If ever there was a story tailor made for a Baz Luhrman adaption, The Great Gatsby would be it. As a tale of decadent extravagance and forbidden love, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece is perfect fodder for his over-the-top style. And while Luhrman nails the chaos and grandeur of Gatsby’s life, he continues the tradition of not-entirely successful film adaptations by glossing over the thematic heft that has made the story a bona-fide classic.
This film seems to further cement the notion that no filmmaker will ever craft a worthy depiction of Fitzgerald’s novel. The plot points are all there, but that’s all there is. In one of the Blu-Ray features, Luhrman recounts how he came up with a way to depict the internal monologues that drive the novel. Tobey Maguire plays Nick Carroway, the narrator of the story, and Luhrman has framed the film with an entirely unsuccessful bookending device wherein Carroway begins writing the novel upon which the story is based. During these sequences, we see the classic text of the novel appearing on screen, interacting with the surroundings, and it’s a remarkably poor decision that represents all the flaws of the film. It reinforces the fact that the film is all text, with nothing truly happening under the surface.
But boy, does it look pretty. The parties are perfectly over-the-top, the world perfectly realized in a hauntingly beautiful way. With ambitiously stylized special effects that never look real, but seem perfectly suited to the world being created, this is a film of enormous scope. Their is a cartoon like quality to everything that sucks the viewer in, but never allows one to fully engage. I believe this is partially the point.
The cast is uniformly excellent throughout, with Leonardo DiCaprio standing out in a flawless portrayal of the titular character. This is a haunted man, living a false life while putting on the airs of perfection. There is a mystery to Gatsby’s past, and DiCaprio plays the character with that mystery behind his eyes. It’s a subtle performance, providing some of the only subtext to make it into the film. Cary Mulligan is just fine in the role of Daisy Buchanan, perfectly adequate but not entirely elevating the material in any significant way. Other standouts include Joel Edgerton, Jason Clarke, and even Isla Fisher in a small but pivotal role.
Keeping with the theme of excess, Warner Bros has released a fantastically packed Blu-Ray with an excess of extras. Not only that, but this is as near a perfect visual experience as I’ve seen on my home entertainment system. Presented in 1080P High Definition, the film just pops off the screen, brilliantly depicting an artist’s palette at work in it’s extremes of light and color. Warner Bros. has put together a disc that will be used to showcase my entertainment system for a very long time. It’s a perfect demonstration piece.
One of the more controversial elements of the film is the soundtrack. Featuring modern music from the likes of Jay Z, Florence and the Machine, etc., the soundtrack is frequently incorporated into the story in extremely clever ways. The film takes place during the Jazz Age, but the modern music somehow fits right in, timeless in it’s modernity. This feels like the music that New York would be made of, regardless of when you are there, and it’s a fascinating aural experience. The Dolby Digital soundtrack perfectly captures a very complicated sound mix, and is another showcase for the home entertainment system.
As for the extras, there are several features that cover a great deal of material in relation to the film, the novel, and the place the story has in society. There are features about Luhrman and his inspiration that led to the film, about the jazz age, about the modernity of the soundtrack, the special effects, and on and on. It’s a loaded set, and worthy viewing for anybody with even a passing interest in the film.
Overall, I was very torn on this film. I wish there was a way to depict the depth of Fitzgerald’s novel, but by it’s very nature, that just doesn’t seem possible. As a standalone film however, Luhramn has created an immersive experience, unique and unforgettable.
Own “The Great Gatsby” on Blu-ray Combo Pack and HD Digital Download NOW!
“The Great Gatsby” Blu-ray 3D Combo Pack, Blu-ray Combo Pack and 2-Disc Standard Definition DVD Special Edition contain the following special features:[unordered_list style=”bullet”]
- The Greatness of Gatsby
- “Within and Without” With Tobey Maguire
- The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby
- The Jazz Age
- Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the ’20s
- Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry
- Gatsby Revealed
- Deleted Scenes