Why a Great American Novel Does Not Make for a Great American Movie

great Gatsby
The most recent version of the Great Gatsby featured Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby

Number Five Entertains

Last week I had a chance to view this year’s release of The Great Gatsby. Overall, it is Hollywood’s fifth attempt at making a great movie out of a great book and who knows whether it will be the last. First of all, let me say I did enjoy the movie. I usually don’t go for films that rely heavily on the new digital technology for special effects, but in the case of this Gatsby version, I found that they added to the story by helping visualize turning back the clock to the roaring twenties. The atmospheric effects obtained through digital manipulation were very good, making you feel that you had been transported back into time.

Nick Caraway and Daisy from
Nick Caraway (Tobey Maguire) and Daisy (Carey Mulligan) from the Great Gatsby

Revisiting F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Great Gatsby is not the only piece of Fitzgerald’s fiction that has produced as a feature length film. The other cinematic effort comes from a short story that Fitzgerald wrote, called The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. The story was first published by Collier’s magazine in 1922 and then was featured in Tales from the Jazz Age, a collcetion of short stories that was published in the same year. Since this weird and fantastic tale revolves a main character, who was born as an old man and died as a baby, it can be easily placed in the catch-all category of speculative fiction. The 2008 movie featured Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett in the leading rolls. It did quite well at the box office and has continued to sell as a popular DVD ever since it closed at the movie houses.

Today, this film probably has a larger following than Fitzgerald’s super popular novel, which goes to show that a successful novel does not guarantee a box office smash hit.

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Dragon Tattoo Comes To America

Noomi Rapace who plays the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Noomi Rapace who plays the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

I finally got a chance to see the “Girl With The Dragon Tattoo” the other night and despite all attention the book and movie has garnered lately, I was completely surprised and engrossed by the film. I have not read the book so I did not know what to expect.

It wasn’t  a fast-paced film like so many American crime-action films tend to be, but yet a very captivating undertaking that delves  into the dark side of modern Swedish society.

The performances were first rate, especially that put on by Miss Rapace, as she was very convincing as the hard-edged computer hacker named Lisbeth Salander.

I was surprised to learn that the director was from nearby Denmark. Niels Arden Oplev has been around Scandinavian TV and film for a while, but his stint as director for “Dragon Tattoo” ought to put him on par with the other world-traveling Danish film director, Lars von Trier. In fact, according to the NY Times article cited above Mr. Oplev is buying a house in the “states”, so keep an eye out for his name to appear in association with future American film projects.

And then there is the American version of  “Girl With The Golden Tattoo”, which is still in the casting stage. The director has been named. He is David Fincher and the lead role of Lisbeth Salander will go to a British actress named Carey Mulligan.  No idea to when filming will begin, but the eventual release date is tentatively scheduled for 2012. David Fincher is a well acclaimed director, whose last release was “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, but the choice of  Ms. Mulligan has to be a bit of a surprise, as her previous roles have portrayed very different characters.  Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see how the British actress deals with her new challenge and how the American version comes out. Mr. Fincher has some gritty and somber films to his credit, so it will be fun to see how he deals with doing a foreign repeat.

Niels Arden Oplev
Niels Arden Oplev, the director of "Girl With the Dragon Tattoo".

The Swedish version of “Dragon Tattoo”, so far has taken in over 2 million dollars worth of sales. Not much for an American film, but  respectable for a sub-titled foreign film, especially one that is not French. The other two parts of the Millenium series will be released with English subtitles later this year.