Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Great Gatsby (2013)

While I've read the Great Gatsby a few times, it has been many years since my last reading. I would definitely not consider myself a scholar in any way, shape or form. I also have not seen the previous movie with Robert Redford in it so have no starting point to compare this one to.

I took my girlfriend to see it. Initially she didn't want to go. One of her friends specifically warned her away from it saying the only thing good about it was Leonardo's acting. However, she heard some music from the sound track and my girlfriend can easily tie the strength of a soundtrack to a movie. Not perhaps a good idea when judging films.

When arrived very early. She thought it started at 7:20 PM and it turns out that was 7:50 PM. Of course that means the movie didn't still till well after 8:00 PM thanks to the plethora of commercials the user is bombed with. Initially the crowd was very thin. I suspected it would stay that way with a new Star Trek movie, the hanging power of Iron Man 3, the new Fast and Furious Movie, and Will Smith's new flick in. I was wrong. By the time the movie was getting started proper, the only seats left were those directly in front. A fairly packed house. And one that for the most part, was very well behaved. I was pleasantly surprised. Normally you get a few fools in a public showing but the audience seemed enthralled.

For her, the movie was a disaster. She couldn't stand Gatsby himself. His language and manner just struck her as wrong. Mind you, she has read the book recently. She has seen the Redford version. She also was struck unaware by the numerous rap styling in the movie. It struck her a mighty discord to see the costumes and designs of a bygone era with such modern and distinct music being used. She actually fell asleep during part of it.

I suppose if you are a Gatsby purist, you may not enjoy the film.

I too was struck by the disharmony of the music and sights but that aspect was only in a small part of the movie and didn't ruin the whole of the cloth for me. The story, which tries very hard, to be a love story, of loss, or that unattainable object and perfection, is done well in my opinion even though the framing device feels a little heavy handed at times. If you are a fan of great scenery, of Leonard Dicaprio's acting, or just looking for some time to kill, the Great Gatsby might be for you.

I'll be discussing some specific spoilers from the movie below so if you wish to avoid those, read no further.

1. Character Motivation. There is a scene where Gatsby, living on a dirt farm, is starting at the sky and the wording is something like he makes himself into a better individual. He wills it to happen. He takes the actions necessary to do so. This drive for success, to be better than he is, is not something unique to Gatsby. Griffith, from the Berserk manga and anime, is a similar creature. One who is born with nothing and yet manages to work his way up among the highest peers of the land. When looking at a character's motivation, what brings them back to seek out loot? To risk life and limb? While for many OSR games, the money for ale and whores is a tempting bit, some may have something more in mind.

2. Social Structures: In many ways, Gatsby could be an adventurer. He engages in illegal activities to amass a fortune. He surrounds himself with items of great taste and importance. He holds onto his funds only through the continued use of illegal actions. His social circles include those who are reduced to those circles, and those who exploit them. The Sopranos dealt with this idea a bit too. That of 'old' or 'legitimate' money being inherently better than 'new' or 'found' money. Those in need often just go to those who have the money. In Japan part of the social turbulence in their history involves the rise of the merchant class and the end of wars requiring samurai.  These social circles though, can be shifting because in some scenes, especially those in 'the wasteland', we see that society doesn't break down along racial lines, it breaks down along financial lines.

In the slums of your cities, do half orcs rub shoulders with half elves? Do humans dream of a better life in an elf empire? Do outcast dwarves handle work that no one else will because it's the only way of earning a living that doesn't involve a life of crime? In such low ranking housing, powerful individuals can spring forth because what do they have to lose?

3. Everyone loves a party. Getting characters together is one of the oldest headaches in the book. The bar is an old standby as adventurers flock to it like lighting to rods. But what if instead of a bar, the characters are invited to a massively sized mansion to meet a new benefactor? While the rest of the guests are among those who casually show up, in the among the great scenes, the music, the dancing, the alcohol and other intoxicants, the characters are actually invited. To secure their work though, they have to find their host. While doing so, they may come across numerous merchants, politicians and criminals of all social spheres who make themselves at home in the fine manor. Perhaps they stop a minor robbery before it becomes something more? Perhaps they come across a couple of different social spheres whose activities, were they known to others, could cause scandal. Would the players seek to profit directly through blackmail or hold it in their back pocket for future use or just consider it a favor? By changing and enlarging the initial meeting place of the start, the characters can have a much larger canvas to walk through.

4. Be different. When running a game, especially if it's a classic adventure, some game masters may have a dread in their stomach. They've run it so many times they don't know what to do anymore. They can run it in their sleep. Be bold. Put some different creatures in the adventure. Throw some different treasures in there. Move the secret rooms around. This can prevent those who may have played the adventure under other GMs from thinking they know everything and can provide a surprising amount of satisfaction in doing so.

There are some other bits in the movie that viewers could take. I've mentioned the use of catch phrases before such as the Hulk and his famous, "Hulk Smash". Gatsby has one here himself but he uses it so much, it's a reminder that a catchphrase should be used only during those special occasions like the good old SDF-1 and "Fire the Main Gun!"

Other points may be the scenery. Can you engage the players in descriptions of the area? Can you tell them how one statue stands above the center of the park and seems to judge everyone and everything with it's ceaseless vigilance? Can you explain that due to the mining in the community, that everything is often covered in a thin layer of black powder? Can you relate the heat of a hot summer day when there is no automatically grabbing some ice or a cold drink to cool down?

Gatsby may not be a faithful reproduction of the novel but it has its own merits and those looking for inspiration could do worse than enjoy it.