The Great Gatsby has a lot going for it: a charismatic lead actor, a solid supporting cast, some good adaptation work by screenwriters Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, lavish award-worthy set and costume designs and wonderful cinematography, but otherwise it’s empty on any emotional level mainly because Luhrmann smashes over the head what the movie’s message is rather than let it unfold in a more natural way.
Genre(s): Drama, Romance
Warner Bros. | PG13 – 142 min. – $35.99 | August 27, 2013
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Writer(s): F. Scott Fitzgerald (novel); Baz Luhrmann & Craig Pearce (screenplay)
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Theatrical Release Date: May 10, 2013
Features: Featurettes, Deleted Scenes, DVD Copy, UltraViolet
Number of Discs: 2
Audio: English (DTS-HD MA 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 5.1), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Video: 1080p/Widescreen 2.40
Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish
Disc Size: NA
Codec: MPEG-4 AVC
Region(s): A, B, C
THE MOVIE – 2.75/5
Believe it or not, Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby and Terrence Malick’s To the Wonder have something in common: neither filmmaker know the meaning of subtlety. With Gatsby, Luhrmann returns to the same outlandish style that garnered him attention with Romeo + Juliet and, sans musical, Moulin Rouge. Unfortunately this is the epitome of style over substance.
The Great Gatsby is the latest take on the classic 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel and is told through the eyes and narration of author Nick Carraway (TOBEY MAGUIRE) who recounts his time living next door, in a modest cottage, to a massive estate owned by a recluse named Gatsby (LEONARDO DICAPRIO) who would hold lavish parties attended by the affluent drinking it up and having a good old time with no cares in the world. Carraway meanwhile reconnects with his cousin Daisy (CAREY MULLIGAN) who is married to Tom Buchanan (JOEL EDGERTON), a rich man with a cold heart and a mistress on the side.
Going back to Gatsby, Carraway is intrigued by the mystery man whom he’s only seen glimpses of until he is invited to one of Gatsby’s parties. Once there, he finally meets the man behind all the wealth, much of which is also mysterious, and eventually learns Gatsby’s true intentions: years before, Gatsby was in love with a woman but was sent off to the war and returned to find her married to another man… this woman was, of course, Daisy and now Gatsby wants Carraway’s help reintroducing him to her. It’s also no coincidence that Gatsby’s mansion sits across the bay from Daisy’s home.
The remainder of the movie finds Gatsby consistently attempting to woo Daisy while Tom is, of course, suspicious of Gatsby while also having an affair. Carraway meanwhile is caught in the middle of the love triangle as Tom and Gatsby duel one another though Tom is far more aggressive leading to a big confrontation in an oddly paced scene at a hotel suite which then leads to deadly consequences.
First and foremost, The Great Gatsby isn’t a bad film per se, with some energetic momentum, cool music that fits right in with Luhrmann’s style and some decent performances highlighted by Joel Edgerton and Elizabeth Debicki, who plays a family friend of the Buchanan’s. Leonardo DiCaprio is fine as Gatsby showing both the mysterious side and a naive, childish aspect of a man of single focus and with the hope of winning back the woman he lost. It’s a good performance though comparatively in his career, nothing memorable. Tobey Maguire meanwhile seems to be drawn to movies needing his voice-over and here he’s the same wide-eyed, sometimes goofy self we’ve seen countless times with a bit of drama thrown in.
The direction by Baz Luhrmann is high-octane especially for the first 30-minutes before we even meet Gatsby (prior we only get brief glimpses in profile) with the wild parties shown with quick cuts, fast-speaking and over-the-top characters which Luhrmann uses to show the excess of the era. When the film enters the second act, and meeting DiCaprio’s Gatsby, the film does slow down some though the edits are still relatively swift and the imagery very on-the-nose. As I said in my opening, subtlety has never been Luhrmann’s strong suite and for Gatsby, it’s no different pounding over the viewer’s head the message of the movie and the motivation behind Gatsby’s actions.
