The Great Gatsby
Book by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Film by Baz Luhrmann
Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Tobey McGuire, Carey Mulligan, & Joel Edgerton
English was (almost) always my favorite subject when I was in high school. I truly loved the fact that every other week I was specifically told to transport myself into, to get fully enveloped by, to really experience, a world outside of my own.See, my high school world was that of a kind of geeky, too skinny, band geek, know it all. Nobody paid attention to me, and I had very few, but loyal, friends. English class, and ultimately the reading assignments, was the time that I got to escape that world and experience someone cool, or suave, or in the case of The Great Gatsby – powerful.
I read The Great Gatsby in my freshman year of high school. At the time, I didn’t quite understand what the fuss was about. I had heard that the book was amazing, that it withstood the test of time – much like a book that I had despised, The Catcher in the Rye. I was tentative about reading it, not wanting to be let down yet again, but I trudged on (what else is a good Ravenclaw to do?). Approximately twenty minutes into the book, I was hooked. I read it in one sitting.
When I found out that they were finally adapting one of my favorite books of all time into a movie – I will admit, I was really excited. Then I found out that Leonardo, then Tobey, then Carey, was to be in the film, and my heart skipped a beat. 2 1/2 of my favorite actors ever (Tobey is the half). Then it got delayed. Several times, if I recall. But finally, finally, a trailer came out. I excitedly sat down to watch it, lights turned off and volume turned up. I watched it probably six or seven times before I finally allowed myself to sit back and think on it. Jay-Z? Florence Welch? Prada? Where was the period jazz? Why was it in technicolor? What was going on here? Amongst all my confusion with the modern aspect of the trailer – this is a Baz Luhrmann film after all – I was still excited to see the feature length version. When they day finally came that I went to see the movie, I actually went alone. I wanted to experience the movie as I had experienced the novel, with fresh, wide open eyes that were ready to be proved wrong. And boy, was I.
Since this is a review on the Blu-Ray I won’t spend another three paragraphs talking about how much I loved the film. I will try to sum it up in a few amazing, special words. Okay, sentences. I walked out of the theater that night feeling a whole gamut of emotions. For the most part, they had done an excellent job adapting the book. Sure, there were changes, I am sure that there had to be to make the film work. I was okay with changes. Surprisingly, the music, wardrobe, and technicolor feel of the film that felt off putting in the trailer ended up being some of my favorite bits about the film! The acting was superb – Leo really was (and is) better than ever – the sets were amazing, the cinematography, the art direction, etc., etc., etc. In short, I couldn’t wait to own this film.
The Blu-Ray landed in my hands a few days ago and I wasted no time ripping it open. I knew that there was a lot of special features to be seen – plus, of course, the film itself – and I didn’t want to wait. I popped the Blu-Ray into my PS3 and got to it. Since I had already seen the film I allowed my eyes and thoughts to wander while I watched. This time around, the sharp, rich jeweled tones of the digital capture (can’t really say film anymore, sadly) really seemed to pop. The yellows were more vibrant, the blues more emerald. It was truly lovely. I cranked my surround sound and actually stood up, finding that I had the urge to groove with the party-goers, wishing that I too were at Gatsby’s mansion. I watched in sadness as everything fell apart, and smiled at the cleverly crafted use of Fitzgerald’s final line. The movie was still (almost) perfection. But would the special features I had heard so much about live up to it?
In one word: yes.
It has been said that there is well over two hours of special features included with the feature film – but to me, it felt like four hours. Mostly because I couldn’t watch them just once! So many home videos these days skimp on the special features, but finally, this packaging delivered. Besides three deleted scenes (including an AMAZING alternate ending, which I simply will not spoil for you), each with commentary from Baz himself, there are EIGHT other featurettes. I will give a quick summary of all of them, but since you probably want to finish this article in the next hour, I will focus on my two favorites: “The Swinging Sound of Gatsby” and “Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the 20’s”
“The Greatness of Gatsby” is mostly about the journey from book to film. Baz speaks about how he decided to finally adapt the novel (after secretly owning the rights for many years), where they found the perfect pool for the penultimate scene, and the process it took to get the characters just right.
“‘Within and Without’ with Tobey McGuire” is a lovely, lovely montage of clips from the production of The Great Gatsby – mostly from McGuire’s point of view. There are hilarious bloopers, outtakes, and of course on set shenanigans. It’s a must watch.
“The Jazz Age” touches on what the 1920’s in New York was like. Did you know that F. Scott Fitzgerald coined the term “The Jazz Age?” I didn’t before watching this DVD.
“Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry” speaks to the inner dialogue of Fitzgerald’s work and the massive struggle to bring it to life on screen.
“Gatsby Revealed” gives us a look into the pre-production workshops that Baz so famously holds with his actors. It is all at once inspiring, funny, touching, moving, and almost life changing to watch the way they all work together to make the smallest of detail or moment come to life on screen.
“Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the 20’s” was the feature that I was most interested in seeing. I fancy myself a fashionista (even if my budget and current collection doesn’t reflect that) and consistently throughout the film I found myself drawn to the costumes, often pausing to look at a piece closer or more in detail. In this feature Costume Designer & Producer Catherine Martin speaks about the influences they used to create the custom pieces – from vintage Brooks Brothers designs for the men, to archival Prada patterns and authentic 1920’s Tiffany diamonds for the ladies. It has been a while since I have watched a film and wanted to take the clothes and put them right into my closet. Gatsby – and this feature – hits it out of the proverbial ballpark.
“The actor makes the character, the director makes the film, the script provides the story that everyone tells, and the clothes are there to provide an adjunct and support system to the characterization of the actor.” – Catherine Martin
“The Swinging Sound of Gatsby” ended up being my favorite feature. Considering I was most skeptical about the music/score/sound from first viewing the trailer, this surprised me. In the clips, Director Baz Luhrmann & Executive Music Director Anton Monsted speak about music as if it is a star in the film. It shows you the process of Baz directing the amazing Florence Welch as she scores the scenes with her voice, totally unscripted, using only feeling and not thinking about what it should or is supposed to be. The part that intrigued me the most was how they spoke about bringing 1920’s jazz and layering it with modern day hip hop, and how the two genres are essentially the same – just decades removed. I haven’t listened to a jazz record the same since.
“At the heart of it, Baz loves music, I love music, and that shared love of music and shared love of storytelling with great music is really the heart of why we do what we do.” – Anton Monsted
Listen, I rarely buy movies. I am sick of being disappointed and spending money on a package that has nothing fun or special to offer. The Great Gatsby Blu-Ray/DVD Combo Pack is not that package. It has hours and hours of amazing, unique special features that any movie fan would want to see. Not only that, but you get a digital copy of the film (UltraViolet, actually), which means that you can take the always fabulous Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby with you everywhere you go – and that’s never a bad thing.
Guest reviewer is Kat Miller, MuggleNet’s Publicity Manager & Alohomora! host