Tobey Maguire and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Great Gatsby' (Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures)
When Baz Luhrmann announced that he would helm "The Great Gatsby," with Leonardo DiCaprio playing the title character, it was a buckle-your-seat-belt moment in movie history. Could the Australian director of "Moulin Rouge" finally pull off the literary adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald's classic about the American dream, a vision that has eluded so many before him?
Well, after much delay, fanfare, and cross-promotion, it appears that Luhrmann's $104.5 million 3-D adaptation is in serious trouble. Here are the 10 reasons why we think "The Great Gatsby" may be the summer's first great disappointment.
Summer Movie Death Slot: "The Great Gatsby," opens this Friday in the backwash of the Marvel mega-hit "Iron Man 3," which dominated the summer season's opening weekend. The second-weekend spot can be a box office deathtrap for big-budget movies -- think "Speed Racer" and "Battlefield Earth." To quote Forbes.com contributor Scott Mendelson, "If history is any indication, 'The Great Gatsby' will bomb rather hard next weekend."
Pushed Out of Oscar Season: When a studio like Warner Brothers bumps a movie to May from the high profile awards season, it can be a red flag. Last fall, Warner Bros. already had a Best Picture contender in "Argo," and Leo turned out to have a pony in the race with "Django Unchained." Was the literary adaptation not ready for prime Oscar season -- or was it never going to be ready for the big-money nominations? The latter.
Director Baz Luhrmann is Hit or Miss: His last film, "Australia," with Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman in 2009, was endless and unwatchable. His breakout debut, "Strictly Ballroom" (1993), was small-scale and charming. He first teamed with Leo in the swoony "Romeo + Juliet" in 1996. Meanwhile, the movie that "The Great Gatsby" most resembles in scale and mix of period action and contemporary songs, "Moulin Rouge," continues to divide audiences between ardent fans (myself included) and fierce critics.
Leo goes better with Martin Scorsese: Or even Christopher Nolan. Leo and Luhrmann teamed up for "Romeo + Juliet" way back in 1996 when DiCaprio was dewier. Here, Leo seems less mysterious than lovesick, even insubstantial. And what's with his accent? DiCaprio continually drops the "T" in Gatsby's trademark expression, "Old Sport," so it sounds like he's calling Tobey Maguire's Nick Carraway "Old Spore" (defined in biology as an asexual reproductive unit).
Tobey Maguire Lacks Spidey Senses: While Leo and Tobey may be drinking buddies in real life, their scenes together don't reflect that connection. They're acting their way out of separate paper bags. Maguire's greatest role remains the comic-book hero Spider-Man. His dramatic acting bag of tricks seems limited to raised eyebrows, awkward smiles, bemusement, and bruised puppy-dog looks.
Quick: Pass the Ritalin: The Roaring Twenties have never seemed so loud. The party scenes are so hyper, and so much hops in each frame, that it's impossible to focus on what does succeed: the gorgeous costumes and the décor.
3D Fumbles the Intimate Story: Put on those goofy glasses and, instantly, you're distracted by FX -- isn't that green light on a distant dock glorious? It's faraway. It's close up. It's faraway. It's close up. When Gatsby's yellow roadster swerves and speeds toward its final tragic collision, it's cartoony like something out of "Who Framed Roger Rabbit?" "Gatsby" skips the emotional connection with the mysterious, yet ultimately three-dimensional, Jay Gatsby. When 3-D visuals dwarf 3-D characterization, it's a pointless exercise.
Brutal Early Reviews: Early critiques have settled on "Gatsby" like turkey buzzards. "...like the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade as staged by Liberace" wrote Scott Foundas in Variety. Maureen Dowd of the New York Times spent a column skewering the film's central hypocrisy: "The book criticized material excess. The moviemakers, not so much." Gatsby bashing at the Grey Lady is nothing new: Critic Vincent Canby called the 1974 adaptation with Robert Redford and Mia Farrow "as lifeless as a body that's been too long at the bottom of a swimming pool."
Jay-Z channels Jay Gatsby: Unlike the show-stopping "Lady Marmalade" number in "Moulin Rouge," the score produced by Jay-Z seems to embrace the glossy surface of this rags-to-riches story. The frenetic music skips over the soullessness beneath -- and the inevitable tragedy. It's as if the artistic answer to the failed American dream is: Throw money at it, see what sticks.
Show, then tell, then tell again: Yale alum Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) narrates the book -- and the movie, too. So there are scenes where Carraway narrates in voice over, then his character tells Gatsby the same idea in dialogue, and then letters from the text string together and launch across the screen and out into the audience. The looping repetition makes the movie feel like two hours in a language lab -- not what we necessarily want during summer blockbuster season.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall. The summer of 2013 is crowded with product, and what goes up will also come down: According to Deadline.com, Wall Street analyst Douglas Creutz estimates at least eight significant box office failures that won't recoup their budgets. "The Great Gatsby" will undoubtedly join that elite club.
Watch the trailer for 'The Great Gatsby':
- Arts & Entertainment
- Baz Luhrmann
- Tobey Maguire
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Jay Gatsby
- Nick Carraway