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I don't think it's a stretch of terms to call any of Baz Luhrmann's most well known films--and I'm talking specifically about Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! here--excessive and kitschy, and though those films each have pieces of which I enjoyed I'm also not what you would call a fan of them either. They just aren't my cup of tea I suppose, and honestly I preferred the melodramatic Australia by several degrees, but they do have their fans and I understand why. When it was first announced that Luhrmann was going ahead with a production of F. Scott Fitzgerald's most famous work I thought it an interesting idea and one that could work if he could balance out his preference for extravagance with the characterizations and themes of the novel, but at the same time I didn't hold out much hope either.

Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby follows would-be writer Nick Carraway (Toby Maguire) as he leaves the Midwest and comes to New York City in the spring of 1922, an era of loosening morals, glittering jazz, bootleg kings, and sky-rocketing stocks. Chasing his own American Dream, Nick lands next door to a mysterious, party-giving millionaire, Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), and across the bay from his cousin, Daisy (Carey Mulligan), and her philandering, blue-blooded husband, Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton). It is thus that Nick is drawn into the captivating world of the super rich, their illusions, loves and deceits. As Nick bears witness, within and without of the world he inhabits, he pens a tale of impossible love, incorruptible dreams and high-octane tragedy, and holds a mirror to our own modern times and struggles.

Great Gatsby, The
Like some of the director's previous work the picture uses a mix of current pop and R&B music to put a contemporary spin on the 1920s period, and like some of his earlier films the first hour or so of Gatsby is a sensory overloaded concoction that will either turn on or turn off viewers. I immediately got the feeling that what mainly attracted Luhrmann to the material was the chance to do some of the party scenes and wild flamboyance that the period setting might be ripe for and I nearly checked out, but right about the time my attention span started to wane from all the glitz the film dimmed the lights on the party. All of the sudden it and slowed down a bit, ditched most of the stilted acting and odd mannerisms and shenanigans of the first hour and replaced them with what are, for the most part, real performances and real characters, and Luhrmann is even given a chance to explore some of the central themes of excess, the longing to right regrets and the pursuit of the unattainable American Dream, among others. It's all a nice effort, but unfortunately it misses the mark by spending too much of an already lengthy 142-minutes on the broad and the flashy, concerning itself with the larger picture than with the smaller, more nuanced character interactions and themes of the novel that needed more time to grow within the given running time. I don't think the Robert Redford and Mia Farrow rendition of Gatsby is any better or worse than this one--it certainly has its own faults--but it hit the important notes better and with a lot more subtlety than the sledgehammer approach largely on display here.

It's been over 20-years since I've last read the novel and a couple of years removed from the last time I watched the 1974 adaptation, but "The Great Gatsby" is a story that once read remains with you for a long time. This adaptation still isn't perfect (given the nature of Fitzgerald's work I'm not sure that there will ever be one) and goes bigger for too long when it should be going smaller much earlier, but as an entertaining spectacle of modern, 21st century filmmaking meant to "ooo and ahh' the masses it sort of works. In the end, let's just say that something like this doesn't come along all that often and leave it there, though if you've read the novel you do have to admit that the irony of it all does warrant a chuckle.

Great Gatsby, The
Video
Warner Home Video's 1080p, AVC encoded video transfer of the film is fairly astounding, and one of the most lush and beautiful films to hit cinemas this year is preserved here on Blu-ray with a grand and near perfect presentation. At times Luhrmann's film feels too big to be contained on the small screen with a multitude of color looking to spill out over the edges, and the sharp, detailed picture is so good that at times the hyper realistic imagery almost feels to plasticy to be real, but maybe that's the intention. Black levels too are deep and dark, and the contrast is strong and maintained throughout. According to IMDB, the production was shot on Red Epic cameras, so there isn't any film grain to be found, the digital source is free of any artifacts or blemishes that sometimes pop up on film-based pictures and since it's a newly released theatrical presentation there aren't any of the anomalies that sometimes show up on older films. I only noticed a bit of noise during some of the night time scenes that betray the digital origins and any overblown saturation or contrast that you might notice is by design, but otherwise there isn't anything to worry about with transfer defects such as aliasing, edge enhancement, banding or macroblocking. Overall this is as near perfect a video presentation as movies get on Blu-ray and a definite showcase for your home theater.

