THE GREAT GATSBY (2000) is the latest adaptation of the classic F. Scott Fitzgerald novel about a doomed love affair in 1920's Long Island.
Toby Stephens plays the title character, Jay Gatsby, a cocky young man who falls for Daisy (Mira Sorvino), a woman who is beyond his social standing. The two are separated when Gatsby goes to fight in World War I. Daisy tires of waiting for Gatsby and marries Tom Buchanan (Martin Donovan). Years later, Gatsby has obtained money through illegal business dealings and buys a huge, ostentatious estate across the water from the Buchanan's home, throwing wild parties nearly every night. Now a member of the "nouveau riche," Gatsby arranges to meet Daisy again, with the help of his neighbor (and the story's narrator) Nick Carraway (Paul Rudd).
Although this film has some decent production values that capture the flavor of the era well, it's ultimately a very disappointing adaptation. It even manages to be inferior to the 1974 version, which itself was a major disappointment.
A large part of the problem is the running time of the film. Made for television, it aired only one night and therefore, without the commercial interruptions, has a brisk 94-minute length. Cramming all of Fitzgerald's plot into this short period allows for very little character development. We're left with caricatures rather than characters. A&E should have made this a two-night miniseries to give the story time to develop naturally and allow the audience (and actors) to get to know the characters.
The cast, though impressive on paper, has very little spark to it and everyone seems to be sleepwalking through their roles. I was constantly aware that I was watching actors reciting their lines; none of the actors created believable characters for me to care about. Additionally, the script re-writes a lot of Fitzgerald's dialog, and alters much of the symbolic situations in the story. All the subtlety and nuance of the novel is made blatantly, plainly literal here -- and the movie suffers for it. We are left with standard television melodrama has none of the feel of Fitzgerald's work.
The picture quality is not terrible, but isn't wonderful either. The transfer is stable and crisp, with fine detail. However, color reproduction is problematic and inconsistent throughout the feature. The colors almost always seem a bit "off", with very unnatural fleshtones. However, other than these distracting color issues, there isn't much to complain about in terms of video. The movie is presented in the proper 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio.
The audio is a perfectly acceptable 2.0 stereo track. The front soundstage is very wide and deep and I was pleasantly surprised to hear such impressive (if limited) sound from a TV movie.
In addition to the usual biography/filmography pages, this DVD contains the informative and interesting F. Scott Fitzgerald episode of A&E's BIOGRAPHY documentary series. A&E sells the VHS tape of this program alone for $15 retail, so this is definitely an impressive bonus. I hope that A&E continues to include relevant episodes on future DVDs (and I'd also love to see some of these released on DVD by themselves).
Overall, this is a fairly weak adaptation of a great novel. It's not a complete waste of time, but there isn't much to recommend here either. Curious viewers and fans of the book with probably want to rent this DVD rather than gamble on a purchase. However, A&E definitely deserves credit for including a significant extra program with this title, and I hope the trend continues for future A&E DVD product.