My sense is that Baz's fans are eager to embrace his reinterpretation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel, which was adapted on screen most memorably by director Jack Clayton in the 1974 movie which starred Robert Redford and Mia Farrow.
But will folks who haven't been enamoured of Luhrmann's previous, highly theatrical efforts, or those who loved the novel and earlier screen versions accept his transition to a more conventionally-framed romantic drama set in the 1920s, albeit in 3D?
Luhrmann's extravaganza (reported budget $127 million) opens in Australia on May 30 after its US debut on May 10 and the international premiere opening the Cannes Film Festival on May 15. There seems to be genuine excitement among executives at Warner Bros. and Village Roadshow, the co-producers, who saw a 2D cut of the movie in Los Angeles last month.
That optimism is backed up by one member of the crew who tells SBS Film, “I think it's the real deal. It might turn a lot of heads. It's an unusual Baz Luhrmann film, the straightest and most normal film he's ever done.” But he adds a caveat, “For those who aren't fans of Baz Luhrmann, I'm not sure this will change their minds.”
That person has seen the 2D version but quotes a colleague who has seen the 3D rendering as saying “it's a smack in the face,” meaning a positive impact. The technician describes the performance of Joel Edgerton as the wealthy Tom Buchanan, whose wife Daisy (Carey Mulligan) has an affair with Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio), as a “tour de force”.
Insiders say one of the most impressive scenes is a confrontation in New York's Plaza Hotel where all the principal characters gather to escape the “heat” of the Buchanan house. However, some of the CGI-created shots were described as “painterly” and not realistic, similar to the fake scenes of Darwin in Baz's Australia.
The on-screen chemistry between DiCaprio's Gatsby and Mulligan's Daisy is said to have quite a frisson, far more credible than the romance between Nicole Kidman and Hugh Jackman's characters in Luhrmann's last film. One sequence in which the two actors ad-libbed, with spontaneous laughter, impressed the crew, as did another scene in which Gatsby throws his coloured shirts around his bedroom.
Baz and Leo reportedly disagreed at times over how the actor should play Gatsby, hardly an unusual occurrence on a film set when highly-strung creative types don't see eye to eye.
Some of the more mature crew members watched Clayton's movie during the production. A few of their younger colleagues tried to sit through the Redford/Farrow version but gave up after 20 minutes, possibly bored by the filmmaking style of the 1970s.
Elizabeth Debicki is said to be a knockout as golfer Jordan Baker, who is pursued by the book's narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire), a bond trader and former Yale classmate of Tom's.
Veteran actor Amitabh Bachchan, who plays Jewish mafia head Meyer Wolfsheim, gave a glowing account of his experiences during filming. “The sets were an eye opener for me,” the Indian actor wrote on his blog.
“Grand and colossal in its presence and opulence… All about was like an imagination fructifying to reality. The sincerity of all that worked, including the main stars, the earnestness of the director, his crew and the unimaginable detail of authenticity, all added up to an experience which when I returned to my room, could not fathom!!… I can say that in my 44 years and 180 films I had never worked in such a set up.”
But the expectations among many filmgoers in the US and here are, to put it mildly, are mixed. When Deadline.com posted the latest trailer, the reactions were sharply divided.
The positive comments ranged from “No other word for it – sensational!,” and “Not sure I want to see it in 3D, but this looks spectacular” to “Leo's a hard worker and this seems to be a really creative for him and Baz. Pumped!”
The naysayers were vitriolic. ”An overblown, confusing and boring movie made from the most overrated piece of fiction of the last century. Sounds like a winner!” said one.
“This will end up exactly like every other Baz Luhrmann film – an indecipherable hot mess. All style, no substance,” opined another sceptic. “Awful would be too kind… poor Scott … another film travesty of his great American novel! So, so sad,” said another.
Bobby Galinsky, a US-born, Melbourne-based filmmaker, probably speaks for many cinephiles when he says, “It's the first time Baz would have worked with any decent story and source material. He's always been a great 'showman' and visualist without a story to visualise other than Romeo + Juliet which was just a two-hour, mildly entertaining music vid. But this could be the movie he's spent his whole life preparing for and I really, really, really hope it is as it's one of my favourite books of all time.”
So what might the romantic drama earn at Australian cinemas? Well, for all its detractors and carping critics, Australia raked in $37.5 million, a fine result, although Rupert Murdoch admitted 20th Century Fox ended up making a small profit on the film thanks to the Australian taxpayer via the 40 percent producer rebate.
The Gatsby remake is said to skew heavily towards females, which might limit its box office potential slightly. Roadshow is banking that the film, which runs nearly two and a half hours, will appeal to Baz's admirers who enjoyed Strictly Ballroom, Romeo + Juliet and Moulin Rouge!, if not Australia quite so much, as well as the legion of DiCaprio fans and those who read the novel.
On the upside, no other female-oriented mainstream film is opening in June so Gatsby has a lot of clean air. Maybe $25 million-$30 million is achievable.