THE GREAT GATSBY (Blu-ray)
Warner Bros. / 2013 / 142 mins / PG-13
There are two ways audiences will judge a film based on a novel: you either rank it as a film or an adaptation. If you've read the book and critique the movie based on the matching elements, you're almost always going to be disappointed. There is a difference between what works in a book and what works in a film; detraction is inevitable in this department. But for a big-screen translation of the F. Scott Fitzgerald classic novel, this version of Gatsby succeeds as a dazzling piece of cinema.
Tobey Maguire inhabits the role of Nick Carraway, a timid bond salesman and neighbor of the title character. During an explosively over-the-top party, Nick meets the popular Gatsby, played by Leonardo DiCaprio with a charming yet vulnerable subtlety. After befriending the lonely millionaire, Nick eventually reacquaints his cousin Daisy (Carey Mulligan) with Gatsby seeing as how she was his long-lost love during the war. But the deeper Nick dives into the mind of Jay Gatsby, the more his madness begins to surface.
Director Baz Luhrmann, whose previous efforts include Moulin Rouge and Romeo + Juliet, certainly brings his special love-it-or-hate-it visual flair to this piece. Every element of this 1920's New York has a bold style from the fancifully grand estates to the gloomy outskirts of the city. While watching the film play out I couldn't help but think of the Wachowski Brother's Speed Racer adaptation for both its heavy use of special effects to enhance the scale of the scenery and the quick pace that keeps the plot constantly moving. There is never a dull moment in this film which is a fantastic feat given the 143 minute running time.
And, yet, it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea. The trade-in of the original novel's true heart for a more flashier spectacle will certainly peeve the literary lovers of the text. But you know what? There are at least five movie adaptations of the The Great Gatsby, including an adaptation by Francis Ford Coppola that almost recites parts of the book verbatim. The only downside was that it had a lackluster budget. Why not have a grand-scale version that makes better use of the visuals and atmosphere?
Baz Luhrmann takes no chances at making a safe film with fast-paced editing, gorgeous special effects to enhance the scenery and a soundtrack that mixes several styles including rap. That sentence alone has probably scared off a few viewers. But if you're willing to set aside the literary comparisons and view it more as a film, The Great Gatsby is a lot of fun. It may not be the definitive adaptation, but who said it had to be?
The Great Gatsby is pure visual eye-candy that is showcased exquisitely on Blu-ray. Just about every element pops off the screen from the bold colors to CGI-enhanced scenery. The 1080p transfer of the 2:40:1 aspect video is a real treat that bodes well for the best HDTVs. Do not be surprised if you spot this Blu-ray being used in television retailers as a showcase film.
The DTS-HD Master 5.1 audio is beyond words and redefines just how well an audio track can be mixed for Blu-ray. With just as much attention paid to the soundtrack as the visuals, this is a stellar mix. HDTV and home theater display merchants, please take notice.
Surprisingly, Warner Home Video has provided a slew of great extras (maybe the most they've had for a release in a long while).
The Greatness of Gatsby delves into an interview with director Baz Luhrmann where he explains just how he was inspired to pursue a film adaptation of the book. It doesn't sound as grand considering he listened to the audio book on the orient express, but it's certainly worth noting.
Within and Without features Tobey Maguire wandering around the set during production with a camera, filming the cast and crew with occasional interviews. This is probably the best extra on the set with its humorous editing and the interviews with the crew.
There are a collection of featurettes focusing on the production that include the music, the acting, the styles of the 1920's and the visual effects. The visual effects, in particular, are the most unique given how they staged some of the eye-popping shots with classic cars and detailed mansions.
There are a handful of deleted scenes with director introductions. One of these scenes happens to be an alternative ending in with Gatsby's father that, while wonderfully shot, was removed for taking away from the focus.
Finally, there is a trailer for the 1926 film adaptation of The Great Gatsby.
The Great Gatsby works much better as a stylish film than it does as a literary adaptation. For that reason, audiences are going to be directly split on the film. But those looking for a vibrant vision of the classic work will not be disappointed.