Friday, April 12, 2013

'The Great Gatsby': a pre-review

Jay Gatsby, ol' sport
Spoiler alert: The hero, or anti-hero, dies in the end.

The latest adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" opens next month, so in these Twitter times, it makes sense to review something no one has seen.

This will be the sixth version of the classic novel that was published in 1925. None of of the previous five films are considered classics or even that memorable. In fact, the first one, a silent film, no longer exists.

Will the filmmakers get it right this time?

Judging from the trailer, soundtrack, cast and director, it doesn't look like this "Gatsby" will be a big hit or do the novel justice. That is just as well, because great novels are always better than their film counterparts.

Since the director is the Australian Baz Luhrmann, "The Great Gatsby" will dazzle visually. The trailer confirms this, but it also looks a little too busy for the story of a dashing bootlegger desperately trying to win back his lost love.

Luhrmann directed the musical "Moulin Rouge!", which is so audaciously frenetic that it's amazing it ever got released in 2001. The mash-up of modern songs with a period film actually worked. The film's stars, Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, even had screen chemistry and did well with their singing.

But, the camera moves so fast and so frequently that it almost makes the viewer dizzy. Luhrmann is like a Max Ophuls on meth.

Still, I was glad he made "Moulin Rouge!" and that it found a modest audience. It cost $52 million to make and grossed $57 million.

Luhrmann's visual style, though, overwhelms whatever story he tells. The star of a Luhrmann movie is always Luhrmann's direction.

"Gatsby" re-teams Luhrmann with Leonard DiCaprio, who starred in Luhrmann's 1996 modern take of "Romeo + Juliet."

DiCaprio is a natural choice to play Jay Gatsby since DiCaprio is such an international star.

But, like Robert Redford who played Gatsby in the 1974 version, mega-star quality actually gets in the way of the role.

The character of Gatsby requires a sense of mystery and danger that Redford couldn't convey and that DiCaprio will be hard-pressed to accomplish. We know these men too well for there to be any mystery left. Also, both actors are so good looking that it's hard for them to convince an audience that they could be dangerous.

In typical Luhrmann fashion, the soundtrack should be mismatched for the time period, which was the Jazz Age, but also strangely appropriate.  With songs by Jay-Z, Beyonce, Florence + The Machine and Nero, the soundtrack should attract more viewers to the theater, but should also further distract from the action on the screen.

The budget for "The Great Gatsby" is estimated at $127 million. Judging from the trailer, it's easy to see why. It looks great. By the way, the budget for the 1974 film was $6.5 million.

But, principal photography for "Gatsby" ended in early January 2012. This means that the filmmakers spent most of their time tinkering with computer-generated imagery (CGI) to make the film look so astonishing.

That's not a bad thing, but CGI tends to make movies seem like thrill rides rather than just movies with good acting and solid stories. This "Gatsby" also comes in 3-D which seems way over the top and unnecessary.

All the nit-picking aside, I will likely go out and see Luhrmann's "Great Gatsby," because his movies are more interesting than most released these days. Plus, I like the actors. Carey Mulligan should be great as Daisy Buchanan and Tobey Maguire should be fine as the narrator, Nick Carraway.

And, DiCaprio is still a good actor.

We shall see how it all plays out at the multiplex.

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