The recently-released The Great Gatsby trailer has been highly divisive within the fandom, particularly due to the addition of modern elements and an apparent diversion from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. What does the trailer tell us about Baz Luhrmann’s treatment and interpretation of this literary classic, and what can we expect from the forthcoming film?
It’s probably best to get this out of the way first. We have all been victim to the feeling of disappointment that inevitably comes when the film adaptations of our favourite books don’t meet our expectations. It is immediatley apparent from the trailer that this is a Baz Luhrmann production – it isn’t Fitzgerald on screen. Anyone going to the cinema expecting a strict retelling of Gatsby is going to be disappointed.
It is going to be over-the-top and it is going to be a spectacle. That is what Baz Luhrmann does, and he does it very well. There has been a fairly strong reaction to the trailer, but it would be practically impossible to translate Fitzgerald’s vision to screen, as his Gatsby is linked so intrinsically to his writing. Best to view the two as separate entities, and enjoy them as such.
Many will disagree, but we loved the trailer music and overly saturated colours. The colours just heightened the viewing experience, and so this is the jazz era – does it matter? Of course, hopefully Luhrmann also includes some era-appropriate music, and not withstanding the fact that trailer music won’t necessarily appear in the film, the tone of the music suited the plot immensely, even if the genre didn’t.
We know that Luhrmann decided to film in Sydney instead of on location in New York because so much of the city was going to have to be digitally altered to recreate New York of the 1920s. The skyline was gorgeous, and we’re sure that these broader shots will be where 3D is really featured, as well as in the party scenes. There was something funny about the cars, we can’t decide if they weren’t finished or it was a stylistic choice to make them out of place – either way it was slightly jarring.
The opening quote may not have been from Gatsby, but it was still Fitzgerald, so we’ll take it. It was used brilliantly to set up the context of the story; although hopefully this doesn’t mean Maguire will be doing one film-length voice-over to try to fill in the gaps where in the novel, we hear Nick’s thoughts. Overuse of a voice-over will just take the viewer out of the world Luhrmann has created, which would be a shame.
The flashbacks looked out of place just based on the colouring. Maybe in a longer sequence it won’t be as jarring, but as a split-second flash in an otherwise overly bright trailer, it stuck out every time. However, flashbacks mean we will be getting some Gatsby war backstory (and maybe some for Nick too?), and that will be great, just as long as they are used sparingly. Please.
Based on the trailer, the biggest shift we can see from Fitzgerald’s novel is the focus on the Gatsby-Daisy love story, which seems to essentially be the plot of the film. The book was really about Nick and his interactions with this group of people who happened to be involved in a love-triangle/quadruple/mess; if Luhrmann’s interest lies in making this a love story, we can deal, as long as Nick’s character isn’t sacrificed in the process. It would be a shame to lose all the brilliant wit of the novel for the sake of making Moulin Rouge 2.0.
Despite any prior misgivings, we are in love with Carey Mulligan’s delicate, wispy Daisy. We hope the sardonic element of her character is also included, but this was a very promising start. Similarly, Elizabeth Debicki was a wonderful surprise, although of course an unknown actress wasn’t going to have been cast without merit. Finally Isla Fisher as Myrtle was fabulous, while we didn’t get to see much of her, what we did had just the right touch of hysteria.
This is the biggest problem with the trailer – Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby. We didn’t get to see a huge range of emotions from him in the trailer, mainly just this vaguely worried/irritated face. If this is all he’s got, this will be a disaster. Similarly with Tobey Maguire as Nick – Nick has a great wit, which we have yet to see from Maguire, but hopefully it will be included in the film. Finally, there’s Joel Edgerton as the bullying Tom. He looks the part, let’s just hope he gets a lot angrier in the film than he does in the trailer.
Without going too English Literature class on you, let’s take a minute to celebrate the inclusion of many of Fitzgerald’s genius metaphors. Essentially, The Great Gatsby is one giant metaphor, but still, it was so exciting to see Owl Eyes, and the looming eyes of Doctor T.J. Eckleburg, even if they both end up to be throwaway images. Now let’s just see DiCaprio mooning over that green light. We also hope to see the symbolism of the different classes of people as indicated by the East Egg/West Egg divide. Okay, end of class.
Oh wow, those costumes. Take a bow Catherine Martin (costume designer), because you are a 1920s genius. Also, Gatsby’s mansion was gorgeous, gaudy, and amazing. The costumes and the settings really anchored the film in the 1920s. Of course, the party scenes were a bit too grandiose, but it’s Baz Luhrmann so that should be expected. If there is one thing Luhrmann does well, it is style. His films always look stunning, even when they have very little, or nothing at all to say.
Despite the multitude of changes, and being devoted Fitzgerald readers, we are really looking forward to the film release. So maybe it will end up being a bit more of a love story with some Kanye West thrown in. Maybe DiCaprio was a poor choice, or the cars look a bit funny. The first half of the trailer still built up the anticipation of Gatsby’s reveal, and then shifted immediately from the glamourous parties to the more menacing undertones of Gatsby’s life.
This fall into decline was the entire point of Fitzgerald’s novel. He proposed that the wealth and fast-paced lifestyle were symptoms of a deeper problem, a desperate greed, corruption and emptiness that purveyed this decade of history and mirrored the decline of the ‘American Dream’. We hope to see this more fully developed in the film, but from the trailer we do feel like Luhrmann did understand this theme.
In the end, it could be a complete trainwreck, although a beautiful one a la Australia, or it could be a Romeo and Juliet style masterpiece – with Luhrmann it can be hard to tell. The trailer left us feeling hopeful and excited for the final product, and satisfied that despite the many changes, the production team do get what Gatsby is really about.
Now let’s see if they can pull it off.
What were your thoughts on the trailer? Did you like the incorporation of modern elements, or would you have prefered a stricter book-to-film adaptation?