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Inflatable zebras and hip-hop: 'Great Gatsby' movie isn't quite by the book, old sport

Most adults have probably read F. Scott Fitzgerald's "The Great Gatsby," whether for pleasure or for sophomore English class. It's just a slim novella, but it's been adapted into movies, referenced on television shows, turned into an opera, inspired songs, been re-imagined by other authors, and even become an opera and two computer games.

Warner Bros

Jay Gatsby drives a 1929 Dusenberg in the movie, which is set in 1922. Some fans of the book argue that he should only be in a Rolls-Royce.

But the new movie version, starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as his longtime love Daisy, is perhaps the most expensive and ambitious iteration yet. It cost $127 million to make, is nearly two and a half hours long, and for some reason, is offered in 3-D.

If you're seeing the movie and are wondering how it compares it to the book, here's a cheat sheet.

You'll recognize some quotes, not others
The exact words Fitzgerald wrote are vitally important to many fans. Microsoft founder Bill Gates reportedly has one of its famed last lines -- "He had come a long way to this blue lawn, and his dream must have seemed so close that he could hardly fail to grasp it" -- painted on the library ceiling in his gigantic Seattle-area home. Such folks will be happy to know that in several critical places, including the all-important ending, the script sticks exactly to Fitzgerald's words. Daisy's poignant outburst about how the best thing in the world a girl can be is "a beautiful little fool" made the cut. Nick's speech about being one of the few who was actually invited to Gatsby's parties is pretty close. And the book's very first sentence, where Nick muses on advice his father gave him, is uttered word-for-word -- but then the script veers off and does its own thing.


Fitzgerald's plot gets a weird framing device
Messing with Fitzgerald's plot would have been a literary scandal, so the main Gatsby-Daisy-Tom triangle, the extravagant parties, the car accident and more all remain. But purists will cringe at the movie's framing device, where narrator Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) tells the story of Gatsby from a sanitarium where he's being treated for alcoholism and anxiety. At the film's end, he's seen finishing typing up the story with "GATSBY" as its title, then slashing the words "THE GREAT" over it in pen. Fitzgerald himself was reportedly ambivalent about the title, and tried out many versions, from "Trimalchio in West Egg" to "The High-Bouncing Lover."

Warner Bros

The "Great Gatsby" movie invents scenes where Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) is writing the story while in a sanitarium.

Did the 1920s have hip-hop and inflatable zebras?
"Gatsby" is set in 1922, amidst the roar of jazz and flapper culture. If you're interested in history, you can have fun picking out the objects that simply shouldn't exist in that era.

In the book, an air mattress is famously present in a key scene, although Fitzgerald called it a "pneumatic mattress." Weirdly, the mattress is absent from that vital scene entirely. But it does appear in an earlier pool scene, along with ... inflatable zebras? Director Baz Luhrmann defended the stripey critters to the New York Times, saying period photographs show them. Perhaps, but Fitzgerald's book does not.

Warner Bros.

Gatsby's parties were legendary in the novel, but they did not include inflatable zebras.

Luhrmann also defended "Gatsby's" Jay-Z led soundtrack, saying that what jazz was to Fitzgerald's era, hip-hop is to modern times. "Why would Fitzgerald put such ephemeral stuff, actual song lyrics, in his book?" Luhrmann asked the paper. "Because it made it immediate and visceral and exciting for the reader. And when you think of an African-American street music today that is visceral and exciting and is making a big impression on popular culture, that’s hip-hop." Jay-Z's lyrics do reference the time period in some parts -- "no Prohibition for my coalition" runs one line.

Don't get your historian friends or car junkies started on the "Gatsby" cars. The movie shows DiCaprio's Gatsby driving a 1929 Dusenberg (a replica, made in the 1980s). The book clearly states Gatsby has a Rolls-Royce -- true, but it's also mentioned that he has more than one car -- so he could have owned a Dusenberg as well. But with the movie set in 1922, it wouldn't have been a 1929 model. Blogger Jerry Garrett, though, makes a convincing argument that a Dusenberg would not have impressed Daisy in the way a Rolls would have, and that impressing Daisy was what Gatsby lived for, so a Dusenberg is unlikely. (And the car chase it gets into -- with a 1930 Buick -- needless to say that wasn't in the book either.)

Why the 3-D?
"The Great Gatsby" seems like the most unlikely movie ever to get the 3-D treatment. This is not a superhero film, where Captain America's shield flies out at the audience, or a kids' movie, where viewers are easily enchanted by floating bubbles. Luhrmann told the Times that he felt the medium made the film more exciting and that he felt Fitzgerald would have approved. That led to the following hilarious tweet from former "Mystery Science Theater 3000" star Frank Coniff: "Baz Luhrmann says Fitzgerald would have wanted a 3-D Gatsby with rap music. Agreed -- he was an alcoholic with poor judgement."

Well then, old sport
If you need an engaging exercise while watching the new film, old sport, count how many times Gatsby says "old sport" to someone. We lost track around 20, old sport, but maybe you can keep up. But go back to the book, old sport -- Fitzgerald's Gatsby does use that nickname frequently, old sport, perhaps the affectation of a North Dakota boy who briefly spent time at Oxford and thinks it the height of sophistication. So on this point, old sport, we're giving the film a pass.