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    The Great Gatsby Blu-ray Review

    Blu-ray Warner

    Aug 17 2013 09:17 PM | Cameron Yee in DVD & Blu-ray Reviews
    Another filmmaker takes a run at F. Scott Fitzgerald’s great American novel and once again comes up short, though perhaps in a more spectacular way than those who came before him. Not surprisingly, the Blu-ray provides a gorgeous platform to display Director Baz Luhrmann’s over-the-top spectacle, though sumptuous visuals can only go so far.

    Title Info:

    • Studio: Warner Brothers
    • Distributed By: N/A
    • Video Resolution: 1080P/AVC
    • Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
    • Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD, Other
    • Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French, Portuguese
    • Rating: PG-13
    • Run Time: 2 Hr. 22 Min.
    • Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
    • Case Type:
    • Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
    • Region: A
    • Release Date: 08/27/2013
    • MSRP: $35.99

    The Production Rating: 3/5

    If you went to high school in the United States, you undoubtedly had to read (and then watched some filmed adaptation of) F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Considered by many to be “The Great American Novel,” there’s probably no better work that captures the freewheeling, but also destructive, spirit of America during the 1920s. Recounting the friendship formed between writer Nick Carraway and mysterious millionaire Jay Gatsby, and Gatsby’s obsessive love for Nick’s unattainable cousin Daisy, the novel has endured for almost a century. Since it’s publication in 1925, it’s been adapted into several films, the most memorable being 1974’s, though perhaps more for its casting of Robert Redford, Mia Farrow and Sam Waterston than for being a definitive conveyance of Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age setting and themes.

    Almost 40 years later, Australian director Baz Luhrmann, the man responsible for such visually and narratively audacious films as Romeo and Juliet and Moulin Rouge, has decided to take another go at bringing Gatsby to the big screen. Talk to moviegoers about what to expect from Luhrmann’s take on an American classic and they’ll deliver the same backhanded compliment – ”I’m sure it will look amazing.”

    Indeed, Gatsby does look amazing – sumptuously detailed and colorful in its production design, costuming and cinematography. As usual, a lot of effort has also gone into the film’s soundtrack to convey the mood, and it bears the director’s signature practice of using contemporary music in a decidedly period setting. In this case, the sounds of Jay-Z, Florence Welch and Lana Del Rey exist alongside traditional jazz and symphonic pieces, a milieu that ultimately doesn’t sound as jarring as it looks on paper.

    The casting for the film also can’t be faulted. Leonardo DiCaprio, who’s tread in the era before with The Aviator, makes a fitting Gatsby, and the ethereal beauty of Carey Mulligan as Daisy makes for an understandable undying object of his affection. Tobey Maguire as struggling writer Nick, Elizabeth Debicki as acerbic golfer Jordan Baker, and Joel Edgerton as Daisy’s brutish husband Tom similarly look their parts, to a tee.

    So what’s the problem? Let’s chalk it up to a bad fit of director to source material.

    Luhrmann’s signature excesses – the swooping camera shots, the over-the-top production design, and the affected, melodramatic tone are not in themselves bad things. For some material it’s quite fitting – Moulin Rouge for example, an anachronistic spectacle of a love story.

    Fitzgerald’s Gatsby, however, is not that kind of material, given that its themes and characters are so heavily derived from its time period and setting. Deviating from them the way Luhrmann is wont to do automatically makes him lose most of the point of Fitzgerald’s cautionary tale. The fantastical storytelling and production design also result in the loss of necessary historical context, a character almost unto itself. It’s really the element that makes Gatsby sympathetic despite his excessive wealth and misguided notions about what that wealth can do.

    After so many attempts, it’s intriguing there’s still no film that’s managed to be the definitive adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel, a deceptively simple tale on its face. Given the track record, I imagine it will be at least another four decades before someone is brave enough to try again. Though Luhrmann’s version will exist as a sort of curiosity, not unlike his Romeo and Juliet, more than likely high school English teachers will be looking to the 1974 or 1949 films for something that actually captures some essence of the classic novel.

    Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA

    Framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer offers a veritable feast for the eyes in the areas of color, contrast and detail. From the fantastical views of Gatsby’s estate parties, to the sweeping vistas of 1920s New York, there’s so much visual activity in the frame that some may wind up feeling overwhelmed. Most will notice the visual effects aren’t very realistic, though the synthetic quality is ultimately consistent with the idealized perspective of the film’s chief narrator, Nick. The film’s 3D sequences, though obviously presented in 2D on this version, also come through nicely with some pleasing depth of focus. In fact, this may be the first film I’ve seen in my home theater environment that makes me curious how it looks in 3D.

    Audio Rating: 4.5/5

    Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, clear and intelligible. Support for the score in the surround channels is balanced and seamless, as are the environmental and directional effects. LFE and bass activity are robust and nicely balanced with the other audio elements, though fairly measured in use due to the dramatic nature of the story.

    Special Features: 4/5

    Featurettes delve into the various phases of production, with Director Baz Luhrmann, Co-Writer Craig Pearce, and the cast and crew talking about their involvement. The pieces also include plentiful behind the scenes footage from location scouting, rehearsals and filming. Deleted scenes and digital copies round out the package.

    The Greatness of Gatsby (9:14, HD): Director Baz Luhrmann talks about how he was inspired to adapt F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel and his collaboration with screenwriter Craig Pearce. Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire also describe their motivations for joining the project.

    Within and Without with Tobey Maguire (8:41, HD): Highlights from the video journal Maguire kept during production.

    The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby (12:17, HD): Luhrmann and Composer Craig Armstrong explain the film’s fusion of traditional jazz and contemporary music, with appearances by Jay-Z, Florence Welch and Lana Del Rey.

    The Jazz Age (15:43, HD): Fitzgerald-related excerpts from Ric Burns’ PBS documentary series New York, with Luhrmann providing additional on-camera commentary.

    Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the ‘20s (16:22, HD): A survey of the film’s wardrobe with Costume Designer Catherine Martin.

    Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry (6:55, HD): Luhrmann and Martin describe the concept of their “poetic glue,” the attempt to visually manifest Fitzgerald’s style and imagery.

    Gatsby Revealed: Behind the scenes of specific sequences.
    • Gatsby’s Party (7:12, HD)
    • Disconcerting Ride (4:53, HD)
    • Daisy and Gatsby Meet (7:49, HD)
    • The Plaza (4:26, HD)
    • Pool Scene (5:47, HD)
    Deleted Scenes
    • Baz Intro (2:06, HD)
    • Nick and Jordan (3:09, HD)
    • Her Voice Was Full of Money (2:24, HD)
    • Alternate Ending (6:44, HD)
    1926 Great Gatsby Trailer (1:05, HD)

    Ultraviolet Digital Copy: Redeem by August 27, 2015.

    DVD Copy

    Overall Rating: 3/5

    Warner Home Video turns in a fantastic high definition presentation for Baz Luhrmann’s decadently flawed take on The Great Gatsby. The extras offer a solid look into the various phases of production, though given the unsatisfying nature of the feature, interested parties are advised to seek out a rental first.

    Reviewed by: Cameron Yee
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    13 Comments

    Agreed. The 74' may not be perfect but it's head and shoulders more faithful to Fitzgerald and certainly the era of the flapper than this claptrap. I don't quite understand what contemporary film makers don't get about adhering to period. This started with the Kirsten Dunst version of Marie Antoinette that in no way completes or even comes close to Norma Shearer's spectacular 1938 rendition.

     

    Laying in contemporary pop and rap tunes doesn't make the story any more palpable for contemporary audiences except, arguably, those educated with an air hose and inner tube. I thought Luhrmann's movie great on spectacle, short on reflection and utterly void of the overriding tragedy that is The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald wrote it.

