Title: The Great Gatsby
HTS Overall Score:82
As a pre-review prep, let’s get three names out of the way:
F. Scott Fitzgerald: Hailed as an American literary genius and author of what many consider to be one of the great American novels of the 20th Century. If you aren’t familiar with his classic novel The Great Gatsby, then you either slept through English 101 or have lived an incredibly sheltered life. Not only has Gatsby found its way into the book bag of nearly every high school student for decades, it also has been featured on the silver screen numerous times beginning in 1926, again in 1949, then in 1974, and finally in 2000.
Baz Luhrmann: An Australian filmmaker with an impressive resume and Director of the most recent iteration of The Great Gatsby. He’s known for flair and aggressive visuals, grandiosity, and a fondness for love stories. These traits were on full display in Moulin Rouge!, but also in Romeo + Juliet where he successfully pumped a refreshing newness into a Shakespearian classic.
Leonardo DiCaprio: There was a time, many moons ago, that DiCaprio was a teeny-bopper actor that made many roll their eyes. Just another pretty face, they’d say, another flash in the pan! Wrong. Dead wrong! DiCaprio is a full-fledged movie star and is in the prime of an absolutely stellar career.
Now, let’s get down to brass tacks.
Evidently it’s difficult for a two hour movie to live up to the greatness of a book, especially a literary classic. We’ve all seen this failing time and time again. After all, how often have you heard someone slay a movie by saying: the book was better! Books and the written word maintain the striking ability to carry amazing depth and layers of character development, endless plot and background details, and literary techniques such as symbolism that tingle the palate of book-fiends and scholars alike, all without a time limitation. Tackling Gatsby on the big screen – one of the all-time greats – with massive success, which as I’ve pointed out has been attempted before, seems like mission impossible.
Gatsby is a story set in the roaring twenties: a time of amazing, unbridled, American prosperity and material excess shackled to the prohibition. This is the back-drop of Gatsby, which is essentially a social commentary and story of love. Nick Caraway (Tobey Maguire) is a young Ivy Leaguer that moves to New York City looking for his piece of the pie, which he tries to grab through learning the bond business. He happens to live next door to the mysterious Gatsby (DiCaprio) and is cousins with Gatsby’s life long love named Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan). Gatsby is a man of social mystery and apparent wealth. He’s larger than life, as they say, throwing mega-parties at his elaborate mansion all the while remaining hidden in the shadows. No one seems to know who he is or what he does, but the rumor mill has made him into a celebrity. The truth of matter is that Gatsby is a man from humble beginnings that hated poverty, so much so that he changed his name and forced his way into wealth. His journey to money was anything but righteous, and we soon find out his business dealings aren’t exactly kosher. Gatsby sees his money as a way to make himself worthy of his true love, Daisy, who happens to be married a man of old money named Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). Gatsby and Daisy eventually re-acquaint themselves and Gatsby (with the help of Caraway) plans to woo her back.
Nick Caraway is the narrative voice of The Great Gatsby and that places Maguire front and center in the movie. In fact, Maguire has more face-time in the movie than any other character, making him the one that carries the flow. Luckily, his boyish straight-laced presence is a good fit for the role and Maguire delivers a decent performance. It’s actually hard to complain about any of the cast that play primary characters. If anything, I’d reach as far as to say DiCaprio’s characterization of Gatsby is somewhat vanilla, lacking originality. At times DiCaprio comes across more like, well... DiCaprio! Edgerton, on the other hand, absolutely throws the hammer down with a fantastic performance as Tom Buchanan.
Luhrmann pulls out all the stops with an exceptionally grand presentation. The word “dazzling” comes to mind. Costumes and sets are simply over the top explosions of eye candy, loaded with art decco-esque imagery melded with hints of industrial development and new millennia. Many sets are packed with objects that simply seem too numerous to be plausible; Gatsby apparently owns millions of candles that are always lit, for example. All of this is used to convey the infinitely excessive pulse of the roaring twenties, and it does it quite well. Lurhmann’s use of sweeping camera pans and bright flashes to change scenes, and larger than life oversized sets, give the movie a dream-like quality. This dreamy state is further emphasized by a certain faux-feel to many objects seen in the film, whether it be fireflies that glow unusually large and bright to moments where the surroundings around characters have a cartoonish appearance. Match these visuals with a soundtrack and score that blend jazz with elements of hip-hop, techno, and pop, and one is given a modern twist to the presentation of a classic story.
