The OK-but-doesn’t-even-try-to-be-better-than-the-book Gatsby

ImageAfter his run as Spiderman, hasn’t everyone learned Tobey Maguire can’t really narrate?

As Nick Carroway in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, that’s basically all he does. Carroway chronicles his summer in New York with the titular Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Gatsby throws giant parties all the time, which would lead to a fun summer were it not for his obsession with Carroway’s married cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan).

Gatsby falls deeply into a common trap for adaptations in that it tries to celebrate its source material rather than recreate and adapt it. The resultant product always has the same problem — it doesn’t do a very good job of actually telling the story. Audiences who know the story will likely love it, but those who don’t will leave the arena scratching their heads.

The Great Gatsby actually presents a big headache for prospective adaptors. With less than 200 pages, the book says a great deal without much bulk. It’s what makes great writing, but the best writing often doesn’t translate to screenplays at all.

In this film, it’s obvious when Carroway’s lines are being stretched to include iconic quotes that were only narrated in the book, when dialogue that the book glossed over is being recreated word-for-word without being fleshed out and when important moments are being stretched out because Luhrmann wanted to add pop music over them.

The stretching is another big pitfall the film trips over. It pulls 143 minutes out of a 182-page book, which is kind of ridiculous even without the knowledge that the book is narration-heavy. This movie is long, and it feels long.

The movie isn’t without artistic merit. The soundtrack is melodic and haunting, and the set designs are wonderful. They both go a long way in creating an aesthetic that fits the story like a glove. Audiences who come just for Luhrmann’s reputation in these aspects won’t be disappointed.

But with a focus on these elements, the overall film suffers. There are multiple points in which the movie grinds to a complete halt while the audience is invited to simply admire the sets for a few minutes. When a movie literally tries to move its background into the foreground, something’s gone wrong.

Joshua Knopp is a formerly professional film critic, licensed massage therapist, journalism and film student at the University of North Texas and a staff writer for the NT Daily. He was previously unaware of the concept of “preemptive amputations,” but is pretty sure they have more to do with cowardice than courage . For questions, rebuttals and further guidance about cinema, you can reach him at reelentropy@gmail.com. At this point, I’d like to remind you that you shouldn’t actually go to movies and form your own opinions. That’s what I’m here for. Be sure to come back next week for a review of Star Trek Into Darkness.

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