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Brace yourselves, English Lit majors. You might not be thrilled to learn that director Baz Luhrmann had to make a few changes to F. Scott Fitzgerald’s beloved tome The Great Gatsby while working hard to adapt the novel for the big screen. What did he have to alter on the book’s journey to theaters?
Well, Luhrmann confesses to Life+Times that a proper adaptation of Fitzgerald’s novel would roughly translate into a seven-hour cut of a film. Considering that isn’t possible (though it felt like Luhrmann’s Australia ran for close to that length), the director and his collaborator, Craig Pearce, combed over the novel to parcel out scenes that were essential to the story they wanted to tell. He says that in trying to “reveal the book,” they traced a linear path through Gatsby’s story, tapping into the vibe of New York City in the 1920s. But they had to really play around with the narration of the character of Nick Carraway (played by Tobey Maguire), who observes and translates a lot of Gatsby’s actions for the benefit of the book he’s trying to write … a device that’s tough to carry over to a movie screen. Says Luhrmann:
“Craig and I were looking for a way that we could show, rather than just have disembodied voiceover throughout the whole film, show Nick actually dealing with the writing, dealing with his experience of Gatsby, as he does in the novel. How we do really is the one big difference in the film. I won’t say how. I will let the audience discover that for themselves…”
Hearing that Luhrmann has taken creative liberties with Fitzgerald’s text is no surprise, nor is it a cause for alarm. You hire someone as daring and provocative as Luhrmann to breathe fire into a stoic novel, to recreate instead of just to retell. Everything that we have seen about his translation of Gatsby in early TV spots and trailers has been vivacious, alive and energetic. If he finds an inventive way of killing off a tired device like voiceover, I’m a bigger fan of Gatsby because of it. The movie opens soon, reaching theaters on May 10. Will you check it out?