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The Great Gatsby (2013)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/27/2013
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/26/2013, Updated 10/7/2016
All of my life I've been an avid reader, but I've often shied away from classic literature. First of all, (due to my problems with authority figures) I ask, who are you to call something classic. Secondly, in my experience, these works are far more interested in flowery language than a good story. Still, this shouldn't imply that I'm not curious about some of these books, so I'm not ashamed to take the low road and check out movie adaptations of them. If you're lucky, you can find a film which can take that book, suss out the story, and replace the purple prose with impressive visuals. Can Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby be such a film?
Set in 1926, The Great Gatsby opens with bright-eyed and eager Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) arriving in New York City hoping to make a splash on Wall Street. He finds a modest cottage on Long Island, which is situated next to a castle-like mansion, where wild parties are thrown every weekend. Nick's cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan) lives in the area, and he calls upon her and her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton), at their large home. There, he meets Jordan Baker (Elizabeth Debicki), a woman he finds intriguing. Nick is then invited to the party next door, where he meets the host, J. Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). Despite having heard the wild rumors about who Gatsby is and how he made his fortune, Nick finds him to be a welcoming and fascinating person. Gatsby soon confides in Nick that he had a relationship with Daisy before she married and that he'd like to see her again. Nick arranges a meeting and there is definitely a spark between Daisy and Gatsby. Thus begins a road to ruin as Nick begins to see the cracks in the morals of everyone around him and he soon learns that wealth cannot buy happiness.
I have not read The Great Gatsby, but it's my understanding that some of the language is somewhat inscrutable. Assuming that this film adaptation sticks to the story from the novel, that's a shame, as the primary plot offers an interesting character study and a prime example of what it's like to be an observer. At it's core, the basic premise of The Great Gatsby isn't all that complex. Nick, an outsider, enters the world of the rich and fabulous and soon learns that despite their outside appearances, they aren't very happy. Tom cheats on Daisy. Jordan has received accolades as an athlete, but she is bored. Although he is constantly surrounded by people, Gatsby is lonely as he longs for Daisy. In fact, a simple tea with Daisy makes him happier than all of his parties. When these stories begin to cross paths, emotions flare and we see how passion can drive people to their limits. But, with all of this happening around him, Nick reluctantly keeps his distance -- as he describes it, he is within, but also without. The story acts as a portrait of what life was like for both the haves and have nots in the 1920s, but it's easy to see how this tale has influenced many other novels, movies, and TV shows where an average Joe suddenly finds himself rubbing shoulders with the rich and attempting to understand their world.
As noted earlier, The Great Gatsby is from Director Baz Luhrmann, the man behind such films as Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge. From the outset, Luhrmann wants to make sure that we remember who he is and for what he's famous, as the movie opens with one bombastic scene after another, offering loud music (which is modern, instead of being from the 20s), brash colors, and dizzying camera angles. It's all almost overwhelming. But, then, something amazing happens. Luhrmann reels all of this in and allows simple camerawork and clever editing to tell the story. For example, when Gatsby and Daisy finally meet, the tension is communicated through the camera pushing in and shots which grow shorter in length. This is much more effective than a camera on a trapeze. The film's production design is also impressive, as the lavish sets and ever-changing costumes help to convey the regal feel to the film's characters.
Luhrmann is one of those directors who is truly hit or miss (have you seenAustralia?), but he has done a great job with The Great Gatsby. The film has a fantastic look and story has just enough of a human edge to draw us into the extravagance. Some of the details about the characters get a big murky, but in Luhrmann's defense, these may not have been spelled out clearly in the novel. The only real issue with the movie is DiCaprio. I've never been impressed with his acting and he does nothing to change that here, as his accent is all over the place. He makes the dialogue sound wooden and his rendition of Gatsby's catch-phrase -- "Old Sport" -- becomes grating. Still, his presence can't ruin what is truly a cinematic experience.
The Great Gatsby shows that it's hard to be inconspicuous in a yellow sports car on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source material. The colors look fantastic, as Luhrmann has given the film a Technicolor appearance, and the image is never overly dark or bright. The depth of the picture, even in this 2D version, is impressive and the level of detail is very good. The only drawback here is that the clarity of the image makes some of the visual effects look questionable. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 2.4 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While the relatively low bitrate draws some concern, the track delivers powerful stereo, surround, and subwoofer effects. The music really delivers with the bass effects and the party scenes had the walls shaking. These same scenes also deliver some impressive rear channel effects, as individual sounds can be identified at times. The stereo effects show good separation.
The Great Gatsby Blu-ray Disc contains an assortment of extras. "The Greatness of Gatsby" (9 minutes) is a making-of featurette which is dominated by an interview with Co-Writer/Director Baz Luhrmann who discusses how he decided to adapt the novel and talks about location scouting. The piece then looks at the casting, specifically DiCaprio and Maguire. "Within and Without with Tobey Maguire" (9 minutes) offers some on-set video and tours created by the actor. (Although, sometimes we see Maguire shooting video which seems to defeat the purpose.) "The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby" (12 minutes) examines the eclectic soundtrack of modern music which was used in the film. It features interviews with the composers and shows the performers at work in the studio. "The Jazz Age" (16 minutes) looks at both New York in the 20s and the life of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and how excess defined the era. Costume Designer Catherine Marting talks about the look of the film in "Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the '20s" (16 minutes). We hear about the research which was done and how each character has a specific look. In "Fitzgerald's Visual Poetry" (7 minutes), Luhrmann describes the challenge of translating the book into images. "Gatsby Revealed" (30 minutes) is a five-part making-of series which looks at some of the key elements and most important scenes of the film. The Disc contains three DELETED SCENES which run about 14 minutes, including an introduction by Luhrmann, who also walks us through each scene. The final extra is the TRAILER to the 1926 version of The Great Gatsby.
On October 4, 2016 Warner Home Video released The Great Gatsby on 4K UHD Disc. The film has been letterboxed at 2.4:1 and the Disc carries an AVC 2160p HD transfer. The image is decidedly sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The thing which really jumps out here are the colors. Gatsby's roadster is impossibly yellow. The symbolic green light is a deep green. Nick's renovated yard is resplendent. These colors nearly leap off of the screen. The crispness of the picture lends it a nice amount of depth, even in this 2D version. The level of detail works very well and the image is never soft. Luhrmann's fast-paced photography only results in minimal blurring here. Overall, this looks very, very good. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which is presumably the same or at least similar to the one found on the Blu-ray Disc. Whether or not this is the case, the track provide clear dialogue and sound effects. It also brings us some very impressive and strong sounds. The bass-heavy soundtrack sounds very good here, and we are surrounded by this music. The party scenes show off detailed surround sound and stereo effects, placing us in the middle of the action. We are able to pick out some individual sounds here.
There are no extra features on the 4K UHD Disc, but this set also includes a Blu-ray Disc which contains all of the extras from the original release.
Review by Mike Long. Copyright 2013/2016.