As hard as Luhrmann’s Gatsby tries, it has a hollow shell feeling. You want to like it, but the film simply fails to capture and convey the emotional essence of the novel. Amongst the intoxicating explosion of frenetic visuals the acting isn’t bad, no complaints there, but the true nature of the story is lost. It’s nearly impossible to care about the plight of Gatsby’s lost love and social conflict. Nor is it possible to sense any really devotion or distress on the part of Daisy. More succinctly stated: the movie lacks soul.
Rated PG-13 for some violent images, sexual content, smoking, partying and brief language
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/TGG3.jpg[/img]Warner Bros. delivers the goods with a mouth watering 2.40:1 MPG-4 AVC encode of Gatsby. The film is crisp and absolutely stunning, shimmering with detail and razor sharp lines. Colors – loads of colors – literally explode with bright yellows, greens, aquas and emeralds coexisting to tantalize the eyes. Reds seem to drip off the screen, whites are crisp, and blacks are thick and inky. The presentation seems to lack an overall color push in any one direction, maintaining a balanced neutrality, and skin tones appear natural. Fine details are abundant, whether it be small threads visible on a tweed jacket, specks of tarnish on the golden details of a telephone handle, facial hairs and freckles, the intricacies of frost on a window, or the fibers of a piece of paper. Detail isn’t lost in shadowy areas of images either, as there’s no evidence of crush or noise. One slight nit-pick is the overly bright lighting on some the character’s faces throughout the film, but the Blu-ray presents this as intended and is no fault of the transfer itself.
Gatsby is one of those special films that hits it out of the park with incredible visual dynamics.
[img]http://www.hometheatershack.com/news/TGG4.jpg[/img]While solid, The Great Gatsby’s DTS-HD 5.1 MA audio presentation doesn’t quite measure-up to its visuals. The film has a forward and centered audio tilt, when a more dynamic and open presentation would have been better paired with the movie’s frenzied visuals. That’s not to say the presentation is a disaster, because it has many highlights. The film delivers pinpoint directionality associated with automobiles sweeping across the screen and stationary objects (like a ringing telephone). Detailed sounds, such as the crackling burn of a smoked cigar, chirping birds, and the grinding of gravel are all given proper treatment. And, surprisingly, the sub channel is provided with several moments of glory including a seriously low and hard-hitting bass tone played multiple times as part of the score (easily diving into waters below 20Hz). On the downside, surround channels have moments of pop, but are generally left to convey softer ambient effects, room chatter, and the like. And dialog is just ok, not to a detriment, but voices sound a tad thin and narrow.
The audio presentation is primarily dominated by Craig Armstrong’s (World Trade Center, Love Actually) beautiful score and excellent music that that craftily blends jazz from the roaring twenties with hip-hop, techno, classical music, and pop. The result is an energetic musical trip that carries the film's audio presentation to some excellent moments of sonic bliss.
• The Greatness of Gatsby
• Within and Without with Tobey Maguire
• The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby
• Gatsby Revealed
• The Jazz Age
• Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the Twenties
• Fitzgerald's Visual Poetry
• Deleted Scenes
• 1926 Trailer: The Great Gatsby
The Great Gatsby is a recommended watch despite its ultimate failing as a vehicle to convey the emotional core of a classic tale. Luhrmann’s frenetic and trippy visuals really need to be seen to be believed, and the film’s music is crazy and infectious. On the presentation front, the Blu-ray’s video quality is top shelf material. The audio is generally strong but is too forward and narrow, which creates a mismatch with its explosive and dynamic visuals. Joel Edgerton perfectly plays the role of Tom Buchanan and steals the show, while DiCaprio is rather bland. At the end of the day, my primary complaint is that the film fails to carry palpable emotion, making it hard to care about the outcome. Chalk this one up to a recommend rental and enjoy the ride for what it is.
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Macguire, Carey Mulligan, Joel Edgerton
Directed by: Baz Luhrmann
Written by: Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce (Screenplay), F. Scott Fitzgerald (Novel)
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English: DTS-HD MA 5.1; French, Spanish, Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Runtime: 143 minutes
Blu-Ray Release Date: August 27, 2013
Buy The Great Gatsby Blu-ray on Amazon
Recommendation: Rental, Watch It