Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Great Gatsby

I wasn't really sure what I thought of this movie, which I saw last night. That said, I also think making a movie version of a book that is as well-loved as The Great Gatsby was potentially an impossible task. No one was going to be completely happy with it no matter how good it was, since everyone has read and is bound to prefer the book.

In any case, the good: Leonardo DiCaprio. I remember when reading the book many years ago in high school not being able to picture what the title character looked like, but I was very dubious prior to seeing this that I would be able to accept he looked like Leonardo. However, it turns out I was able to accept it, more or less. So good on him.

The bad: It's a movie. Show don't tell, y'know? In the book we actually need Nick Carraway to tell us that Gatsby stretched his hand desperately toward the light (or whatever) because we can't see it happening. But in a movie, we don't need Nick to tell us, because we can. If it's adequately portrayed in the movie, that is. Which much of the time, it wasn't.

Also, having Nick narrate (or even worse, actually write) the story from a sanitorium was in my opinion a bit of a mistake. And having actual text appear on the screen? Disaster. (Although I did note that Nick must be a pretty special talent to come up with The Great Gatsby in one draft without revising at all. Incredible.)

More bad: The special effects were completely out of control and not needed to tell the story. I do quite like the Baz Luhrmann Romeo and Juliet (you know, the Leonardo DiCaprio one where the characters are all reciting Shakespearean English while wielding handguns), which is a more archaic and from our modern perspective possibly boring story that I think lent itself better to a highly stylized interpretation. Here, under Baz Luhrmann's overly imaginative direction, we have a story set in the 1920s complete with period costumes and hairstyles, combined somewhat haphazardly with rap music and wild computer-generated effects that feel totally out of sync with the setting.

In short, The Great Gatsby is a story that tells itself, and would have perhaps been better suited to a director that actually wants a story to tell itself, not a story to embellish and style up and essentially make his own, when it really just wants to stay the way it is.
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  1. I completely 100% agree. I don't know if it was because I know the book so well, but I felt completely patronised by this movie. It was like they had to explain everything in explicit detail. Did they use Coles Notes to write the script or something?? I mean, Gatsby doesn't have to actually say "all my money and belongings are empty and meaningless". That should be implicit!

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