Wednesday, June 5, 2013 | By LMcCauley | No Comments
Whenever I see an adaptation of a good book, I walk into the theater or sit down in front of the television and tell myself that I must be prepared to handle the changes made to the story, however unreasonable they may seem to me. After all, books, comics, movies, television shows, and video games all present good methods for telling a story, but what works in one medium may not work so well in the other.
For example, most books require descriptions of locations, people, and the thoughts in the characters’ heads. The other mediums that I mentioned are visual- they don’t need to include a description of what Jay Gatsby looks like or how Nancy Drew is feeling because we should be able to see these things through an actor’s performance. Length is often a problem too- the stories in books can go on as long as the author wants; the stories in television shows and video games need to be long to fill out a certain number of episodes or levels, and movies have to be much more concise to meet a reasonable running time.
But sometimes I just can’t help feeling upset when I see what I believe are unnecessary changes to a good story. You would never know that Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a critically successful film if you listened to me rant about it. Percy Jackson and the Olympians comes to mind too, and I have yet to see a faithful Dracula adaptation that respected Bram Stoker’s original novel.
Baz Luhrman’s The Great Gatsby presented a whole different kind of experience for me. It has about five direct changes from the book that I can think of off the top of my head, and only one of them is important. It even has the narrator, Nick Carraway, writing about his experiences as he flashes back to his summer at West Egg, and some of the novel’s text is actually shown floating across the screen as the movie transitions from one scene to the next.
It has to be one of the most faithful adaptations of a book that I have ever seen.
Whether or not that makes it a good movie on its own turned out to be a whole other question.
On the positive side, the cast of this movie is perfect. Leonardo DiCaprio is- for lack of a better description- a great Gatsby. Seeing him specifically play the character even sharpened the tragedy of the story for me, because Jay Gatsby deludes himself into believing that he is his own Jack Dawson, coming to rescue the rich girl that he loves from her evil rich suitor. But Daisy isn’t as strong as Rose and a part of her does love her husband, Tom. I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between DiCaprio and Carey Mulligan, but I think that’s the point of their relationship. They’re more in love with the ideas they have about each other than the actual person.
Visually, this movie is a lot more intense than some of the other Great Gatsbys that I’ve seen. It is big, grand, and fast-paced. But I still felt like the movie was missing something. I took a long time writing this review, trying to figure out what it was, and I still can’t figure it out.
Maybe the movie was a little too faithful to the book, strange as that sounds. Having Nick narrate the story and showing him writing down the text from the novel was a really neat idea. But occasionally there are moments when he describes something- how he felt about someone or what that character was thinking- a technique that does not belong in a movie. We can see the characters on the screen, so we should be allowed to figure out for ourselves what’s going on inside Daisy’s head or Nick’s changing opinions of people throughout the movie. We don’t need him to tell us.
I wish I knew why I didn’t enjoy this movie as much as I enjoyed the book. It followed the story, everyone played their roles well, it was beautiful to look at, but it was definitely lacking something. You can decide for yourself if you’d like to check it out at your nearest theater. But I recommend reading the book first!