‘Gatsby’ big and beautiful but still not great

By Rich Heldenfels Beacon Journal popular culture writer

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Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in The Great Gatsby. (Warner Bros. Pictures)

Baz Luhrmann is a director whose images are sometimes more compelling than the movie he puts them in.

That was certainly the case with his adaptation of The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece, and it seems even more so with Tuesday’s release of the movie on DVD and Blu-ray (Warner Bros., $28.98 for DVD/digital set, $35.99 DVD/Blu-ray/digital, $44.95 for 3-D Blu-ray/standard Blu-ray/DVD/digital package).

Leonardo DiCaprio is terrific as Jay Gatsby, a once-poor young man who has built a fortune, and Tobey Maguire at times does well as Nick Carraway, who is befriended by Gatsby because of his knowing Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), a well-heeled wife who has history with Gatsby.

Luhrmann lavishly presents the wealth and decadence of the pre-Depression ’20s, but he also takes liberties with Fitzgerald’s narrative and characters that do not improve them. In a commentary on the Blu-ray Luhrmann argues that presenting the story as written on the page would take seven hours. But his movie, running close to 2½ hours, adds things that are not on the page while taking out elements that were crucial — at least to someone like me, who has read the novel many times over the years.

Still, DiCaprio remains a standout. And the movie does look great; I have become somewhat jaded about the quality of high-definition TV until I look at something that is not in HD, and so seems wanting — or when I see a Blu-ray image as excellent as the one here. As I said, with Luhrmann, the pictures matter. And those, at least, are vividly presented.

Extras include many behind-the-scenes looks, a discussion of the music (Shawn “Jay Z” Carter was an executive producer of the film) and deleted scenes. The deleted moments, each discussed by Luhrmann, include an alternate ending.

The new TV season is not far away, and DVD and Blu-ray packages on Tuesday are preparing audiences. Sons of Anarchy: Season 5 (Fox, 13 episodes, $59.98 DVD, $69.99 Blu-ray) precedes the sixth-season debut Sept. 10. The Walking Dead: The Complete Third Season (Starz/Anchor Bay, 16 episodes, $69.98 DVD, $79.99 Blu-ray) leads into the new season Oct. 13.

Grey’s Anatomy: The Complete Ninth Season (ABC, 24 episodes, $45.99 DVD only) sets up the new season — which will be Sandra Oh’s last — beginning Sept. 26. That same night brings the second-season premiere of CBS’ Elementary, which has its first season on DVD on Tuesday (CBS/Paramount, 24 episodes, $64.99).

And if you’re looking for some TV classics, Acorn on Tuesday is releasing a 20th-anniversary set of Tales of the City (six episodes, $49.99 DVD only), the serial based on Armistead Maupin’s novel, and the Blu-ray version of Helen Mirren’s Prime Suspect: The Complete Collection ($119.99).

Star Trek Into Darkness, which I found immensely satisfying, will be on DVD, Blu-ray and 3-D Blu-ray on Sept. 10 but is already available as a digital download. This is the second of J.J. Abrams’ film adaptations of the long-running TV and movie franchise. While not as fresh as the first, it continues the reinterpretation of the characters at a younger point in their lives than even in the original Star Trek TV series, and introduced a villain with ties to earlier works.

As I said when the movie was in theaters, it is a combination of high adventure (including some space chases that make clear why Abrams is also getting the Star Wars revival), character development, meditations on both the roots of terrorism and how to respond to it, contemplations of father-and-son relationships, multiple references to old characters and conceits (there’s a Tribble!) — and, through it all, a sense that this is not a retooling of TV and cinematic history but a real freshening of it.

Yes, there are reboots of old scenes, one of which sparked considerable debate among Trek fans. But those changes still have new life and energy — as well as making you think again about the older versions.

We’ll talk more about the DVD and Blu-ray extras closer to their release date.

Now You See Me, the ensemble-cast caper film, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 3 but also has an earlier digital download release — Friday. Although reviews were almost evenly divided between positive and negative, it proved a solid box-office hit.

Down video road: A 20th-anniversary edition of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas arrives in a 3-D Blu-ray/standard Blu-ray/DVD combo pack on Sept. 10. Emmy-nominated Behind the Candelabra, with Michael Douglas as Liberace, comes to DVD and Blu-ray on Sept. 17. After Earth, with Jaden and Will Smith, arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on Oct. 8.

Rich Heldenfels writes about popular culture for the Beacon Journal and Ohio.com, including the HeldenFiles Online blog, www.ohio.com/blogs/heldenfiles. He is also on Facebook and Twitter. You can contact him at 330-996-3582 or rheldenfels@thebeaconjournal.com.


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