The Great Gatsby: Has Luhrmann failed already?

by Cora Quigley

Book adaptations are finicky old things. No matter what you do, there are going to be fanatical fans of the book who are far from happy with the end product. A good rule of thumb to follow in this situation is to not count the amount of scenes that made it in, or break out in a murderous rage over the omission of what you deemed pivotal scenes. Instead, one should focus on how well the film captures the main essence, themes and overall message of the original novel. Or maybe that’s just me; I’m pretty wild like that. Judging by the trailer, Baz Luhrmann’s glitzy adaptation of The Great Gatsby seems to have failed in both regards.

Perhaps it’s unfair to judge a film based on its first trailer. However, with trailers these days consisting mainly of the “best” parts, and edited in such a way that will apparently sell it to a wider audience (and at times, give the entire plot away), it’s difficult not to. It seems that, paradoxically, where the trailer both succeeds and fails in its interpretation of the novel is its use of spectacle. The decadence of the jazz age portrayed in the novel is captured well, with glimpses of Gatsby’s infamous parties, ridiculously large estate and his impossible reputation established right away. Beyond this, it’s hard to find more parallels with the novel. The spectacle is used in such a way to lure the viewer in, rather than as a criticism of the continual decay of the American Dream and its increasing emphasis on material wealth.

This could be blamed on the fact that Luhrmann’s directing style and the message of the novel just don’t mix. Gatsby’s message is a subtle, quiet one; whereas Luhrmann has a tendency to make films that are about as subtle as a brick wall. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; Australia and Moulin Rouge are enjoyable, melodramatic romps that don’t pretend to be anything beyond fluffy entertainment. Unfortunately it looks as though The Great Gatsby is also going to be just that; melodramatic fluff. Leonardo DiCaprio’s portrayal of the title role also seems to be questionable. Not only is he too old for the role, his trademark intense face is littered all over the trailer, capturing none of Gatsby’s running act of frivolous charm.

All this said, perhaps this is an attempt at subversion by Luhrmann. Maybe his use of modern, auto tuned music is a way of bringing the story into this contemporary world in such a way that is relevant. It could be said that the theme of the crass materialism of the American dream is more relevant than ever. Of course, all of this is just speculation. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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One thought on “The Great Gatsby: Has Luhrmann failed already?

  1. You see, I don’t really like Baz at all, he makes things too big and too bright. I liked how the old film looked although it was deeply flawed by the actors but maybe he will be able to capture Gatsby’s love all all things over the top, to be fair that’s he’s known for.

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