A Tale of Two Great Gatsbys . . . or Three

So I watched the new Great Gatsby film (2013), the one with Leonardo DiCaprio. I was disappointed. Then curiosity got hold of me and I ordered the old (1974) version with Robert Redford. And then I got really curious and ordered the 2000 version starring nobody I’d ever heard of.  There was a 1949 and 1926 version too, but I drew the line there . . . I wanted to compare the recent three, and I thought I knew which would be the best. I was wrong.

220px-TheGreatGatsby2012PosterLet’s start with GG 2013. Like many reviewers, I was put off by the music that didn’t fit. When I watch a Roaring Twenties movie, I’d like Roaring Twenties music to back it up, just as I want Twenties costumes and Twenties architecture and Twenties cars. And I don’t think that’s too much to ask. The Gatsby mansion party scenes were ridiculously over-the-top. The super rich threw extravagant parties in the Twenties, but they didn’t begin to resemble these. I figure the constant helicopter point-of-view was part of the 3D effect (I did not see it in 3D) but it distracted me. And while I respect Leonardo DiCaprio’s acting abilities, they didn’t seem to be required for this picture. His delivery of the frequent line, “Old Sport,” grated and distracted, whereas when Robert Redford said the lines, it flowed believably. Sorry, Leo. 

220px-Great_gatsby_74So, I figured I’d watch that old faithful, GG 1974 with handsome Robert Redford and find it vastly better. Wrong. The music was better–it was period (“Has Anybody Seen My Gal?”) and there were no aerial shots that didn’t fit the times. It was less magical, more realistic, which I prefer. The story is not a fantasy or fairy tale, after all. It showed servants and behind-the-scenes parts that added to the realism. The characters were more fleshed out, less cartoonish. We see Nick’s workplace, for example. And Redford was far better at saying “Old Sport.” But the film didn’t excite me. I’d not recommend GG 1974 any more than I’d recommend GG 2013. 

MV5BMjAyNDExMDAxOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNzY4NTYxMQ@@._V1_SX214_That’s when I thought I’d try the one in between: GG 2000. This made-for-TV film had relatively poor reviews, so I was sure I’d agree. But I didn’t. Not at all. I found this the best version by far! Yeah, I was astonished. Why? One reason might have been that the actors were nobodies. (My apologies to whoever you are who acted in this.) They weren’t household names with gigantic reputations like Robert Redford or Leo DiCaprio or Mia Farrow, whose fame seemed to call attention to itself instead of letting you know the characters. I felt I was watching a movie about Robert Redford or Leo DiCaprio, not about Jay Gatsby. So the unknown cast helped. There was good drama at the opening scene that the others lacked, and the voice-over narration was far better. More realistic, in my opinion. More informative. GG 2000 played the romance between Jordan and Nick better–in GG 2013, I couldn’t figure out why Jordan was even in the film; she had no purpose. GG 2000 incorporated her into the plot and characters. If you were an actress playing the supporting role of Jordan, you would prefer to be in GG 2000. The party scenes were better–again, more realistic. The music, I didn’t notice. I guess it was okay or I would have noticed. 

So if you’re a high school student assigned to read The Great Gatsby and are too lazy to read it, (shame on you) I suggest watching the 2000 TV version. Of course this is all just my opinion, so chime in with yours!

Published in: on December 15, 2013 at 6:10 pm  Comments (9)  

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  1. Hi Mary,
    I’ve seen all three movie versions and have read the book, and in my opinion, the 1974 version was the best. I’m into period music and period clothing, and this movie did a great job with both. I might be a bit biased, I know, since this movie was made in my backyard (Newport, RI). It was the first movie I can recall that was made here in RI. I’ve visited all of the three Newport mansions in it. I think they used them to great effect. I hated the CG mansions in the 2013 version. Everything looked fake, even though they based Gatsby’s mansion on a real one on Long Island that existed at the time. My husband says that this was the idea, to show how fake and phony these people and their lives were. I beg to differ. This is my least favorite version. After I saw it, I thought, how to completely spoil a great story! I’m glad I didn’t pay the extra four bucks to see it in 3D. Those aerial shots and the overdone CG were overwhelming enough as it was. The TV version I would rate in second place. I feel that it just didn’t have the “omph” of the music, costumes, and settings that the 1974 version had, that made the story believable. The music alone was enough to make or break it- a version was released on VHS that lacked the Nelson Riddle score, due to copyright issues at the time, and it was terrible. So, that’s my two cents. By the way, I’ve been reading your blog for a while. I too am an (so far unpublished) historical novelist, but my era in history is the Wars of the Roses. I’m a teacher by day, and I write at night, or whenever I have the time. It will be my first novel. I’ve thought of doing a blog too, about my research for my novel, similar to yours. Congratulations of the publication of your 1920’s novel! I’ll have to get a copy and read it, it sounds very interesting.
    Carol T.

