Baz Luhrmann’s much-hyped 3D movie adaptation of The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan finally arrives on May 10. The equally pedigreed 1974 version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic 1925 novel, however, is currently available on DVD for those who want to keep it front of mind for comparison’s sake.
Narrated—like the book—by Nick Caraway (a young Sam Waterston, light years away from his know-it-all Law & Order persona), this version of Gatsby was the third Paramount film to make it to the silver screen and was a big summer release when it originally came out.
Famed British director Jack Clayton (The Innocents) helmed the picture, working from a Francis Ford Coppola script that Coppola later said was virtually ignored by Clayton. For as long as the movie is—two and a half hours—it certainly seems like a lot of dialogue was missing, possibly replaced by the endless gauzy shots of the beautiful and wealthy Long Island socialites of the Roaring Twenties.
Mia Farrow is radiant as Nick’s second cousin, materialistic flapper Daisy Buchanan, but the entire film mirrors her hollowness, and it’s tough to find a foothold to relate to anybody in the movie. Robert Redford nails the contradictory nature of Jay Gatsby, but isn’t necessarily given enough screen time to do much with it.
Most of the focus of The Great Gatsby seems to be in the technical departments. The movie won the Oscar for Best Costume Design, as well as a Best Music win for Nelson Riddle’s jazzy and nostalgic original score. The opulence of Gatsby’s setting and surroundings are part of its appeal for sure, but Clayton never takes full advantage of the inherent melodrama, committing the worst foul for a story like this—making it boring.
From the look of Luhrmann’s trailer (and everything the Australian director has ever produced, such as Moulin Rouge and Strictly Ballroom), the extravagance of the 1974 version will be topped in the first five minutes of his 2013 adaptation. Luhrmann has also proven himself to be quite adept at working in the field of melodrama, so look for the new Gatsby to be aces in that category as well.
Despite its meandering narrative, Clayton’s version does capture the novel’s theme of the implosion of the American Dream and 1920s-era greed fairly well. It just doesn’t create three-dimensional characters, relying instead on the iconic reputations of Redford and Farrow to let the audience fill in the blanks.
Written by Eric Melin, editor Scene-Stealers.com and film critic Kansas First News