Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013) comes at you at about a million miles an hour. It opens and you think, “oh, there’s Tobey Maguire,” and before you know it, your eyes and ears are bombarded for nearly an hour with Luhrmann’s usual candy-colored, rapid-fire visuals and a mash-up soundtrack of equal parts 1920s jazz and modern hip hop/club music. Now, you’ve really few choices in the face of this madness, and they’re much the same as those afforded you when viewing Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge (2001). You either go with it, letting the whole thing flow into, through, and over you, or you get left in the dust whining about kids’ short attention spans these days (when of course that sort of rapid editing dates, oh, all the way back to silent cinema).
And while one could certainly raise innumerable valid complaints about that first hour or so of Luhrmann’s Gatsby, it’s just so damn easy to get lost in it. He simply doesn’t give you time enough to complain before moving on to something else, something equally, frantically spectacular. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end and the film slows considerably once he gets into the Gatsby/Daisy affair (if this is a spoiler for you, you obviously haven’t read the book and I could say I’m sorry, but I’m really not). The film in fact continuously slows until it reaches near snail’s pace at the climax. And therein lies my biggest problem with Gatsby. Not all movies open with this kind of energy, requiring you to adapt to its internal rules or get left behind. The problem is, once you get truly absorbed in those methods, he all but abandons them in favor of a more straightforward approach to a cinematic narrative– an approach that indeed gives viewers ample time to log some complaints.
There is, for example, the incessant narration drawn from the novel, which also occasionally appears onscreen in text to make its presence doubly obnoxious. To that end, it should be noted that unlike literature, film has a significant visual component which relieves most stories of the necessity of narration. After all, worlds can be inferred visually from a simple action or glance. Moreover, simply putting F. Scott Fitzgerald’s words onscreen does not necessarily make the movie more poetic or powerful. It just makes me want to stop watching the movie and read the book instead.
Sure, I could go on complaining, but let’s face it: adapting a literary classic like The Great Gatsby for film is an incredibly daunting undertaking. And all-told, Luhrmann’s version is about as good as I’d expect any given adaptation of the book to be. It’s passable in spurts with a terrific performance from Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby (he was practically born to play this role) and a rousing soundtrack, which Luhrmann uses to inform viewers’ perceptions of the era’s rampant materialism and alcoholism through the mash-up of jazz and modern club music. Still, that’s hardly enough to position Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby as the cinematic equivalent of the F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel, which is to say that, even though it may be interesting enough to warrant a look, I can’t for the life of me see the film being one day considered a classic.
Still, the film is certainly not without its admirers, and they’ll be happy to know that the Blu-ray/DVD release of The Great Gatsby from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment includes more than 90 minutes of special features. The film will be available August 27, 2013 in a Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet combo pack that boasts eight featurettes about the making of the film, plus deleted scenes with an alternate ending. One particularly great touch here is the release’s inclusion of the trailer for the 1926 filmic adaptation of The Great Gatsby, a film which is sadly considered forever lost.