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May 10, 2013

'Gatsby' opens with great fanfare

Classic finds its way to Hollywood for fourth time with hot stars and soundtrack

(Continued)

Luhrmann was determined to try. A longtime Fitzgerald fan, he revisited the novel via audiobook while traveling on the Trans-Siberian Express in 2004 and was struck by its prescience. “Stock markets soaring, moral elasticity on Wall Street, a kind of shared hypocrisy,” Lurhmann says. “And it all ends in a terrible crash.”

To bring “Gatsby” to the screen, Luhrmann juggled financing from three studios, relocated the production to Australia when New York proved too expensive and even survived getting his head split open by a stray camera crane. More important, he did extensive research, speaking to Fitzgerald scholars, lifting material from “Trimalchio” (an early version of the novel) and reading correspondence from the author’s teenage muse, Ginerva King, and his eventual wife, Zelda.

To play Daisy, Mulligan read those letters, too, along with “The Great Gatsby” for the very first time. “There were lines in the book that didn’t make the movie, but that I loved,” the British actress says. “When Nick describes her as ‘the golden girl, the king’s daughter,’ those were big for me. I remembered those.”

Luhrmann says his goal was to “reveal the text” of an 88-year-old novel that still seems relevant. After the film’s release, he says, “The debate will continue. Believe me, it will continue.”

Is it a winter movie or a summer movie? Way back in 2011, Warner Bros. announced that "The Great Gatsby" would arrive in theaters Dec. 25, 2012. Christmas is a high-profile spot, one of the busiest and most competitive moviegoing days of the year. It's often reserved for serious awards contenders (like "Frost/Nixon" in 2008) or upbeat crowd-pleasers ("Sherlock Holmes" in 2009). Last summer, though, Warner Bros. announced that "Gatsby" had been pushed back to this summer. So just what kind of movie is it? The high-profile cast and literary pedigree suggest Oscar ambitions, while the hip-hop soundtrack and spectacular-looking sets suggest razzle-dazzle Hollywood entertainment. Warner Bros. explained the movie in a statement in August. "We think moviegoers of all ages are going to embrace it, and it makes sense to ensure this unique film reaches the largest audience possible," said Dan Fellman, Warner Bros. president of domestic distribution. Another studio executive called it "the perfect summer movie." Here's one more possible factor: "Gatsby" star Leonardo DiCaprio already had a 2012 Christmas release, and a big one, in "Django Unchained." Given how well that movie performed -- two Oscars and $450 million in worldwide ticket sales -- Warner Bros. may have made the right move. "I think it's incredibly smart," says Phil Contrino, editor of the website Boxoffice.com. Whether "Gatsby" wins any Oscars, it's now positioned as an attractive alternative to the coming glut of sci-fi and superhero films. Contrino predicts a strong opening weekend of $30 million, and possibly higher. "It's a perfect counter programming option for the summer season," he says. "I think the move will pay off handsomely."

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