    • War of the Roses, huh? That’s one of my favorite eras. A fascinating time. What’s your story about? How far along are you? Are you a history teacher? I taught American history at Virginia Commonwealth University as an adjunct for 13 years and enjoyed it very much. Although The Impersonator is meant to entertain, I couldn’t help but try to educate the reader a little about the Roaring Twenties!! I hope you will read it and let me know what you think (honestly!). You can probably get it at your local library. If not, request that they buy a copy, that way you can read it for free and so can others. It’s a good way for a new fiction author to get known.

      • I discovered this summer that one of my husband’s ancestors was a close associate of Henry Tudor (later Henry VII) and was instrumental in assisting Henry to defeat Richard III at the Battle of Bosworth. We first learned of him back in the 80’s while doing genealogical research. This summer I was reading an article about the defeat of Richard III and his name popped off the page at me. This was the end of the Wars of the Roses and the beginning of the Tudor era. He is unknown in the US and little known in the UK, probably because he came from Wales, and the Welsh were an oppressed people back in those days.

        Many people have written Wars of the Roses novels, but he’s never been a character in any of them, so I’m telling the story from an entirely different and original point of view. I’m not a history teacher, my original major in college was biology, later, I went to grad school for special education. However, I’m a natural born writer, and history was my second most favorite subject in school. I’ve been reading about it and studying it for years on my own. My favorite periods in history have always been the Medieval and Renaissance eras.

        I’ve always known that someday I’d write a novel. Someday finally came. I’m still doing research for the book (I’m almost finished) even though I’ve written a prologue and two chapters. When inspiration strikes, I write, I just let it flow. I can always revise it later! I joined a local writers’ group to learn more about writing well and publishing. I hope to complete the book in about a year. I’ll be sure to let you know when it’s finished. I’m contemplating starting a blog here on WordPress, I’ll let you know about that too.

        It’s been great hearing from you and sharing with you. Thanks,


      • Good luck! Mary Miley Theobald Writer and Historian

        5 Countryside Court Richmond, VA 23229 (804) 288-2770 http://www.marymileytheobald.com

        Blogs: http://www.marymiley.wordpress.com http://www.historymyths.wordpress.com http://www.stuffafterdeath.wordpress.com

  2. I’ve only seen the 2000 version, as that’s the one we watched in class. My teacher said that she thought Robert Redford was a better Gatsby, but Mia Farrow was a terrible Daisy, and so we watched the 2000 one.

  3. I advised my students to watch the 2000 version which is very faithful to the novel, they loved it, they are French speaking, despite the slow rythm. They all watched the Di Caprio movie but found it tricky to understand even thoug they had seen it in French!
    I cannot get enough of studying that novel.
    Have a nice day,

  4. II have the 1974, 2000 and the 2013 versions on DVD. My favorite? The latest one – the 2013 version directed by Baz Luhrmann. It was the only version that allowed me to understand Fitzgerald’s tale without putting me to sleep. And the 2000 isn’t that faithful.

  5. Hello,

    I’ve been really enjoying a deep dive into your blog. I had to stop and comment, though it’s been years since you wrote this post, to point out that the stars of the 2000 version include Mira Sorvino, who won an Oscar for Best Actress in 1995, and Paul Rudd, arguably one of today’s most beloved actors who was, in 2000, certainly famous At Least for his role in Clueless. Not nobodies at all!

    • I didn’t know that. I had never heard of them so they were nobodies to me.

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