CapGats: Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby in Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby (2013).Like many Australians, I stopped at the DVD store on the way home from seeing The Great Gatsby in 3D and rented The Great Gatsby in 2D, which I watched while turning the pages of The Great Gatsby in 4D. If you’ve got a day to spare, I recommend you do the same.

To simplify communication, I will henceforth refer to them as CapGats (Leonardo DiCaprio’s 2013 movie), RedGats (Robert Redford’s 1974 movie) and FitzGats (F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1925 novel).

The three have plenty of physical and behavioural differences, but they all share one mysterious phone conversation. Gatsby tells a caller: ”I said a small town. He must know what a small town is. Well, he’s no use to us if [that’s] his idea of a small town.” What’s going on there? What is Gatsby plotting to do in, or to, this town? We’ll come back to that statement, but first let’s compare and contrast:

■ The original screenwriter for RedGats was Truman Capote (of Breakfast at Tiffany’s fame) but he was sacked when he presented the narrator Nick Carraway as homosexual and the golfer Jordan Baker as a bitchy lesbian (both legitimate interpretations of the FitzGats subtext). Capote was replaced by Francis Ford Coppola (later of Godfather fame), whose RedGats screenplay is closer to FitzGats than the CapGats screenplay by Baz Luhrmann and Craig Pearce.

■ DiCaprio is taller and more charismatic than Redford, who mostly looks distant (Mia Farrow later complained they had no chemistry because when they weren’t filming, Redford stayed in his trailer watching the Watergate hearings that destroyed the career of president Richard Nixon). As Daisy, Carey Mulligan is a lot less irritating than Farrow, who whines and squeaks instead of having (according to FitzGats) ”a low thrilling voice … as if each speech is an arrangement of notes that will never be played again”.

■ In CapGats, the whining and squeaking is done by Tobey Maguire, who portrays narrator Nick as gormless. In RedGats, Nick, played by Sam Waterston (later of Law and Order fame), is naive but also smart, so the audience can sympathise with him – just as readers trust his narrative voice in FitzGats.

■ The 3D in CapGats adds to the surreal quality, making the film look like a drunkard’s dream, even if the images of people writhing on staircases become tedious. The 2D party scenes in RedGats look like an instructional film on dancing the Charleston. The novel lets your imagination supply four dimensions.

■ As played by Lois Chiles, Jordan in RedGats is drop-dead sexy, and lucky Nick is clearly enjoying an affair with her – as he does in FitzGats. In CapGats, Jordan is barely present and has no chemistry with Nick, possibly because Luhrmann wants to emphasise Nick’s crush on Gatsby (recalling the Capote interpretation).

■ The biggest loser in CapGats is the character of Myrtle Wilson. You barely hear a word from her. As played by Karen Black in RedGats, she’s desperate and tragic, married to a mad loser and in love with a selfish bastard (who breaks her nose in FitzGats). Luhrmann makes her a plump slattern whose death is a mere plot detail. Isla Fisher deserves better.

■ Luhrmann decided to leave out Gatsby’s father, which was peculiar. Both FitzGats and RedGats use the broken old man’s appearance at the end to make his son’s story more poignant.

■ Gatsby’s phone remark about the small town lets us glimpse him as a ruthless businessman and not just a lovesick fool. Presumably that’s why all three versions used it.

FitzGats contains a later reference that supplies a context for the quote, but I’m not going to tell you what that was, because this is the one point on which I think Red and Cap score better than Fitz. They chose to leave Gatsby with an aura of mystery. Some things should not be explained.

Is Bazby a hit?

Australia’s cultural cringe has been on display in media coverage of how The Great Gatsby performed at the international box office. We’ve been proud to hear it has earned $US137 million ($130 million) in America so far and $US115 million elsewhere in the world (it’s particularly big in Russia) – the biggest overseas success of Baz Luhrmann’s career. But is he a profitable prophet in his own land?

Launched on 587 screens, Gatsby made $9.5 million in its first week, which means it was seen by about 600,000 Australians. In its second week, ticket sales dropped 33 per cent, suggesting it had pretty good word of mouth. By the end of its run, Gatsby looks like totalling $30 million – putting it behind Australia, which made $38 million in 2008, when the average ticket price was $11, and ahead of Moulin Rouge, which made $28 million in 2001, when the average ticket price was $9.

On box-office takings, Gatsby will be the No.5-biggest Australian moneymaker of all time. But, if we judge by ticket sales, Australia was the No.5 most-successful Oz flick of all time, after Crocodile Dundee I and II, Babe and The Man from Snowy River. And The Great Gatsby will be the No.13 ticket seller. Not bad, but not a mega-hit.

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The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.