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Why is everyone so on Baz Luhrmann for a 3-D 'Great Gatsby'?

January 10, 2011 |  5:43 pm

To believe the angry calls for his head on Twitter, you'd think Baz Luhrmann suggested reinventing Shakespeare as a set of pop-music videos or something.

Oops, too late for that. But the fact that he's already done that in "Romeo + Juliet" -- and took nearly as many liberties with that movie's spiritual cousin, "Moulin Rouge" -- should make his statement that he's thinking of shooting his adaptation of "The Great Gatsby" in 3-D a lot less shocking.

As the Aussie provocateur said at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas -- at a panel moderated by our colleague Geoff Boucher; you can watch a video clip here -- the director is debating shooting his F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation using that Z-axis. The logic, as recalled by Boucher (who spoke to Luhrmann at length about the issue), is that when we see a drama on the stage, we're able to observe various levels of detail through the use of foreground and background. The 3-D format simply allows for the same experience on the screen.
Luhrmann is always shaking up the status quo, so it shouldn't surprise us that he might try to marry a classic 20th century story with a 21st century format. He also seems to thrive on the negative reaction (which makes the irate, can-he-be-stopped reactions more than a little funny.)

And he clearly loves the grandiose; when we interviewed him about this project a few years ago he said (with appropriate grandiosity) that his ambition was nothing less than a movie that spoke for our gilded age. ("People will need an explanation of where we are and where we've been, and 'The Great Gatsby' can provide that explanation," he said.) What better way to make that kind of grand statement than to have Nick Carraway and Daisy Buchanan in three dimensions?

Besides, the whole idea of new technology is to aid the storytelling. The use of color had all sorts of thematic importance in "The Wizard of Oz" (by contrasting it to Dorothy's dreary life back in Kansas, etc).  Couldn't a third dimension do the same for the opulence of West Egg?

And it's not like Luhrmann is the first high-end director shooting a beloved book in 3-D -- Ang Lee is currently doing the same with "Life of Pi" (a point that Luhrmann, incidentally, is happy to make).

Upon hearing the news, one bookstore operator wrote on Twitter that "We have plenty of copies of 'The Great Gatsby' in all our shops. The text is printed in 2D. We find them to be more than sufficient." Sure, but then by that logic you don't need a director, actor or a script either. Once you're making a movie based on a classic book, the extra dimension doesn't seem like a big deal.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Baz Luhrmann. Credit: Reuters


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Gatsby is a classic novel and should be read first. The Redford film of Gatsby also captured a bit of the opulence and mystique of the main character. Will fans of films now be constantly forced to sit through the gimmick of 3d?

Gatsby and Life of Pi are two amazing books...will they be marginalized in this new format?

He'll lose viewers if he does. 3-D's too much of a distraction from the story.

"The Great Gatsby" resonates with so many people (and I'm guessing those currently experiencing their own, economic booms and skyrocketing wealth--trying to maneuver the morality of managing "nouveu riche" status--would appreciate this), that Baz could have a #1 solidly at The Box Office for months. But to replace the fragility of the characters against the ominous, overwhelming backdrop of East Coast wealth, circa late "Gilded Age", with gimmicky 3-D...he's just asking for the scenery to upstage the humans.

Which would be a shame because in "Gatsby" you see some characters isolated by their surroundings of wealth, others "selling out" in order to gain or keep it, and I think it would be a mistake for him to focus on the "stuff" rather than the people "sinking" in the stuff. The glitz and opulence isn't the point. It's just the smokescreen of what's really missing for the characters; a poverty of love and compassion, not place. We have enough architecture shows to cover pretty houses and gardens for our entertainment, we don't need "The Great Gatsby" to be re-worked as an interior design show.


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