Imagining a Better Future by Re-imagining the Past

Sunday, May 12, 2013

The Great Gatsby Movie Review

I doubt that there’s anyone reading my blog that hasn’t heard of Baz Luhrmann’s Dieselpunk version of The Great Gatsby. With an event as big as this, I thought I needed to post a review as soon as possible after seeing it.

There’s so much good stuff to say about this movie that it’s hard to know where to start. First, fans of the novel, which I’m one, should be pleased. The movie is true to the novel. The settings and the portrayal of characters in the movie were exactly as I imagined them in my mind’s eye back when I read The Great Gatsby. I thoroughly enjoyed DiCaprio’s portrayal of Jay Gatsby and Tobey Maguire was the perfect choice for Nick Carraway. Maguire was very believable as the one person who could see the true greatness of Jay Gatsby when no one else could. In addition, Gatsby drew me in the way he drew Carraway. When Gatsby (DiCaprio) smiled into the camera welcoming Carraway into his world I felt the same draw.

This shouldn’t surprise anyone who’s followed the development of the movie. According to Penn State web site, the Penn State literary scholar, James L. W. West III, who is the university's Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of English, played in important role as a consultant to the Luhrmann and cast of the film. In addition, Luhrmann drew on "Trimalchio: An Early Version of ‘The Great Gatsby’”, which was published in 2000 to fill in some of the gaps of the novel and to flesh out several of the characters such as Gatsby himself. According to the scholar, Jay Gatsby in the movie as portrayed by DiCaprio was truer to Fitzgerald’s vision of the character then it was in the final published version.

Then there was the giant billboard with the eyes of Dr. T. J. Eckleburg in the Ash Heaps watching over everyone. Luhrmann used this prop wonderfully just as Fitzgerald would have wanted it in that it gives a sense of condemnation to the decadent society that people had built. As George Wilson screamed in a fit of rage, "God knows what you've been doing, everything you've been doing. You may fool me but you can't fool God!...God sees everything".

In addition, the fashion in the movie worked perfectly. One certainly knew you were in the 1920s however it was revised just enough that I felt like I could wear most of the outfits as a dieselpunk.

While keeping true to the work of Fitzgerald, Luhrmann also succeeded at creating a unique Dieselpunk vision of the 1920s. Luhrmann created a Dieselpunk Manhattan, which when I saw it on the screen I wanted to step in and travel to this alternate reality.

Before I saw the movie, one of my major concerns was not that Luhrmann had chosen a hip-hop artist, Jay-Z, to be the executive producer of soundtrack but the reports that I had read in which they compared hip-hop to Jazz. Then I saw a trailer and my fears were at the time eased. However, I downloaded the soundtrack the day it was released and once again, my concerns returned because the soundtrack seemed to lack any decodence to most of the songs. Ultimately, I am very pleased with how they used the soundtrack in the movie. The modern musical styles were used primarily for Carraway’s flash back scenes while the few times a real life scene included a song the music was, while not exactly true to the age, close enough to feel appropriate.

Unfortunately, the movie isn’t perfect. First, Luhrmann’s use of 3D was so over the top that when viewed in 2D at times it was blurry and gave me an uncomfortable sense of vertigo. Far too many scenes were so obviously shot for 3D, which harmed the look. Second, some elements to the movie seemed unoriginal when compared to Luhrmann’s earlier work. Just as in Moulin Rouge, it begins with a black and white opening. In this case, it was a silent movie style rather than the nickelodeon of Moulin Rouge but it was still the same concept. Along with this, Carraway tells the story in the movie by writing a book, which also reminded me of Moulin Rouge.  Was Luhrmann in a creative rut that he couldn’t break? Then again, maybe that’s giving him too much credit and maybe he’s jaded with the opinion of, “Hell, it worked for my last movie so I’ll just do it again.”

Here’s my bottom-line about the movie: Is it a great movie? Yes. Will I buy the inevitable 2-disk, super-deluxe, platinum, Blu-Ray version with a million extras? Yes. Should you go see it? Yes and if you haven’t then what the hell are you waiting on, old sport?


Dan O. said...

If you like the book, then I might recommend seeing it just to see how it holds up as a film. Good review Larry.

Larry Amyett, Jr said...

Thanks, Dan O.