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"The Great Gatsby" may well be the most artificial-looking film I've ever seen, even in this condensed two minute form.
That's not a criticism, necessarily, because it looks like that's exactly what Baz Luhrmann intended. They've had a difficult post-production process on this one, but part of that has been creating this incredibly stylized world that Luhrmann has chosen as the setting for his take on F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous book. Luhrmann has never been the sort of guy to shy away from a heightened reality. That's why I loved his take on "Romeo + Juliet" and "Moulin Rouge." Those movies are patently fake, impressionistic from start to finish, and it looks like he's doing that again, but on a much larger scale than ever before.
The real challenge of "Gatsby" is that the book is all about inner landscapes and the feel of a time and place, and previous film versions that have focused just on the story have felt empty because they haven't found a way to create a visual language that manages to somehow suggest the gorgeous, emotional prose that is so much a part of the appeal of Fitzgerald's novel.
Using 3D to immerse the viewer in a Jazz Age that never was, a cranked up and decadent world of excess, is a smart way for Luhrmann to try something genuinely new in bringing "Gatsby" to life. Leonardo Di Caprio is pretty much the only guy his age who has the right iconic weight to play the part, and it looks like the supporting cast is equally well-chosen. Tobey Maguire is going to serve as the eyes and ears of the audience, and Carey Mulligan has the same sort of steely fragility that Fitzgerald's wife Zelda was said to embody, the same qualities that he wrote about in his creation of Daisy. And the rest of the cast, including Joel Edgerton and Isla Fisher, look perfect for the parts they're playing.
I certainly think it's possible for Luhrmann's style to overwhelm his subject, and this looks like a gamble to me. Warner Bros. has got to treat this like an event film now, and while I'm very excited to see it, I'm curious if a young audience can be convinced that something they have to read in 11th grade English is also something they have to see on the big screen. They make it look sexy and dangerous and wild in the trailer, and that alone may keep it from looking like homework.
Check it out:
That's a heck of a trailer, and if nothing else, they've got some beautiful imagery to use to sell it. Will it work as a film?
We'll find out when "The Great Gatsby" cuts loose in theaters May 10, 2013.