the film its final punch and leaves us in no doubt as to why Gatsby really is great.
The film's ending is moving and powerful, thanks to Luhrmann's faith in Fitzgerald's skill with language. This is true of the entire movie but I believe that the strong conclusion to the film is responsible for much of the film's overall impact. It is a testament to the film that after as the credits began to roll, the audience at the showing I attended rose to their feet and applauded. As Nick might say, I have only seen this happen twice in my life, and the second time was that night.