Never impoverished for content and often anxious with first act pacing, Baz Luhrmann’s visually arresting Great Gatsby is a speed demon of embellished character. Brandishing narrative framework of a whittling Nick Carraway (Tobey MaMaguire) writing a novelization under guidance from psychiatric doctors, Gatsby’s superfluous lavishness and openly acknowledged anachronisms provide refreshed insight into this story of shallow American dreams.
Gatsby himself is delivered to audiences on a triumphant throne, occupying magnificent luxury and jazzy, questionably ethical late night parties. Carraway becomes magnetized to exposition surrounding the build-up of this reclusive specter, saturating himself with mysticism and awe regarding Gatsby’s financial origins.
Gatsby’s enigma is, of course, a front. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel is harnessed thinly as source material, cropped into a film capped at 130 minutes, stringy events excised to patch screen time together with romantic flare-ups. Infatuated with now married Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio) brushes with reckless, testosterone driven conflict in a quest to restore previous romance. Carraway is an impassioned observer who becomes a relied upon confidant.
Unmistakably signed with Baz Luhrmann’s penchant for overdosing on visual charades, Great Gatsby swirls curtains, inundates itself with green screens, splurges on choreography, and hacks together exhaustive edits to produce a loud, boisterous extravaganza of excess. Here, with debatable execution, it suits the wastefulness and overbearing glamor Gatsby is reaching for.
Great Gatsby thus becomes about contrast, from vividly loud wide angle fireworks to dour moodiness as pacing gradually settles. Animosity becomes a fuel for aggression, and with exceptions made for brutish racing sequences, Gatsby is unusually controlled visually as characters cement themselves. Flamboyance holds itself to determined Oscar-worthy costuming and production design, connecting to earlier pizazz in a calmer manner.
This is unquestionably a 2013 production, not only for its reliance on sopping screens with computer generated effects, but also for music selections which infuse pre-depression jazz with modern lyrical hip hop. Sonically and visually, Luhrmann’s unbalanced – some would say pretentious – application of distinctly modern methods wash over Fitzgerald’s encompassing fiction to nearly overtake this classic’s methodical character construction.
However, said source material remains a strikingly relevant peer into the emptiness of wealth, and it is easy to point at Luhrmann’s bloated production zest as symbolically over reaching. Graced with softened, sensual cinematography and depicted allure of brash capitalism, Great Gatsby wears Lurhmann’s dizzying composition proudly. Rushed to strike at the novel’s spirit and spaced to invite perceptibly foolish waste, Warner’s Gatsby interpretation may latch onto Fitzgerald’s thematic center better than any other, if not his characters.
Given a stunning, glamorous digital gloss, Great Gatsby is paraded around on Blu-ray for its (mostly) demonstration worthy depth and fidelity. Shining with sequined dresses, amazing with hearty color saturation, and astounding further with flawlessly rich black levels, all around clarity suits this absurdly gorgeous production.
Luhrmann’s 2.35:1 frame is overloaded with 1080p spectacle, enriched with fierce close-ups oozing pure, unfiltered definition and – despite dreamlike softening – dazzling scenery, few shots finding themselves marred. Warner’s AVC encode tackles complexity with a handful of challenging shots, including a confetti toss where even bitrates pokey enough to handle everything else still abandon perfection.
Source photography will beckon inconsistency, from noise ravaged, digitally manipulated faces and extensive green screen fixes. It’s conducive to anything Luhrmann touches. Street races segue into sprawling New York vistas, their digital heart unable to be conquered whether surface level or in the air. Shots meant for heavy 3D also waver in an effort to splurge on exaggeration. Stock footage introductions (colorized even!) are understandably primitive, and replication of vintage optical effects are equally dulled.
Minor qualms range from aliasing visible during the opening title cards and general wavering definition even as images repeat between sections of the film. In spite of those irritating quirks brought from expressive filmmaking and undoubtedly bumps in Blu-ray compression, Gatsby is alluring with broad sights. Slight fog and haze appreciate vintage pizazz, while blissful modern touches propel naturally sharp techniques deep into the frame.
Bold orchestration, in particular horns, are snatched by this vivid DTS-HD track bursting with clarity. Hip hop and dubstep rattle the .1 as party atmosphere smothers itself across the five channel spectrum. Vocalizations are fluid whether modern or aged. A fireworks display is spectacular as the first act closes.
While engines are gifted with the opportunity to pan across speakers, it feels unusually underutilized. As Gatsby runs through New York streets at 36-minutes, passing engine sounds are held to the center with only mild shifting into stereos. Surrounds pick up a minimal echo to bleed atmosphere, and are otherwise left dry.
Oddly, a climactic street racing action sequence broadens audio scope in a vastly more effective use of each channel. Engines roar to challenge loudness levels of any Fast & the Furious car fest, while exhibiting fluidity between speakers. Gatsby has moments, if only a few.
Luhrmann is everywhere in a substantial, albeit content thin bonus features department. Greatness of Gatsby follows Luhrmann’s almost accidental run-in inspiration for the film through to his pitch. Within and Without is a personal diary of on-set happenings from Maguire. The Swinging Sounds of Great Gatsby detail musical selections and the reasoning behind modern choices.
The Jazz Age brings Fitzgerald’s view of New York and the bustling ’20s. Fitzgerald’s Visual Poetry focuses on how best to deliver perspective to an internal novel in visual form. Gatsby Revealed is a five part making-of, the longest piece at 30 minutes, squaring up specific scenes while discussing their challenges. Four deleted scenes, including an extension to the ending, are brief in and of themselves. Luhrmann’s reasoning for their deletions are superb. Finally, Warner includes a rough trailer for a silent 1926 production of the novel.
In total, everything pushes to around 90-minutes and proves satisfying even if depth feels squandered. A commentary could potentially have been a pleasant topper.
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