Great Gatsby, The
Audio
Brash and bold is definitely the order of the day here, and for better or worse the one standout aspect in many of Baz Luhrmann's films is his use of modern music mixed with the traditional and a richly, layered sound design, which thankfully Warner's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track delivers on everything you could want out of in spades. Throughout all the partying and big city bustle every channel from the rear surrounds to the LFE get an extreme workout with this one in an aggressive mix featuring a wide dynamic soundscape that will envelope your viewing area. It did cause me to worry at first that maybe the dialogue would take a hit with all of the frenzied activity going on, but I do not recall ever having a difficult time understanding a bit of it. Overall, like the video transfer, this one's very well done and true showcase.

Great Gatsby, The
Extras
Warner has supplied the disc with a number of special features for its Blu-ray debut, totaling a little over 100-minutes of high definition supplements that cover everything from Baz Lurmann's inspiration for tackling the project through production. The first featurette, "The Greatness of Gatsby" (9 min.), finds Luhrmann detailing how he came about the idea for the project and how he got the ball rolling on finding the right cast and location scouting. Also included are brief bits from the principle cast including DiCaprio and Maguire on how they were given the time to workshop and rehearse the film together. It's an interesting if brief piece that could have been extended longer. Next up is "Within and Without with Tobey Maguire" (9 min.), which is essentially a behind the scenes look at the film from the perspective and lens of the film's co-star. I didn't get a lot of information out of it other than it seems like a lot of fun to be on the set of a major motion picture, but it's an enjoyable piece. In "The Swinging Sounds of Gatsby (13 min.)" Luhrmann gives a bit of justification for his use of the modern and contemporary '20s music (as if he needed to), and nearly all of the film's contributing artist--including executive producer Jay-Z--give their take on the film.

"The Jazz Age" (16 min.) has less to do with the making of the film and mainly focuses on the period of the film and F. Scott Fitzgerald with plenty of vintage footage from the era. That's followed up with "Razzle Dazzle: The Fashion of the '20s (17 min.)", a look at to the costuming of the picture with production designer Catherine Martin, which is a nice piece, but I wish that the disc also included a companion piece that focused on the amazing sets and digital backdrops constructed for the picture. "Gatsby Revealed" is actually five separate featurettes that I will refrain from going into detail on so as not to spoil anything (Gatsby Party, Disconcerting Ride, Daisy and Gatsby Meet, The Plaza and Pool Scene), with each focusing on a key set piece from the film and how these scenes were interpreted from the novel and accomplished.

The disc is rounded out with a few deleted scenes with lengthy introductions by Luhrmann (14 min.), the theatrical trailer for the very first adaptation of the novel from 1926 (why does it seem so hard for most new releases to include the feature film's own theatrical trailer anymore?), and a standard definition copy of the film on DVD with an UltraViolet digital copy code insert. Overall this was just the right amount of extras that I would have wanted for this particular film, though a commentary track would have been welcome given what I've heard of Luhrmann on the tracks featured on the Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! releases.

Great Gatsby, The
Overall
Like one of the themes of its source, The Great Gatsby struggles with excess, but it comes back down to earth just in time to save the picture from becoming nothing more than flash without any substance. Some might still see it that way, but I was appreciative of the effort even if it didn't quite get there in the end. Warner Home Video's Blu-ray presentation of the film features outstanding video and audio and a nice selection of extras that feels just about right. Overall fans of Luhrmann's previous films Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge! will probably greatly enjoy The Great Gatbsy, and if, like me, you aren't a particular fan of those pictures I'd still recommend you give it a go for the imagery on display and performances alone.

* - The images above are not representative of the high definition quality of the video transfer on the Blu-ray disc.


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