     

    This movie is just a darkly amusing music video-esque travelogue of some of the central themes and plot points in the novel. It doesn't work. it undeniably looks great. But it doesn't serve Fitzgerald's narrative at all! 

    Agreed. The 74' may not be perfect but it's head and shoulders more faithful to Fitzgerald and certainly the era of the flapper than this claptrap. I don't quite understand what contemporary film makers don't get about adhering to period. This started with the Kirsten Dunst version of Marie Antoinette that in no way completes or even comes close to Norma Shearer's spectacular 1938 rendition.

     

    Laying in contemporary pop and rap tunes doesn't make the story any more palpable for contemporary audiences except, arguably, those educated with an air hose and inner tube. I thought Luhrmann's movie great on spectacle, short on reflection and utterly void of the overriding tragedy that is The Great Gatsby as Fitzgerald wrote it.

     

    This movie is just a darkly amusing music video-esque travelogue of some of the central themes and plot points in the novel. It doesn't work. it undeniably looks great. But it doesn't serve Fitzgerald's narrative at all! 

     

    Have to say I disagree with this pretty much completely. Luhrmann's Gatsby may not be a great film, but to me it's the best on-screen Gatsby to date and much more faithful to the spirit of Fitzgerald than many give it credit for (the '74 version may have been more faithful to the letter, but its funereal approach to the spirit kills it for me).

     

    As for not getting the period, I think Luhrmann "gets" the flapper era just fine - he just doesn't have any interest in adhering to it. If you want a more faithful recreation of the period HBO's Boardwalk Empire does a beautiful job of recreating it, but being period-faithful has never been in Luhrmann's purview. I think his "music video" approach works just fine for Gatsby (which in many ways feels like a spiritual sequel to Moulin Rouge), and it's simply the Luhrmann aesthetic - as one critic put it, "faulting it for being excessive in this regard is like faulting Vincent Van Gogh for painting too fast."

     

    I'm really excited to see this again, and glad to hear the Blu looks and sounds as good as it does. It's playing at a second-run theater nearby, so may catch it theatrically one more time before indulging just to soak it up once more as it was meant to be seen.

    Photo
    Cameron Yee
    Aug 19 2013 07:52 AM

    If you want a more faithful recreation of the period HBO's Boardwalk Empire does a beautiful job of recreating it, but being period-faithful has never been in Luhrmann's purview.

     

    I would love to see HBO tackle Fitzgerald.

     

    I never expected Luhrmann to do anything else but what he does, which is why I think he was a bad fit for the material. If you know Van Gogh does indeed paint too fast, it's not a good idea to hire him to paint the portrait of the president.

    Bad fit times two. Mark - if you think Luhrmann did Fitzgerald justice you clearly need to re-read the novel. 

    Photo
    Cameron Yee
    Aug 19 2013 07:58 AM

    To be fair, I was intrigued by Luhrmann's supposition that today's hip hop was equivalent to 1920's jazz. So the music choices didn't bother me so much, and thought it worked more than it didn't.

     

    In my looking at past adaptations, I saw there is the movie "G" that sets the story in modern times in the world of hip hop. I'll probably check that out.

    We'll agree to disagree. If I'm going to see a movie set in the 1920's I want the total package deal - sets, costumes, mannerisms and music. I didn't expect that from Luhrmann so I wasn't disappointed. And I love Moulin Rouge. But Luhrmann's style appears to be predicated on taking whatever feels right to him and just thrashing and trashing period to suit his own artistic integrity. That may work for the here and now but no one will be celebrating this version of Fitzgerald's novel as a 50th anniversary Blu-ray. Bank on that!

    Bad fit times two. Mark - if you think Luhrmann did Fitzgerald justice you clearly need to re-read the novel. 

