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Words, Words, Words

A catalog of my comments and thoughts on books, reading, and writing as well as anything I come across that seems interesting. I used to sell other people's words at an independent bookstore but now I hope to get by on selling my own.

Can you turn the Volume Down? The loudness of Luhrmann's Gatsby

A new trailer for the Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby was released this week, and the theme seems to be Bigger, Louder, CGI....er? I should at least like this movie a little. To some extent, I should be pleased about it. I am a book guy, and Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors, shouldn't any movie that brings him back into the limelight and sells his books be a good thing? Plus, it has some great talent in the cast, DiCaprio, Carey Mulligan, Isla Fisher, Spiderman, so why does it infuriate me so?


There is only one issue here and it is the central issue of the whole adaptation, i.e. specticle over substance. It is a popcorn blockbuster, you could dub in a voice-over about an alien invasion and it would not seem out of place. Even when the music slows it seems to be all flash and excitement. There are explosions and Myrtle getting hit by the car in slow motion and loads of sweeping shots of computer New York and the inexplicably computer generated green light (really, you couldn't even film a real light?). Basically nothing you really cared about in Gatsby.


Look, I understand the difficulty in adapting someone like Fitzgerald whose biggest strength was his prose, and obviously you will never please everyone, but this just seems like such a shoehorn job. I get that people enjoy Baz Luhrmann movies, I just wish someone, anyone, at any point would have tried to find source material that was more suited to his style.


Gatsby never struck me as in your face, or heart racing, it, like its titular character is charming, slick, the kind of person who has you under his spell before you even realize to whom it is you are talking. When I remember the book, it is the movie producer and the star under the tree, description of the courtship of Daisy and Gatsby, his vulnerability outside the house of Tom and Daisy, and that wonderful last page. 


I defended a 3D Gatsby when I first heard the rumors. I believe in the possibilities of the form and appreciated the willingness to play right into the joke. Why not in 3D?  Movies like Avatar and Life of Pi showed how pleasing a serious 3D movie can be, how it can be used to create a more immersive experience without relying on cheesy sight gags, and I liked the idea of someone taking it to a less obvious setting, like West Egg. Unfortunately, what I'm seeing in the trailers is all spectacle; a high-flyin', ass-kickin' Gatsby ready to go head-to-head with the likes of Michael Bay's Transformers for the heaviest inbalance of budget over content. Put another way, instead of bringing new ideas of 3D to the world of Gatsby, we have a movie that brings Gatsby into the world of 3D. 


I like to think that we deserve better. It is a cinematic "loudness war", people pay for the flashier, louder, more spectacular films, so all nuance is flattened for the sake of making every movie as big and flashy as possible. As long as that is what we will pay for, that is what we will get.