Baz Luhrmann director of Moulin Rouge has completed a new film version of The Great Gatsby, and in mid 2012 trailers for the film are available on the web. My comments here are inspired by the trailer and whether the yet unreleased film will live up to expectations,coming out just in time for next year's awards,of course.
This is the fifth film version of Scott Fitzgerald's novel, with the earliest version a silent film made in 1926 and the most recent version made in 2000. There has also been a stage production over the years. Several of the older film versions are difficult to find and view, with Jack Clayton's 1974 version with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow the most likely accessible.
The novel poses several problems for adaptation to film. It is a relatively short novel, but based around a string of anecdotes and impressions rather than a strong storyline,regarding flawed characters the narrator Nick Carraway,encounters during a sojourn in New York in the 1920s.Its opening sentence "In my younger and more vulnerable years,my father gave me some advice that I have been turning over ever since...” sets the reflective and descriptive tone, with Fitzgerald's beautiful prose engaging our attention. While its slim plot is not lacking characterisation and conflict, there are no significant dramatic actions or events until the climax and these qualities are what most cinema goers expect to see in any film. Unless the film maker can come up with a visual equivalent of Fitzgerald's words any dramatised version of the novel seems doomed to mediocrity.
The novel 's heart is with Carraway's friendship with the glamorous and rich but mysterious Jay Gatsby, his next door neighbour ,his reflections on who this enigmatic character really is, and whether Gatsby's infatuation with Nick's married cousin, Daisy Buchanan is truly reciprocated. Flashbacks offer strong hints about Gatsby's origins, and the climax of the novel is shattering for the reader with the careless actions of Daisy and her brutal husband Tom leading to Gatsby's destruction. The reader along with Nick is left to ponder about the significance of the Buchanans and of Gatsby himself,and whether he is indeed truly is as Nick states forcefully at one point, “better than the whole damn bunch of them."Capturing the reflective nature of the novel could be elusive to any film maker who relies on immediate impact to connect with his audience.
However, the novel does have two strong settings whose mise en scene a talented film maker can exploit visually. One is the setting of the Gatsby mansion, where Gatsby holds his lavish parties, and the other is the so called valley of ashes, Fitzgerald's depiction of suburban New York, where Myrtle Wilson the mistress of Tom Buchanan resides. In the film trailer, we get quite a lot of the former, with exploding fireworks at the party and hundreds of guests milling around. We barely get a glimpse of the later, with an almost subliminal glimpse of Gatsby's vehicle crawling around the neighbourhood, a wise decision on someone's part as this is potentially the most powerful imagery in the film, best left until the audience gets a chance to glimpse it in the context of the actual film.
The trailer for the film, resembles the opening minutes of Moulin Rouge,beginning with images of the New York skyline and landscape,and cliched scenes of partying and revelry 1920s style most predominant. We get mere glimpses of Leo Di Caprio as Gatsby, Tobey McGuire as Nick, Joel Edgerton as Tom, but their characters' identities could only be clearly apparent to those who have read the book. What we see of Di Caprio as Gatsby also suggests that he could be still be playing Hoover or Hughes from his earlier films. There is little idea of the story, because as suggested above there isn't much of one. A glimpse of Carey Mulligan's Daisy hints at some sort of romance, but little hint of the serious and tragic elements in Nick's narrative. At this stage there is a big question mark over the reason for Luhrmann's decision to film it in 3D, as this is not emphasised in the publicity. It will be interesting see it if he uses it effectively in a serious dramatic film, rather than in the context of fantasy as it has been used most often so far.
In my view, a mediocre trailer which suggests nothing about the novel's greatness or even Gatsby's greatness, and this might be ok, but I cannot see this causing anyone who was unacquainted with Luhrmann's previous work, or not already in love with Fitzgerald's novel or star Di Caprio,clamouring to go to see it. Any of the three listed reasons above might be good enough, but I would have thought getting enough general public eager to see such a film a necessity for this film turning a profit.
Fingers crossed that the finished film is stunning and better than this lacklustre trailer. Who needs another mediocre film version of a literary classic, which mediocre students of Literature can then use to avoid doing the real work of reading the much better original.