Generally speaking, I don’t really see movie reviews as something that this blog is really prepared to tackle. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love movies. Maybe a little too much at times. The real issue is that I try and keep this blog (and myself) tightly focused on writing and literature and avoid a lot of enticing but largely unrelated topics. That said, there are times in which the medium of film can be used as an example or to further a point that I am trying to make about writing in general. The minute that I finished watching the newly released The Great Gatsby (which was around 2:30am on opening night.. morning?) I knew that I wanted to use it as an example for a concept I have been trying to write about for a while.
When it comes to my personal skills as a writer, composing settings and descriptions are definitely my strong suits – in terms of writing fiction at least. In talking with other writers I have found that there are as many different ways and techniques to approaching the writing of scenes and describing actions, characters, events, etc. as there are people writing them. I describe my own process as seeing what I want to write in the form of a movie scene, and then doing my best to transcribe what I see in that scene onto paper. I do the opposite when I am reading fiction as well. I see the words on the page and transform them into moving scenes in my head. As you can see, I’m a pretty visual individual as far as bookworms and writers go. It is probably because of this process that I stray from many writers and literary fans/bookworms in that I cannot wait to go see the Hollywood adaptations of my favorite books. (Don’t tell anyone, but sometimes I’ll even go see the movie before I read the book! I know… sacrilegious. I’ll explain in another post.) I always like to see what other people visualize when reading the same work.
Most film adaptations differ in many ways from the way I pictured it happening during my reading. However, the most recent The Great Gatsby film shocked me at just how closely it matched what I imagined while reading the actual book, but I’ll talk briefly about that in my movie review below. Which, speaking of, we should probably get to!
The Great Gatsby (2013)
Directed by: Baz Lurhmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey Maguire, and Carey Mulligan
According to Rotten Tomatoes’ measly 48% (up from 38% a week ago) rating, Baz Lurhmann’s film adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s jazz-age classic The Great Gatsby has not made much of an impression on film critics. However, for many literature fans, the 48% rating is a gross injustice to the film’s representation of the book. One of the most famous and well-read pieces of literature, The Great Gatsby offers quite the challenge for directors aiming to tackle it; a challenge that Jack Clayton seemed unable to conquer with his 1974 version starring Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
In his first major Hollywood film since Australia, Lurhmann definitely took a more ambitious approach to the same piece of literature that four flopped films and two poorly received TV series made infamous. Where Clayton attempted to be suave and subtle, Lurhmann pulled out all of the stops, even going as far as to film in 3-D and the studio deciding to pull the film out of Oscar contention for a summer release. The extravagant trailers that describe a world where “the shows were broader, the buildings were higher, the morals, were looser and the liquor was cheaper” turn out to be but a mere glimpse of what the full film has to offer. Baz Lurhmann’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby creates a setting that is larger than life and focuses on famed mysticism of Jay Gatsby in a way that surpasses any previous attempt.
In many ways, this over the top approach is what caused traditional film critics to stumble and fans of the book to cheer. Where film buffs complain of an over-eager use of CGI, larger than life party scenes that are hard to take in, and seemingly bipolar mood swings by the main characters, fans of the classic book stand up in applause for the true-to-reading experience. Fitzgerald’s telling of and perception of the lives of narrator Nick Carraway, his cousin Daisy, and the mythical Jay Gatsby often leaves the reader with an ethereal, out of body feeling that Baz Lurhmann does an excellent job of recreating.
Leonardo DiCaprio brings to life an image of Gatsby that is just as it is in the book: mythical. This is wonderfully complimented by Tobey Maguire’s “along for the ride” presence and mentality. Carey Mulligan flawlessly brings the troubled but flirtatious nature of Daisy to life n the big screen, drawing all of the characters to actions and thoughts that seem to drive the entire movie. Backed by a phenomenal soundtrack that was produced by Jay-Z, the film takes you from lifestyles and party scenes that can only be described as orgiastic to gut-wrenching moments of human flaw and emotion. The Great Gatsby, its director, and its cast will arguably go down in history as one of the best adaptations of classic literature to come to the silver screen.