It is difficult, or at least from the perspective of Hollywood, to make a good book into a good film, but even harder to made a classic book into a classic film. Why? Why do they seem to get it wrong most of the time? Is it because we all have a strong opinions of how each character should be portrayed and which actor should play our favourite literary characters? Or is it some writer wants to put his own stamp on it and thinks that he can improve on the original author’s words?
The Great Gatsby, considered to be one of the greatest American novels. It has been made into a film five times, but the first one was a silent film and has long disappeared; the fifth and most recent came out this year. There is no way to tell how good or badly the first version was done, but i have heard that it was the most faithful to the text, although it was a silent film. i have seen the third and the most recent version, so i can only compare the two films.
The third version of The Great Gatsby was released in 1974 and starred Robert Redford as the title character and Mia Farrow as Daisy. i had never seen it until now and i must admit that i found it fell really short of my expectations. Most of the cast were miscast, especially Bruce Dern as Tom Buchanan, the husband of Daisy Buchanan the love interest of Gatsby. Mia Farrow is rather unknown to me, except for her work with Woody Allen. i found her interpretation of Daisy rather bland and undesirable, so i could not see how Gatsby would spend years pining for her.
And there is Robert Redford, the all-American male, playing Gatsby, but i thought he was too pretty to be the tortured lead. i am a fan of his films, but in this film i felt he did not have a strong grasp on the character, therefore he failed to make a connection with me.
Overall, the 1974 version feels dated, which should be a good thing since the story in set in the 1920’s, but unfortunately it feels like a 70’s film that did not stand the test of time. Also, it feels more like a theatrical production, with actor reciting lines and then waiting for the next cue, a bit soap opera-ish. The one strong point to the film, is the music, which sounds like 1920’s and helps draw the viewer into that era known as The Jazz Age.
The Jazz Age
The popular music of the 1920’s is an essential key to the time period of The Great Gatsby, as is any music to a time period. Unfortunately, the 2013 version of The Great Gatsby missed that element and almost completely threw it out the door. The sound of American popular music today is hip-hop, so for the sake of a younger audience and sales of The Great Gatsby Soundtrack on i-tunes, the director, Baz Luhrmann, hired popular hip-hop artist Jay-Z to executive-produce the score for the film. In my opinion, it was the stupidest decision made in recent film history. Hip-hop music does not convey excess of the rich, but certainly sits well with the lower class.
If you cannot get young people to watch a film unless it has hip-hop music in it, then you are doing something wrong and should find another job. i have heard some people say it was creative, but i think it was a complete sell-out. Of course, Jay-Z put his bland singing, booty shaking wife Beyonce on the soundtrack, as well as one of her songs sung by another artist. The music was very distracting for me. i felt like i was watching a hip-hop party that had a theme night and the theme was The Great Gatsby. If you want a hip-hop Gatsby, then watch G, from 2002, it was made for you.
As for the rest of the film, i thought the acting was great, even when the actors had little to work with, as in the case of Joel Edgerton in the role of Tom Buchanan. His character felt a little flat, but that had more to do with the writing. In fact, with the exception of Nick, Daisy and Gatsby, the characters felt a little one-dimensional. Perhaps, if Baz Luhrmann had cut a little of the hip-hop party scenes, he could have added some more dimension to the minor characters. Luckily, the hip-hop party scenes end about half way through the film.
As always, Leonardo DiCaprio stole the film. He has a unique gift; he can draw you into the character and make you feel like you know this character personally. He knows how to find things within the character to make him seem like a friend, whether a good friend or a bad one. Each time he said the words “old sport” i felt like he meant it and it made a connection through the screen and into me, but when Redford did it in 1974, it came off wooden and i did not root for Gatsby.
Tobey Maguire and Carey Mulligan were both equally fitting in their roles, although Maguire’s voice is a little whiny at times, so i did not want to hear him tell the story, but i would rather he just acted it. Mulligan was excellent as Daisy. She was believable as the rich girl who Gatsby longs for and does everything he possibly can to win her love.
In my opinion the 2013 version is superior to the 1974 version, but it could have been even better with the music of the period.
As Gatsby dies in the novel, so he dies on film, five times in all because all film writers and directors have killed The Great Gatsby that F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote in 1925, but hopefully in the next 10 years when Hollywood decides it is time for another remake, someone will realise the error of the directors before them and finally make a version to appease the literary purist.
The Great Gatsby (1974) 2/5
The Great Gatsby (2013) 3.5/5