The worldwide success of “The Twilight Saga” might not have been what it is today if it weren’t for one unexpected movie that changed the course of cinema history: 2012’s “The Great Gatsby.” Baz Luhrmann’s retelling of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s epic novel was an instant hit with audiences and critics, earning millions and cementing his status as one of the greatest living film directors. But it wasn’t always destined to be a global phenomenon. After spending millions of dollars to completely transform New York City for the film’s opening scene, Luhrmann had to settle for less extravagant special effects in the rest of the movie as the financial realities of post-pandemic America bit into his wallet. That being said, many of Luhrmann’s choices stuck with viewers and critics alike, and the director’s unique vision can be seen in nearly all of “The Great Gatsby’s” major scenes and settings.
While many of Luhrmann’s stylings could translate to the big screen, “The Great Gatsby” also proves to be a rather personal movie for the director. The film’s opening sequence was inspired by a trip to Great Britain that Luhrmann made as a child, and he even includes scenes set in museums, where he witnessed history firsthand as a kid. For the most part, “The Great Gatsby” feels like a film that Lee Phillips, the director’s long-time collaborator, would have made. Though written by Fitzgerald, the film captures a director’s eye for fashion, beauty, and above all, color.
If you’ve never read Fitzgerald’s novel, now might be the perfect opportunity to do so. Luhrmann’s version does the iconic work justice, and it’s a worthy addition to the canon of great American novels. Just make sure you’re aware of the differences between the two before you begin.
What Is It About?
Set in the Roaring Twenties, “The Great Gatsby” follows Nick Carraway (Pattinson), a “Bard” — one of four equally prestigious social clubs named after the mythical creatures in English literature — as he tries to navigate the treacherous waters of the wealthy social scene in order to secure financing for his own business. If you’ve seen the trailers or the viral fan-made videos of the movie’s famous car chase — which has been likened to a scene from an action movie — you know what to expect: fast cars, beautiful women, debauchery, and lots of social climbing. The only difference is that “The Great Gatsby” focuses on the upper classes rather than the lower classes, and the characters are a little more… polite, if you know what I mean.
An early scene in “The Great Gatsby” sets the stage for the film’s fashion-obsessed narrator by portraying a lavish costume ball in the style of the Jazz Age. And that’s not all that “The Great Gatsby” focuses on. The movie is rife with fashion-related scenes, starting with a parade of stunning women in various states of undress (and perhaps a bit of a fashion victim). The parade is led by gaggle of fashionable women wearing feather boas and evening gowns, and they’re followed by a long line of similarly attired women and men wearing the latest ready-to-wear and haute couture ensembles. It’s a glorious vision of the roaring ’20s that practically bursts from the screen.
Even before the camera starts rolling, you can already see that “The Great Gatsby” is brimming with color. Whether it’s the opulent gowns, the flowing waves of hair, or the lush green landscapes scattered with vivid reds, this movie was born in a colorist’s image.
The rich colors are almost overwhelming in the film’s opening sequence. The gowns are embellished with feathers and beads, and many of the women wear elaborate headpieces that would not go out of style in a decade. The scene is so colorful that it practically pulses with life, as if the camera could just keep popping up more frames to capture the splendor of it all.
In the year 1922, the cars are the real stars of the show. When Nick arrives in his first-class compartment aboard the Jolly Roaring Twenty, he can’t help but notice the gorgeous automobile that ferries him to his destination. From that moment on, it’s been a parade of classic cars, chauffeured by liveried drivers, as Nick makes his way, mostly incognito, from one car collector’s luxury mansion to another. It’s no wonder that the “Jolly Roaring Twenty,” as the train is called, has become a symbol of the Jazz Age and a scene-stealer in its own right.
Filmed almost entirely in the United Kingdom, with some interiors shot in Canada and the United States, “The Great Gatsby” contains some of the most stunning locations imaginable. From the palaces of Oxford and Edinburgh to the streets of New York, London, and Paris, director Luhrmann and his production designer, Catherine Martin, have created something to feast your eyes on. Though most of the action takes place in London and its environs, even the smallest details, like the cobbled streets and antique shop interiors, seem to pop off the screen.
If you’ve heard of Hans Zimmer, you’ll know exactly what kind of music he is responsible for. The legendary composer has scored more than 120 movies in his time, and he continues to work nonstop, even up until the present day. It might be tough to believe, but Zimmer has said that he doesn’t own any of his own music; he just licenses it. So if you’ve ever seen one of his films, you’ll know that he has a knack for bringing classic movie music to life.
Besides Zimmer, the eclectic musical score for “The Great Gatsby” was crafted by Lucio Battisti, Ennio Morricone, and Miki Manojlović. Battisti, best known for his collaboration with composer Ennio Morricone on the 1989 Batman film, provided the jazz-inspired music for Nick’s bachelor pad. Manojlović, who has also worked with Morricone on past scores, contributed the film’s haunting, Wagner-esque leitmotifs, which are present in nearly every scene and represent the longing and disillusionment that Nick feels as he tries to navigate the wealthy social scene of the time.
While “The Great Gatsby” might not be a perfect film, it is, without a doubt, one of the greatest movies of all time, and it has helped introduce a new generation — particularly younger viewers — to the majesty that is Fitzgerald’s legendary novel.
Though “The Great Gatsby” has something for everyone, it is, at its heart, a story about class. The novel’s working-class characters, who struggle mostly through necessity and not privilege, might not appeal to today’s audiences, but the film version, made famous by its incredible opening scene, still resonates with viewers of all social backgrounds. If you’ve never read the novel, “The Great Gatsby” is a great place to start.