The Great Gatsby

The Great Gatsby (2000)
A&E Home Video
Cast: Mira Sorvino, Paul Rudd, Toby Stephens
Extras: ‘A & E Biography’ of F. Scott Fitzgerald, Cast Filmographies

My slacker days have just come back to haunt me. I’ll come clean: I’ve never read "The Great Gatsby." I took American Literature in college, but the syllabus in that class required "Tender is the Night," which I still managed to skip. The reason I dredging up my past is I’m in no position to ascertain if A&E Home Video’s recent adaptation of "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald’s sprawling novel about disillusionment and decadence in the Jazz Age, is faithful to its source. I can only judge it, and A&E Home Video’s new DVD, on the merits of "Is it a good movie?"

The answer is: yes and no. The plot is rather simple: World War I vet Jay Gatsby (Toby Stephens) falls in love with the aloof Daisy Buchanan. Spurning him because he is poor, Gatsby transforms himself into an enigmatic playboy amongst the rootless Long Island rich. In the meantime, Daisy marries the wealthy but emotionally abusive Tom Buchanan (Martin Donovan). Gatsby plots to get Daisy back, but as witnessed by the story’s narrator Nick Carraway (Paul Rudd), the difference between having and wanting sometimes exacts a price of mythic proportions.

Mira Sorvino makes for an ethereal but all too distant Daisy, Paul Rudd embues Carraway with a "Call me Ishmael" innocence that’s waiting to be shattered and Donovan shades Tom Buchanan with enough humanity so that one can almost understand his treatment of people as puppets. The major flaw is Toby Stephens’ Gatsby. In Stephens’ hands, Gatsby is far from "Great." Gatsby supposedly incites mystery, romance and drama. Instead, he plops around his mansion like he’s forgotten he owns it. All the socialites speak his name like a god, but when on-camera, Gatsby is as exciting as a mashed potato sandwich.

"The Great Gatsby" is a television production for the A&E network and as such it was shot in a full screen aspect ratio. The full-screen video transfer of the film on this DVD is proficient enough with accurate and consistent colors, natural fleshtones and sharp details. I detected slight <$pixelation,pixelation> in some shots, but overall the presentation is free from digital artifacts. Colors are well reproduced, creating a natural looking palette that is used to best effect. Blacks are deep and solid, while shadows always maintain good definition. The contrast of the transfer is generally good, although at times, the image appears overly harsh.

The DVD comes with a <$DS,Dolby Surround> audio track and the audio works just as capably. With a good frequency response, the track always sounds natural. Don’t expect an aggressive bass extension however, but for the tone of the film, this audio track is perfectly suited with good bass and clear high ends. Dialogue is clearly reproduced in the track and well integrated in the overall mix. Intermittent rear speaker action helps to punctuate Carl Davis’ evocative period score.

I got much more out of watching the A & E "Biography" episode about F. Scott Fitzgerald, that can also be found on the DVD and is the disc’s only real special feature. It’s always fascinating to see a writer’s life become fodder for his imagination. After watching the documentary, I had a new appreciation for Fitzgerald: his bouts with alcoholism, his love for Zelda Sayer who eventually went mad, and his lack of confidence in his writing. It is material for great stories, which he ultimately delivered and immortalized. They say truth is stranger than fiction. In comparing Fitzgerald’s life directly to this version of "The Great Gatsby," truth is also more satisfying.

"The Great Gatsby" is an enjoyable – albeit unspectacular – film and the presentation A&E Home Video is offering us on this DVD makes it all the more enjoyable.