Tonight my friend Mike Gorman sent me the trailer for The Great Gatsby, which was the first time in two months I remembered there was going to be a Great Gatsby movie. And then I remembered it was going to be made by Baz Luhrmann and would be in 3D … and it was all coming back to me. It’s not that I don’t like Luhrmann; Strictly Ballroom is kitschy fun with some great ballroom dancing and Romeo and Juliet at least understood that the lovers are supposed to be stupid teens. The only real problem with Luhrmann is that he goes too broad and doesn’t know when to reel it in. The man really loves a wide-angle lens and using modern music in non-modern situations. Sometimes it works (the Roxanne tango in Moulin Rouge is damn effective), but often times it doesn’t (most of the other songs in Moulin Rouge). In the trailer for Great Gatsby (starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan), Luhrmann again uses contemporary music and goes for over-the-top visuals. While there’s still much to be seen about the production, I’ve come to the conclusion that this very broad director could be just what this story needs to be properly brought to the big screen. Check out the trailer below.
I’ve seen the original Great Gatsby film adaptation starring Robert Redford and while I think Redford had potential in the role, the movie was very, very flawed in a specific way. In the poignant Vietnam War memoir The Things They Carried, Tim O’Brien discusses what he calls “happening truth” and “story truth.” For O’Brien, how things exactly happened in your memories might not work in a story – that in exceptionally emotional stories and situations, simply explaining how things literally happened can stop your readers from truly immersing in the story. While the 1974 movie spent plenty of time getting the costumes and architecture right, it completely ignored the dense, passionate atmosphere of the novel. It played more like a soap opera than a symbolic look at the destructive seductiveness of the American Dream. It should have been larger than life and instead it looked flat and misty.
On the other hand, larger than life is Baz Luhrmann’s schtick. He’s all about the spectacle and the first half of the book is all spectacle. And the second half is all about the decadence crashing down, which is another favorite theme of Luhrmann. Even the modern music (which got grating in the more obnoxious scenes of Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge) works in the trailer because it sets up the appropriate atmosphere for the scenes – first the overflowing privilege of Gatsby’s parties that are just on the edge of Daisy’s world, then the dark crumbling of Gatsby’s facade. Does the movie properly represent what the 1930s actually looked like? Probably not. But could Luhrmann bring the detailed but frail decadence that Fitzgerald expressed in the novel onto the screen? Maybe. And luckily it looks like Baz left the wide-angle lens at home, which greatly diminishes the cheese.
Aside from the direction (and the fact that the trailer even managed to include the iconic Dr. T.J. Eckleburg: Oculist billboard), the acting looks good. Carey Mulligan looks great in the trailer, and I like her past work – “Blink,” anyone? Tobey Maguire has a good voice for narration and can also bring that level of pathetic wimpiness we just didn’t see in Sam Watterson’s 1974 performance. I’m a little more worried about Tom Buchanan, since Luhrmann has done the cuckold third wheel in a love triangle thing with the villain in Moulin Rouge and let’s just say that antagonist went into pure melodrama. However, DiCaprio has a talent for quiet moments, so the quiet mystery of Gatsby might work for him and I’m interested in the relatively newcomer Elizabeth Debicki playing Jordan Baker.
The Great Gatsby is coming to theaters December 2012 – I have no idea if this is all going to work in 3D, but I am interested in seeing it on the regular big screen.