     

    I've read the novel plenty. Not necessarily saying Luhrmann does Fitzgerald justice (and there's an argument to be made that no filmmaker really could), but I'd argue he comes closer than any other filmmaker has, certainly closer than Clayton's wooden, soulless attempt. Taking him to task for the style of the thing is missing the forest for the trees. It's an interpretation, not a recreation, and to me it works beautifully.

    We'll agree to disagree. If I'm going to see a movie set in the 1920's I want the total package deal - sets, costumes, mannerisms and music. I didn't expect that from Luhrmann so I wasn't disappointed. And I love Moulin Rouge. But Luhrmann's style appears to be predicated on taking whatever feels right to him and just thrashing and trashing period to suit his own artistic integrity. That may work for the here and now but no one will be celebrating this version of Fitzgerald's novel as a 50th anniversary Blu-ray. Bank on that!

     

    Ignoring the obvious fact that of course we won't be celebrating a 50th-Anniversary Blu-ray because Blu-ray will be long gone in 50 years, you never know, and it's best not to use personal tastes as a predictor for how a large swath of the populace is going to view a film in the years to come. Most of the folks I've talked to felt like the critics missed the boat on this one, and it did solid enough business at the box office for it to at least warrant a reconsideration from the critical community in 10 or 20 years. It may never be viewed as a classic, but it's not out of the question for it to at least be remembered fondly in 50 years.

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    Cameron Yee
    Aug 19 2013 08:16 PM

    Has anyone watched the TV movie version with Mira Sorvino?

    Considering this as just a movie and NOT as an adaptation of a literary work, what do you think of it? Most of the parts seemed to work more or less but the whole was somehow lacking.

    Photo
    Cameron Yee
    Aug 20 2013 07:56 AM

    I think the answer to that question comes down to whether you enjoy Baz Luhrmann's style of filmmaking.

    I think the answer to that question comes down to whether you enjoy Baz Luhrmann's style of filmmaking.

    I think his style is perfectly fine in his previous work but here, I thought it was out of place and hurt the movie. He did get it out of his system after about the first hour and the second half of the movie ended up being pretty good partly because of that.

    The problem with Luhrmann's work is that he really is a one hit wonder - his style eclipsing its source material completely. It was fascinating in Strictly Ballroom and utterly mesmerizing in Moulin Rouge. I'll just step out on a creative limb here and say that Luhrmann will probably never top Moulin Rouge.

     

    But his style doesn't blend with traditional literary works. Romeo and Juliet was an artistic disaster with DiCaprio screeching Shakespeare's immortal lines and the anemic Claire Danes playing Juliet like "My so called life as a Capulet".  Luhrmann's fanciful contemporary party-hearty backdrop didn't mesh with the story, and the visuals became the focus rather than the melodrama which was virtually expunged in a dizzying array of overhead camera shots and "I Spy" styled cloak and dagger silliness. The tragedy wasn't even distilled into drama but melodrama - a wan ghost flower of Shakespeare's play.

     

    Fitzgerald is a lot like Shakespeare - immortal and universal and full of literary wit that doesn't lend itself to Luhrmann's frenetic, thump-thump I can feel the bass beneath my feet style. And as time has worn on Luhrmann's style becomes more and more music video-esque which tends to cheapen such 'classic' examples of literature rather than augment them in new and interesting ways. 

     

    Again, this Great Gatsby captures much of the tea dance twenties decadence and I must admit - even though I didn't like it - some of the contemporary songs did a fairly respectable job in place of vintage tunes. Sorry guys - I'm a purist. It ought to have been Charlston and 'When You And I Were Seventeen' not rap-tacular mishmash.  

     

    But there's an entire undercurrent of tragedy wholly absent from this rendering of the movie. While the 74 version is hardly perfect and - in many of its own ways sincerely flawed - director Jack Clayton has managed to capture the essence of Jay Gatsby's horrendous sacrificing of his very self merely to appease the flighty and vial gadabout who seems to have poisoned his blood and tainted his heart. DiCaprio's Gatsby merely feels sorry for himself. Badly done!