daniel cohen has mixed emotions going into this weekend …
Along with Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it’s impossible to go through high school without reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s masterpiece, The Great Gatsby. For me, it is my favorite piece of literature. It’s loaded left and right with iconic imagery, and captures the decadent period of the time so perfectly, it’s impossible for me not to picture the roaring 20’s crystal clear in my head, even though I wasn’t there. So with the new movie coming out this weekend, how can I not be intrigued? But this isn’t the first time the novel’s been adapted to film. It’s seen several cinematic trials, the most famous being the 1974 version with Robert Redford, which I saw once years ago, and remember being bored out of my mind. Perhaps just like Gatsby himself, maybe making a Great Gatsby movie is like ‘reaching for the Green Light.’ Will this new version finally break the mold? I have no clue. There are so many reasons I’m excited, and nervous as all hell. So I thought I’d break it all down with a little point/counter-point on why this film could be awesome … or an absolute disaster.
Why I’m Nervous — The Director, Baz Luhrmann:
Ugh … I’ve only seen two of his films (Romeo & Juliet, Moulin Rouge!), but hated them both with a burning passion. Romeo & Juliet, set in modern times, but they talk like they did when the play was written? What a ridiculous concept, I’m sorry. And I’m sure many people like it because it was so different from anything else, but I really don’t care … it sucked. But with Moulin Rouge!, all I can say is this: I saw it once years ago, but remember very clearly thinking to myself, ‘Am I watching the worst movie ever made?’ This random, over-acted, over-stylized crap fest wasn’t for me. And if you like Moulin Rouge!, fine. Just don’t push it on me. So yeah, I’m not a Baz Luhrmann fan. The thought of him taking one of the things I love most and ‘Baz Luhrmanning’ it up scares the absolute shit out of me. It’s a bit on Entourage, but why can’t Martin Scorsese direct this for real?
Why I’m Excited — The Cast:
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby is dream casting. I can’t think of anyone more perfect for a role. When Luhrmann was announced as director, I completely wrote this film off. But when I saw DiCaprio was cast, it gave me hope. It’s like pairing former Oakland Raiders QB bust JaMarcus Russell with pro-bowl receiver Calvin Johnson. Johnson will have to make a lot of acrobatic catches, but it could work. But it’s not just DiCaprio that gets me excited — Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton, Isla Fisher, great choices all around. I must admit Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway makes me queasy, but Maguire’s meek demeanor may actually work for the character. But it all goes back to DiCaprio. If Luhrmann wastes a great DiCaprio performance in favor of his excessive visual style and obsession with pop-culture songs, I’m going to be one grumpy gus.
Why I’m Nervous — It’s in 3D:
The fact that this is being billed as The Great Gatsby … in 3D! has me even more skeptical. This is a novel that is so rich in character, story, and drama, why are we blowing it up with 3D non-sense? And yes, there’s imagery that certainly isn’t subtle, and a lot of style to it, but that doesn’t mean we need to see it in 3D. The fact that Baz Luhrmann felt the need to make this a 3D production tells me you’re missing the entire point of the novel. And I’m not saying you have to adapt this word for word — I’m all for making changes to better the movie. But when you pull the 3D card, it signals to me your sacrificing some of the character and drama to accentuate the visuals. In an action or superhero film you can get away with this, but not the fricking Great Gatsby!
Why I’m Excited — The Look:
With how nervous I’ve been about this movie, I must admit the trailers have swayed me somewhat. And even though I just ranted about the over stylization and 3D, the look of this film is fantastic. And in reading the novel, the visuals are definitely important. The look of Gatsby’s mansion, the pool, and the costumes of the characters are gorgeous. And when looking at these images, it does make me think of the book, so I have to compliment Baz Luhrmann for that, at least in the trailers anyway.
Why I’m Nervous — The Music:
When I think 1920’s music, I think Jay-Z. Yeah … Jay-Z is involved in producing the soundtrack to the movie. Now don’t get me wrong – I think Jay-Z is very talented. But I don’t see it. I want to be dead wrong on this, I really do. When I write my Gatsby review this weekend, I hope I can write ‘Jay-Z’s musical choices blew me out of the water. He puts a fantastic spin on the era’s music, yet still emulates the spirit of the 1920’s.’ But it’s not so much the actual score [Craig Armstrong is scoring the film] that scares me, as it is the song choices. As much as I love the visuals of the trailer, the music selections just don’t work. My single biggest fear is that I’ll love every element of this movie, but the music will be so Baz Lurhmann-ish, it will ruin the entire thing. I know modern songs are going to be in this, but I just pray they pick tolerable ones that won’t be too distracting.
Why I’m Excited — Hey, it’s Gatsby:
Despite all my fears, it’s still The Great Gatsby, and I’m intrigued to see this long overdue adaptation. Did they pick the worst director possible? Maybe. But I’m hoping Luhrmann can turn me. I want to love this movie. Whether your adapting a book, comic book, or even 80’s cartoon show, it’s important to separate the source material from the film, and I have to judge this as a movie. But I admit, when it comes to The Great Gatsby, that’s going to be very difficult.