Article / Review

The Mediocre Gatsby: From Classic to Silver Screen

“Reserving judgements is a matter of infinite hope.”
– F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925)

article by Kathy Halliday (Founder & Prose Editor)

Since its release, DiCaprio and Fitzgerald lovers alike have descended on cinemas to immerse themselves in the glamour of the roaring twenties. Yet there’s been a great deal of animosity surrounding the release of Baz Luhrmann’s adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925). The film has been nervously anticipated by devout fans of the novel, all asking the same monumental question: has Fitzgerald’s classic been done justice, or manufactured into more mainstream trash?

Having not yet read the novel myself, I believe this puts me in a relatively unbiased position to talk about The Great Gatsby as a stand-alone film, rather than a product of Fitzgerald’s novel. This is not to say that I am unfamiliar to the anxieties which surround its adaptation for the screen. The way in which we, the readers, envision the beloved characters and worlds in which our favourite novels take place, always seem so far removed from what is envisioned by directors. On numerous occasions, I have been disheartened to see new editions of my favourite novels, embellished with the words ‘soon to be a major motion picture’. It’s rare to find an adaptation to be entirely happy with, though not unheard of. Arguably, the best example of a successful adaptation would be Peter Jackson’s interpretation of J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy (1954). The best thing about the LOTR’s trilogy is how it has come to be loved and respected as a separate collection of films. There will always be those to find error, or to debate missing portions of the novels from the films, but if it is simply appreciated as a collection of films, it is breathtakingly epic.

So perhaps the best way to approach The Great Gatsby as a film is to implore you to consider it as exactly that – a film. Luhrmann’s adaptation is perhaps reminiscent of Romeo + Juliet in style, though on a much grander scale. Luhrmann knows how to shoot a good party scene, to which The Great Gatsby is no exception; so outstanding and exciting are Gatsby’s parties that you start to mourn and reminisce about a generation you were never actually part of. The 20’s are depicted as the jazz age of glitz and glamour, which the film does well to romanticise. The casting of Leonardo DiCaprio is perhaps predictable, but nevertheless seems a good choice for the role of charismatic Jay Gatsby. Alongside Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, the two create a wonderful on screen companionship, which is on one hand hilarious, yet also beautifully tragic as all good bromances should be. Despite The Great Gatsby’s acclaimed cast, possibly the most surprising performance was given by newcomer Elizabeth Debicki as Jordan Baker. She oozes class and extravagance, helping to bring the 20’s influence full circle.

The only potentially problematic aspect of the film is Luhrmann’s questionable choice of music. In my opinion, Luhrmann’s choice to include contemporary, popular music makes the film seem more current, appealing to a younger generation of future Fitzgerald lovers. The soundtrack comprises of an eclectic mix of jazz and hip hop, which includes some stunning orchestral pieces from Florence + the Machine, Sia and Lana Del Rey, whose ‘Young and Beautiful’ track is not only perfect for the screen, but beautiful and absolutely heart-breaking. Yet despite these gorgeous, enigmatic tracks, my favourite track from the film is a fun cover by Emeli Sandé’ ft. The Bryan Ferry Orchestra of Beyoncé’s ‘Crazy in Love’ which is a truly fantastic piece of music.

So in my opinion, the film in its entirety is visually striking, fun and a good watch if not taken too seriously. Once the film is compared to the novel, dangerous territory is entered. It gets too complicated and becomes a disappointment to those who love the classic, the film to them becoming, at best, mediocre. Though as aforementioned, I am yet to read the novel (which, evidently, is currently plastered all over Waterstones with other 20’s inspired literature), to an extent, I would agree. It’s not the best film I’ve ever seen, and nothing can compare to the raw excellence of a classic novel, but I enjoyed watching it all the same, laughing and crying in all the right places, and left marvelling at a sparkly era I only wish I could have experienced myself.

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