What makes an author’s work unadaptable to film? Over the years, there have been many stories written that have been deemed “impossible” to transfer onto film. Sometimes the limitations come in the content: something that can only be captured in our imagination. Sometimes it’s the scale of the story: with so much to cover, what do you cut out to get it within a reasonable running time? Sometimes it’s simply the wishes of the author’s estate. Nevertheless, these factors haven’t stopped filmmakers from trying. CGI has helped bring imaginative content to the screen. Two-part films split one long story into more manageable chunks. One of the most difficult authors to adapt to film has been F. Scott Fitzgerald, despite his prolific bibliography. This week’s two films focus on works adapted from F. Scott Fitzgerald.
The Curious Case of Benjamin Button
Length: 166 minutes / 2.77 hours
From The Lord of the Rings (2001-2003) to Watchmen (2009) to Ender’s Game (2013), each of these films have been “impossible” to capture on film and each has tried, to varying levels of success. Part of the reason that these films were even attempted was due to the advances in computer technology that allowed these stories to be told. Of course, many detractors of these films cite the fact that much of their source material was cut out during filming because of time constraints. But what about short stories? If the works of Philip K. Dick have proven anything, it’s that short stories can make great film adaptations. It is then no wonder that the F. Scott Fitzgerald short story, “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”, eventually became a feature-length film. This would not have been possible without CGI, but there was still much that was added to the story to pad it out to almost three hours.
Much like the peculiar clock of Mr. Gateau, which advances backward in time instead of forward, Benjamin Button (Brad Pitt) was born as an aged man. His birth killed his mother. His father, Thomas Button (Jason Flemyng), not knowing how to raise such a child, drops Benjamin off at a nursing home. Queenie (Taraji P. Henson) finds the elderly baby and decides to take care of him. As his time at the nursing home passes, he gradually becomes strong enough to leave, but not without meeting Daisy (Cate Blanchett) first. The two individuals go off to live their lives, occasionally intersecting as Benjamin becomes younger and Daisy ages normally. Despite a few missed connections, they eventually become romantically involved. This too, does not last as Benjamin becomes more youthful and Daisy continues to grow older. Now at the end of his life, Benjamin dies as an infant in the elderly Daisy’s arms.
The Great Gatsby
Length: 143 minutes / 2.38 hours
While F. Scott Fitzgerald only wrote five novels (only four of which were published in his lifetime), only three of them have seen life on the big screen. The Beautiful and Damned (1922) and Tender Is the Night (1962) are the only adaptations that have been attempted once. Of course, it stands to reason that F. Scott Fitzgerald’s most famous work would be attempted multiple times. The Great Gatsby has seen itself adapted four times (not counting at least one adaptation for TV). From 1926 to 1949 to 1974, each film has tried to capture the spirit of the book that Fitzgerald penned in reaction to the state of the American society of the 1920’s. The most recent adaptation is that of the 2013 Baz Luhrmann version. Even though the visuals of this version were quite enthralling, some say that defeats the point of adapting The Great Gatsby at all.
Searching for a new job that will support him, Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) finds himself in New York renting a small house next to the mansion of Jay Gatsby (Leonardo DiCaprio). After a few weeks as neighbors, Nick is eventually invited to one of Gatsby’s lavish parties. This is an odd occurrence, since most people have just showed up at Gatsby’s parties, with very few of them actually having met the man. Gatsby and Nick develop a friendship which leads to Gatsby meeting Nick’s cousin, Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), rendering him immediately smitten. In the struggle between old money and new, events transpire that drive Gatsby to madness and causes Daisy to drive through the valley of ashes, accidentally killing the lover of her husband, Tom (Joel Edgerton). With infidelities and accusations flying, many others die and are killed as the story becomes trapped in Nick’s head.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 fantastic Fitzgerald fables