It was a bitter-sweet moment when I learned yesterday that Baz Luhrmann’s “The Great Gatsby” nearly overtook “Iron Man” at the national box office on Friday. Sweet because I get to be proven correct in predicting it would be a hit roughly a year ago—based on its boisterous trailer alone. This stemmed from a Memorial Day weekend party in my backyard when a friend of mine strongly insisted it would tank horribly. Part of my reasoning was that Luhrmann generally did pretty solid numbers overall—especially considering the kinds of films he directs. Even 2008’s awful “Australia” managed a 211 million dollar worldwide take(roughly 50 million of that in North America). His reasoning was that he hated the trailer. I thought it was brilliant marketing. And after chalking up an estimated 19.4 million dollars to “Iron Man 3″‘s 19.7 on Friday alone, “The Great Gatsby” is a virtual shoo-in to be Baz’s biggest hit ever, as well as garner at least 100 million dollars in the U.S. Vindication always feels good.
Now the bitter part—I probably won’t see “Gatsby” in theaters. I was very taken with Luhrmann’s “William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet” when I attended that back in 1996, and I’ll never forget the muted response I got when participating in a roundtable discussion in 2001(on a highly rated New York top-40 morning radio show), when my answer to “what film I was most looking forward to during the summer of 2001”. “Moulin Rouge!” was not what they expected to hear—especially after the rest of the answers were more along the lines of “Shrek”, “Jurassic Park III” and “Rush Hour 2”. But as much as I enjoyed that Baz duo, the aforementioned “Australia” was a real clunker. And the print and internet critics that I trust the most, are indicating that “Gatsby” is more in line with the latter. Damn—I was so looking forward to it too. But I tend to save my limited time for the good stuff—which means I’m holding out hope for “Star Trek Into Darkness”, “Frances Ha” and, especially, “Before Midnight”, being much more enthusiastically acclaimed. “The Great Gatsby” will have to wait—probably until the DVD.
One more thing: I did harbor a fear that “Gatsby” would not be able to live up to the great F. Scott Fitzgerald novel—and that that could help relegate it to a less-than-impressive popular response at the multiplex. But I forgot—that doesn’t matter. Most of the country has become just as lazy at reading as they are with their film habits. The vast majority of “Gatsby”-goers will probably not have read the classic work. Oh, they may start buying it after they see the movie—but what will their response to the written word be without the “advantage” of 3D and a pulsating soundtrack? I mean, we live during a time in which titillation book series like “Fifty Shades of Grey” and “The Hunger Games” regularly top the New York Times bestseller list. So, regardless of the film’s quality, “Gatsby” won’t have to count on its success being linked to its comparison with what’s on the page. Sadly, that no longer seems to be important. And besides, Leo’s in it!