The 1974 version was fraught with offscreen drama: after screenwriter Truman Capote was fired for tampering with characters, Francis Coppola turned in a final script; Ali MacGraw was set to play Daisy, with her husband Robert Evans producing, but she left Evans for Steve McQueen, and was replaced by Mia Farrow. The movie flopped at the box office. Robert Redford, as Gatsby, boasted a winning smile, but at 38 (Gatsby is 32) looked too old for the part, and there was no chemistry between him and Farrow. The script stayed mostly faithful to the book, and the production is quite handsome. But the film ran on too long, and too many parts were miscast — notably Bruce Dern as Tom and Sam Waterston as Nick — with only a tawdry Karen Black shining as Myrtle.
Veteran made-for-TV movie director Robert Markowitz tackled the version televised in 2000, with results that might have pleased fans of low-budget Hallmark movies, but certainly not lovers of the book. Everything is over-amplified, from behind-doors arguments between characters to the smirky smile on Gatsby (Toby Stephens) to the annoying preponderance of flashbacks (in one case a flashback within a flashback) that tell everyone’s back stories. Mira Sorvino gets top billing as a fussy, idiotic Daisy, and Paul Rudd comes close to falling asleep onscreen a couple of times in a flat performance as the confused or maybe just bored Nick. The script somehow forgets to mention that Nick is Gatsby’s neighbor, and its writer has the gall to invent the idea that Daisy was the impetus to have James Gatz change his name to Jay Gatsby.
There are no doubt two camps of people waiting for the new Baz Luhrmann version — those with bated breath and those with clenched teeth. Here’s what can be reported: The director of cinematic spectacles including “Romeo + Juliet” and “Moulin Rouge!” stays quite faithful to Fitzgerald, opening and closing the film with the same lines used to open and close the book. The film, like the novel, is profoundly sad: People don’t achieve their dreams, or they end up dead, or they continue being part of a “rotten crowd,” or they tuck their tail between their legs and go home. But it’s been Baz-ified, Luhrmann-ized. It’s big and loud and glitzy and, yes, there’s a quick taste of hip-hop on the soundtrack. And DiCaprio, at 38, the same age as Redford when he made it, looks younger than his age. But only time and ticket sales will tell if he and Luhrmann have made the greatest Gatsby.
Ed Symkus can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.