Chose a classic and chances are it has been adapted into a movie or television show. Some of the adaptations may be exactly as the original version was and others may take liberties, but it seems as though a classic untouched by Hollywood is about as common as a movie version of the SAT. Why are these classics churned in Hollywood again and again? From straight “remakes” to “inspired by,” Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has seen countless adaptations and is among the most frequently adapted classics. What is it about stories like Romeo and Juliet that inspire someone to make a movie that so many want to see? For some classics, like Romeo and Juliet, it seems like it’s the story or concept. For others it’s the interesting or likeable characters. Some classics may be attractive to Hollywood simply for the unique “world” or location where the story takes place. In the case of The Great Gatsby, it’s all of these things.
The Great Gatsby has been adapted into several major motion pictures and there is a new one in the works right now. Writer/director Baz Luhrmann (Moulin Rouge, Australia, Romeo and Juliet) is shooting his version of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel. Yes, there have been other Gatsby movies, but this one will be different because it is Baz Luhrmann, and because it will be… in 3D! So you will be able to go to the movie theater and see Nick Carraway, Jay Gatsby, and Daisy in all their three-dimensional glory. So, why do we see Hollywood making another Great Gatsby movie? (Especially considering the fact that the 1974 film won many academy awards.) The story, characters, and setting are all extremely appealing.
The story is Nick Carraway’s and we sympathize, relate, and root for him. We enjoy Nick’s journey in this world and we appreciate how he has changed by the end. He has all the ingredients of a memorable character. Jay Gatsby and the lengths he goes to for his extreme love-slash-obsession with the ethereal Daisy Buchanan is both enthralling and entertaining. We are also taken by the world in which the story is set. The rich and unique setting, New York and the north shore of Long Island during the 1920s, is intriguing and exciting.
So what does taking a piece of great literature and turning it into a movie mean as far as experiencing the story? Writers of novels intend for them to be a personal, quiet, experience for a reader. As a movie, the story is being presented in a movie theater, with an audience. It is no longer the author speaking to one person. Seeing the actors play characters on a screen and watching the story unfold rather than reading it, completely changes the experience. We cannot experience it at our own pace, stopping to consider a moment in the book or going back to see if we missed something. We are in the hands of the filmmakers, allowing them to show us how they see the novel. Perhaps this is why so many people say, “The book is always better than the movie.” When we sit down to read a book we are a bigger part of the experience, we are making the movie inside our own minds as we sit, with the author, and imagine what he or she is telling us.