Where the film does excel is in the cinematography. Baz Luhrmann pairs with director of photographer Simon Duggan for the first time. The look of the film, some via green screen I acknowledge, does at times is stunning. If you look at Duggan’s resume, including I, Robot, Live Free or Die Hard, The Mummy 3 and Knowing, the least of any of those film’s problems were how they looked.
All in all, I can appreciate what Baz Luhrmann tried to do bringing a new vision to a classic novel which in itself has been adapted many times over the years, but The Great Gatsby failed to connect with me on an emotional level. I understand the message of the movie of vapidness and excess and while it’s nice to look at and features a couple of fine performances, with Edgerton perhaps deserving of a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination, nothing else really stands out.
SPECIAL FEATURES – 3.25/5
This release comes with a slick slip cover. Inside is a code for the UltraViolet Digital Copy and a DVD Copy.
The Greatness of Gatsby (9:14; HD) – From the genesis of an idea on the Trans-Siberian railroad to intimate actor workshops, follow director Baz Luhrmann’s journey to bring the great American novel to the silver screen.
“Within and Without” with Tobey Maguire (8:41; HD) has the co-star using shooting footage with his personal camera for some “rare and intimate moments” with the cast.
The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby (12:17; HD) covers the music soundtrack from Jay-Z, Bryan Ferry, Beyoncé, Will.I.Am, Fergie, Lana Del Ray and others as they come together to give it a “fresh, cutting-edge energy to this classic story.” It is mildly intriguing as I actually did enjoy some of the music…
The Jazz Age (15:43; HD) delves into New York City back in the 1920s of wealth and excess, illegal underground parties and much more which influenced author F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the ‘20s (16:22; HD) goes into the wardrobe design and getting it right for the time period, while keeping it contemporary, via some of the top line in fashion including Tiffany, Prada and others.
Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry (6:55; HD) finds Luhrmann showing off how he used 3D to tell and expand on the story using Fitzgerald’s own words and emphasis via the 3D.
Gatsby Revealed (30:07; HD) contains five short featurettes: Gatsby’s Party (7:12) looking at the glamour and music; Disconcerting Ride (4:53) which looks at one of the film’s most VFX-heavy scenes; Daisy and Gatsby Meet (7:49) covers the pivotal scene and the issues that came with filming; The Plaza (4:26) where the filmmakers recreate the Plaza Hotel of the 1920s via historical research; and Pool Scene (5:47) examines the last scene which also utilizes VFX.
Deleted Scenes (14:24; HD) has two scenes and an alternate ending that didn’t make the cut. Each is accompanied by an introduction by Luhrmann. The alt. ending has Gatsby’s father visiting and while it’s a nice performance, the final cut was better.
1926 The Great Gatsby Trailer (1:05; SD) is from the lost Herbert Brenon silent film.
Preview – Gravity
VIDEO – 5.0/5
The Great Gatsby makes its arrival in glorious fashion thanks to Warner Home Video which is presenting the film in its original 2.40 widescreen aspect ratio. The 1080p high-def transfer is wondrous showcasing the bright colors and schematic choices which shines bright while also keeping the integrity of the details and modest amount of natural film grain or noise.
AUDIO – 4.75/5
The music might’ve felt out of place even for Luhrmann’s surreal atmosphere, but it sure sounds good with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track providing excellent depth with the LFE channel kicking in especially during the party scenes early on. But it’s not all boisterous with lower levels such as dialogue coming through with good clarity and even ambient noises make use of the rear channels.
OVERALL – 3.5/5
Overall, The Great Gatsby has a lot going for it: a charismatic lead actor, a solid supporting cast, some good adaptation work by screenwriters Luhrmann and Craig Pearce, lavish award-worthy set and costume designs and wonderful cinematography, but otherwise it’s empty on any emotional level mainly because Luhrmann smashes over the head what the movie’s message is rather than let it unfold in a more natural way (not unlike Moulin Rouge). Still, it’s certainly not a bad film and for those who have read the novel might get something out of it if not for comparisons sake. The Blu-ray release offers incredible audio/video transfers while the features are adequate but nothing extraordinary.