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.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 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
Run Time: 2 Hr. 22 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer), DVD-9 (dual layer)
Release Date: 08/27/2013
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.
The Production Rating: 3/5
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.
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.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
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.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
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.
Special Features Rating: 4/5
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)
- 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)
Ultraviolet Digital Copy: Redeem by August 27, 2015.
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.
Overall Rating: 3/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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