Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Will you pay to see this movie? Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby

F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is one of America's shining novels. It has never been a very shiny movie. Not that it hasn't been tried.

I can find traces of four previous Gatsby movies (one was an A&E TV movie), dating back to 1926. 1974 saw the most famous of those, mostly due to its starring cast lead by Robert Redford in the title role. (Mia Farrow played Daisy and the script was adapted from the novel by none other than Francis Ford Coppola.)

No matter what the critical reviews say or the box-office take on opening weekend, I can predict with absolute certainty, the newest take on making a movie of The Great Gatsby, as directed by Australia's Baz Luhrmann, will definitely be shiny. But that's as far as my predictions go.

The question is will you go?

Warner Brothers will be releasing the new Gatsby in the gutsiest time slot it could gamble on, a week after Iron Man 3 hits just about every theater with seats and one week before Star Trek: Into Darkness makes a grab for all the rest. You can argue that it's a confident strategy of counter-programming that fills the gap for female and over-forty demographics. But you could also make a helluva an argument for waiting for a fall release (a time when Oscar voters memories are fresh and impressionable).

So the wild cards become cast and character.

The cast is impressive, yet perhaps not compelling. As Gatsby, Leonardo DiCaprio seems a natural fit, though hints of Howard Hughes (from his 2004 turn in Martin Scorsese's The Aviator) feel like they come through in the performance. As that may be unavoidable, I'll turn to Carey Mulligan as Daisy, who I suspect is the jewel of this cast and the actress most likely to break from a Gatsby success as a genuine big-time movie star.

Where my brakes skid on, like a careening yellow roadster, is Toby Maguire as Nick. Though the idea of Maguire playing the role seems sound, the performance snippets visible in the trailers (particularly when narrating), feel out of step with nearly everything else in frame. Of course, not knowing just what, exactly, this Gatsby has in store, that may just be a flaw in building the trailers.

As for character - the character that is center stage is Director, Baz Luhrmann, famous for what he calls his "red curtain trilogy of Strictly Ballroom (1992), Romeo + Juliet (1996) and Moulin Rouge (2001, which deserved credit for reinvigorating movie musicals a full year before Chicago stole the attention and an Oscar). Lurhman is as much visionary director as unabashed showman. The defining moments (and perhaps every other) of The Great Gatsby will undoubtedly carry his signature. That alone may be enough to make a seat worth the ticket price. And did I mention, this is all in 3D? Baz Lurhman in 3D is an intoxicating selling point.

Take a taste of what's in store in just one month, with two of the trailers for The Great Gatsby.

A soundtrack that beats like the heart of an MTV awards show, a saturation of color and movement, this is definitely not your father's memory of the great American romance novel. But that may be what makes this all add up to very entertaining night at the movies.

Does it suck or sparkle. Is it genius or miscalculated? Does it so dazzle in 3D that it's a first run must-see? It's impossible to watch with anticipation, without wondering what this all would have looked like with a  much more traditional approach. But then it wouldn't be so damned intriguing.

DiCaprio and cast, a soundtrack that includes Beyoncé and André 300, Florence + the Machine, Lana Del Ray, Gotye and Jack White, and Mr. Lurhman behind the camera. Is that enough to get you to put on the 3D glasses for Gatsby as extravaganza?

Will you pay to see The Great Gatsby?

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