You either love Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top Technicolor style, or you don’t. Personally I loved loved LOVED his sensory-overload musical romance Moulin Rouge, but I know several people who hated hated HATED it. I also adored his campy first film Strictly Ballroom, which is often dismissed as cotton candy. So, yeah, I was really looking forward to seeing his interpretation of The Great Gatsby. The trailer promised an orgasmic explosion of style, color, costumes, and music. Perhaps it would make up for that strange, epic Australia. Perhaps, old sport, perhaps…
Let me put this out there: I loved the first hour or so of Luhrmann’s Gatsby. By playing with 3D for the first time, Luhrmann’s spectacular spectacular literally explodes out of the screen with a burst of confetti. It is the roaring 1920s, and young Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) has moved into a cottage on Long Island in the village of West Egg. West Egg is across the water from East Egg, where his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) lives in a mansion with her husband Tom (Joel Edgerton), a college buddy of Nick’s. Nick’s tiny cottage is literally overshadowed by an even grander mansion than his cousin’s—that of the mysterious, young, and super-wealthy Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby throws such huge, epic parties that it seems that all of New York City pours into his mansion like sand tumbling through an hourglass.
But Gatsby has a secret. He was in love with Daisy five years ago, and now wants to win her back, away from her husband. It is no accident that from his mansion, he can see the green light blinking on her dock across the channel. Oh, swoon!
The first half of Gatsby is delicious foreplay, luring you with candy for the senses, in the same way Gatsby lures Daisy. But then, comes the second half. In the same way that Tobey’s Nick looks at his new friends through blurry, booze-soaked vision, you start to realize that none of these people are very appealing, no matter how good they look. Nick is a passive, reactive looky-loo, who would have been more interesting if he did something about his man-crush on Gatsby. Daisy is a sad little thing that doesn’t seem to have any purpose other than being the arm-candy for one of the men fighting over her. Her husband Tom is a boor. And Gatsby himself loses all spine and edge in the second half as his control over the world he has created starts to crumble. The thing is, take away the shiny veneer, and these people are all kind of boring.
Gatsby looks awesome, there is no getting around that. But looking back on Luhrmann’s other films that I’ve enjoyed, I realized that beyond the glitz and glamour, those films actually moved me… and, well, Gatsby didn’t. Maybe that is part of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s story. And maybe Jay Gatsby actually says “old sport” approximately one beeellion times in the book, as he does in the movie. There was obviously some sort of magic touch that made the book an American classic, but, in the end, this movie doesn’t have it.
The Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack includes a peek at the actor workshops, and a making-of featurette with Baz Luhrmann telling of his “bucket list” ride on the Trans-Siberian railway adventure where he was so bored he listened to the audio version of the classic novel. “Within and Without” are video logs behind the scenes that were filmed by Tobey Maguire during the filming. “The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby” profiles the musicians involved in the (of course) fabulous soundtrack, including Jay-Z, Florence Welch, and Bryan Ferry, who had assembled a 1920s jazz band. There are also a few extras more about Fitzgerald’s era, including “The Jazz Age” (which is mainly excerpts from Ken Burns’ documentary New York), “Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry”, and “Razzle Dazzle: Fashion of the ’20s”. Finally there is a trailer for 1926 silent version of “The Great Gatsby”, plus deleted scenes and an alternate ending (which has a visit by Gatsby’s father).