When fans of The Great Gatsby found out that divisive filmmaker Baz Luhrmann would direct this spring’s highly anticipated adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s legendary novel, reactions were mixed. Some film lovers embrace Luhrmann’s sheer excess; it worked well enough for Romeo and Juliet, so why worry about flubs like Australia? Others, however, had different aspirations for the movie that might just get leading man Leo DiCaprio his ever-evasive Oscar. So, what about the Gatsby adaptations that could have been? Read on for a short list of other directors who might have succeeded at filming one of the most acclaimed American novels of all time, from Scorsese to Spielberg.
Thanks to his track record, Joe Wright’s bound to be on the shortlist for any possible adaptation of a classic novel, particularly if it features rich people and a nice historical setting. Wright’s the man behind the straightforward, gorgeous takes on Pride and Prejudice and Atonement, set in late-18th-century and World War II-era England, respectively (conveniently, Gatsby‘s Roaring Twenties just so happens to be right in between the two). Interestingly, however, Wright’s recently taken a turn away from the by-the-book interpretation: his Anna Karenina, helped along by Tom Stoppard’s script, used a set reminiscent of an actual theater. His take on Gatsby could either be more true to the original or more wildly inventive than Luhrmann’s, and it would be thrilling to see which route he’d take.
Fresh off his recent (and second) win for Best Director at the Academy Awards, Lee proved with his blockbuster Life of Pi that he’s able to take a book that’s supposedly impossible to adapt — a common complaint about Gatsby — and turn it into a showy blockbuster that manages to win over both audiences and critics. Prior to Life of Pi, Lee’s body of work shows an impressive flexibility, ranging from the edgy romance of Brokeback Mountain to the adrenaline-packed action of The Hulk to the populist-but-cerebral Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. If Lee could make the Daisy-Gatsby relationship a quarter as compelling as the tale of Ennis and Jack, he’d be good to go.
It’s pretty easy to compare Boyle and Luhrmann: both make bright, fast-paced, visually dazzling films that attract rabid and dedicated fans (seriously, try trash-talking either director to Trainspotting or Moulin Rouge! devotees). But Boyle tends to take on more serious topics than Luhrmann — like, say, a hiker getting stranded in the desert and cutting off his own arm — and tone down the camp. Boyle’s interpretation of Gatsby would likely retain much of Luhrmann’s visual flair (the guy behind Slumdog Millionaire doesn’t really do flat-looking movies) while removing some of the sheer, over-the-top silliness that Luhrmann’s already catching flak for. It may be less fun, but chances are the critics would be kinder.
The younger Coppola first occurred to us for her (extremely loose) adaptation of Antonia Fisher’s Marie Antoinette, which employed an approach that’s not too far from Luhrmann’s unabashedly inauthentic Gatsby. Coppola’s Marie was almost entirely about its aesthetic, just as a good deal of the Gatsby buzz has to do with Miuccia Prada’s costumes, and its soundtrack eschewed 19th-century classical in favor of upbeat rock ‘n’ roll. She’s also tried her hand at adaptation with The Virgin Suicides, demonstrated her skill at depicting candid relationships with Lost in Translation, and shown a pure sense of fun with the upcoming Bling Ring (if the trailers are any indication). Bonus: she’s the only woman on our list, which, considering that there aren’t too many prominent female directors out there, can’t hurt.
Sure, Scorsese’s oeuvre tends to be contemporary Italian- and Irish-American crime flicks, but Gatsby itself has its share of shady characters and gangsters: it’s never quite clear how the main character got all his money, there’s a whole lot of violence towards the end, and in an early scene Gatsby and Nick Carraway even have lunch with a “business associate” based on 1920s Jewish gangster Arnold Rothstein. Which brings us to Scorsese’s own experience with period dramas from that chapter of American history — directing the pilot episode of Boardwalk Empire, the astoundingly expensive, relentlessly authentic HBO show starring Steve Buscemi as Atlantic City kingpin Nucky Thompson. If Boardwalk‘s aesthetic is any judge, Scorsese would bring a grittier feel to Gatsby’s Roaring Twenties while still retaining some of the glamor Luhrmann has added.
Baz Luhrmann may be the man behind Moulin Rouge!, but Sam Mendes practically has the market cornered on movie musicals, with adaptations of Cabaret, Oliver, and Gypsy under his belt. Though that may mean Mendes would be able to compile a soundtrack almost as overpowering as Jay-Z’s work for Luhrmann, Road to Perdition and American Beauty might be better indications of what the director would do with Gatsby. The former is a popular, big-budget Depression-era crime saga that’s aesthetically very close to Gatsby‘s critical take on the early 20th century, and the latter features the kind of big-picture critiques of American aspirations that make Gatsby so resonant. Mendes has justifiably been enjoying a higher profile after his enormously successful Skyfall, and tackling Gatsby might be one of the few projects more ambitious than carrying on the Bond franchise.
Yes, picking Spielberg to helm a summer blockbuster is almost laughably unimaginative, but the guy’s become synonymous with big-budget hits for a region. If Gatsby‘s ultimate goal is to make pleasant enough entertainment with a little something for everyone, Spielberg’s your man. Interestingly, his recent work has been heavily concentrated in adaptations of books and plays, including The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, and Lincoln (loosely based on Doris Goodwin’s Team of Rivals), suggesting the legendary director/producer might be willing and able to tackle a Great American Novel as his next project.
With Baz Luhrmann’s splashy adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great American Novel contender hitting theaters Friday, Flavorwire is devoting this week to all things Great Gatsby. Click here to follow our coverage.