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From the moment Baz Luhrmann announced he was putting together a film based on The Great Gatsby, it was already obvious this wouldn't be your typical literary adaptation. The famously flashy and ambitious Luhrmann has never done movies the way anybody else did, creating a drag queen Mercutio who danced to disco in Romeo + Juliet, setting up a Madonna sing-along in 1899 Paris in Moulin Rouge, and injecting goofy humor and magical realism into the classic epic with Australia.
But now that The Great Gatsby's release date has been pushed back to next summer, we are only truly getting a sense of how flashy and over the top the movie might be-- and how it might be much better suited to a summer release than a prestige-y Christmas one anyway. If you remember the first trailer, of course, this seems obvious-- it's a trailer for a film set in the 1920s that uses Jay-Z and Kanye West, for God's sake. Actually, let's take a look at that trailer again before we keep going.
The giant CGI shots of cityscapes, the camera panning over the crowd, the tracking shot in on the hero standing in a glass frame-- these are all hallmarks of the summer blockbuster, and Luhrmann certainly seems to be shooting The Great Gatsby with the kind of budget and penchant for spectacle that usually comes with a superhero in tow. According to The Los Angeles Times, Luhrmann pushed for the six-month delay to give him more time to finish the extensive 3D effects-- yes, F. Scott Fitzgerald is going 3D-- and to secure pop artists to contribute to his all-star soundtrack, likely similar to the one from Moulin Rouge that included songs from David Bowie, Elton John, Christina Aguilera, Rufus Wainwright, and of course Madonna. Luhrmann is already making the movie as if it's bigger than The Avengers-- why not toss him in the deep end of summer movie season and let him prove it?
After all, when Australia was released in the thick of prestige season in 2008, it was easily drowned out both by more serious films (Quantum of Solace beat it in it second weekend, while Milk was opening in limited release) and the more obviously family friendly stuff that's usually released around Thanksgiving (Four Christmases and Bolt were big hits). Had Australia been released in the summer, without the pressure of giant Oscar expectations, people might have been able to tune in better to its weird humor and strong performances from Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman that were great, just not awards bait. Though summer movie season is high pressure, of course, it leaves a lot more room for quirky successes than the fall-- just look at this summer's Magic Mike, or even Luhrmann's own Moulin Rouge!, which opened in mid-May in 2001-- opposite Shrek!
I have no idea if The Great Gatsby will be any good, and as someone who loves Fitzgerald's novel as much as anyone, I'm good and nervous about how Luhrmann's candy-coated lens will treat the material. But I'm really excited about the film's potential as a summer movie. It's thrilling every summer to see the films that don't take the usual path to success, when something like Magic Mike or, on smaller scales, Moonrise Kingdom and Beasts of the Southern Wild, get embraced by audiences who want something different. Warner Bros. is releasing Gatsby along their much more traditional blockbusters next summer-- the Superman movie Man of Steel, Guillermo del Toro's monster movie Pacific Rim and The Hangover III are all due. This is the studio that made hits of both Magic Mike and The Dark Knight Rises this summer. Let's see if their counter programming wisdom can work twice.