THE GREAT GATSBY
MOVIE: *** (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: **** (out of 5)
Leonardo DiCaprio as JAY GATSBY
Tobey Maguire as NICK CARRAWAY
Carey Mulligan as DAISY BUCHANAN
Joel Edgerton as TOM BUCHANAN
Elizabeth Debicki as JORDAN BAKER
Isla Fisher as MYRTLE WILSON
Jason Clarke as GEORGE B. WILSON
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
BY KEVIN CARR
Back in May, when “The Great Gatsby” hit theaters, I had one of the worst experiences I have had in a theater in a long time. For an unknown technical reason, the digital projection of the film was inconsistently lit, often too dark and significantly out of focus. This resulted with me complaining several times to management, as well as to the publicists from the studio, but to no avail. In fact, when I insisted there was a projection problem, the theater manager threatened to call the cops on me and have me escorted from the premises.
Yeah, that happened. The picture was never fixed, and it resulted in an extremely sour viewing of what was one of my most anticipated film of the summer.
It is for this reason, I was eager to revisit the film on Blu-ray. Baz Luhrmann is one of the most visually arresting directors working today. I had seen the trailers, and they looked fantastic. I wanted to see what his version of the film was, not the version a financially-strapped theater in Columbus, Ohio decided to present.
After watching the film again, this time with a proper image, I enjoyed it much more. The breathtaking visuals from Luhrmann did not disappoint. They may not have been as rich and fascinating as those in “Moulin Rouge!,” but then again, what are?
Not having read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s original book, I came to the film cold, not aware of what to expect. I wasn’t weighed down by expectations of a proper visualization of the “great American novel,” but then again, I also wasn’t burdened by the annoyance of having to read the book for a high school English class.
I also came without the pretext of all the symbolism and analysis that would come with said high school English class. The symbols are all there – the ever-present eyes watching the poor area, the blazing green light on the edge of Daisy’s dock, the pink suit and yellow car – but they are not overly explained. (Well, maybe the ever-present eyes are, but I’ll forgive Luhrmann for that.)
As far as stories go, on the surface, it works as a 1920s soap opera, with the idle rich passing the time in all their decadent ways. It is told from the point of view of Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), who befriends a millionaire playboy named Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), who lives near him on Long Island. Gatsby is eager to reconnect with Nick’s cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), and they rekindle an old affair under the nose of Daisy’s husband Tom (Joel Edgerton). Like all soap operas surrounding an affair, the situation becomes a powder keg that blows and reveals the true nature of the participants.
While quite well acted by the cast, the brunt of the story falls on the shoulders of the men. The women do a fine job acting, too, but they aren’t given much to work with. Daisy is a flighty waif who needs a man and his money to take care of him. There’s little to be attracted to her aside from her outer beauty and quirky personality. Indeed, this is the 1920s equivalent of a kooky girl that all the guys seem to love.
Similarly, Myrtle (Isla Fisher) as Tom’s mistress has little more to offer than Daisy, just being a fun-loving redhead with a penchant for partying and a YOLO attitude that’s almost a century ahead of its time. Still, I understand why the female characters are so two-dimensional in this movie. They are likely so in the book, which was the standard for 1920s literature. If you think modern pop culture offerings don’t pass the Bechdel Test, they don’t even show up with a No. 2 pencil for stories a hundred years ago.
The fan of the book who comes to the table with all the analysis that I’m missing will certainly adore this version. It’s told with a reverence of the source material, modernizing elements that make sense, such as using hip-hop music elements to represent the then-taboo nature of the jazz age.
However, the real reason to see this film (and what I was hoping for and expecting this summer, thwarted by the ever-increasing problem of substandard projection at the multiplex) is for the striking visuals. Luhrmann delivers again on a visually arresting film.
Like “Moulin Rouge!,” this film offers something interesting on screen in almost every scene. Where some movies (and I’m looking at you, “Anna Karenina”) burn out their intriguing visuals in about 30 minutes, Luhrmann makes “The Great Gatsby” a thrill ride of imagery. From the pulse-pounding party sequences to the surreal beauty of the New York City skyline in the roaring 20s.
I may not be a fan of the literature behind “The Great Gatsby,” but I am a fan of the visuals, and I could watch this movie every day, regardless of the story.
The Blu-ray of “The Great Gatsby” comes packaged with the DVD and also includes UltraViolet streaming capabilities. While there is no commentary offered, there are several deleted scenes with an introduction by Luhrmann.
The rest of the features on the disc are mostly featurettes with a different angle, all running between 6 and 15 minutes in length. “The Greatness of Gatsby” looks at how the picture got off the ground, “‘Within and Without’ with Tobey Maguire” shows some candid moments on the set with Maguire’s home camera, “The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby” examines the modern soundtrack to the vintage story, “The Jazz Age” looks at Fitzgerald’s love for the music of the 1920s, “Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the 20’s” looks at the costume design and “Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry” examines how Luhrmann brought the imagery of the film to life.
An additional 30-minute feature, broken into five parts, looks at several key scenes in the film and how they were assembled. Finally, there’s an intriguing trailer for the silent film version of “The Great Gatsby” from 1926, which shows a much older but also still stimulating vision of the novel.