Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Great Gatsby.'
Carey Mulligan and Leonardo DiCaprio in 'The Great Gatsby.'

Like him or not, there's no denying that Baz Lurhmann is a talented showman who knows how to dazzle and get under our skin. With "The Great Gatsby," he's captured the poetic spirit of F. Scott Fitzgerald like no other prior movie adaptation. And the secret is 3-D. Like "Avatar," "Hugo," and "Life of Pi," "Gatsby" is a movie about 3-D, yet it pushes stereo further as dramatic spectacle.

Gliding through the glam artifice of Jazz Age conspicuous consumption is impressive enough, but the way the 3-D exposes the arrested development of Fitzgerald's tragic characters is even more powerful. According to production and costume designer Catherine Martin, it was all about using 3-D to enhance the performances in conveying "Gatsby's" crazy circus.

"Baz has always directed in 3-D, because he always thinks about all the planes of the picture: the foreground, mid-ground, and background," explains Martin, the two-time Oscar winner for "Moulin Rouge!" "And one of the things that he wanted me to think about were all the cues you need to find the actor in space."

Talk about a multi-plane mise en scene: When Nick Carraway (Tobey Maguire) awkwardly stumbles upon cousin Daisy Buchanan (Carey Mulligan), they dynamically recreate the description in the book of curtains and dresses blowing around the room and how Tom Buchanan (Joel Edgerton) disturbs that reverie."It's about the seven veils and Nick's initiation into this sophisticated and rarefied world," Martin adds.

As Nick observes, it's like being "within and without" Gatsby's world, and that's the remarkable 3-D effect that Luhrmann achieves. However, there's an oppressive quality as well (photographed by Simon Duggan using the Red Epic and 3eality stereoscopic rig), even during the dizzying party that introduces us to Jay Gatsby, who's portrayed by Leonardo DiCaprio as though he's channeling Orson Welles from "Citizen Kane," a spiritual cinematic cousin. Martin admits they were never quite sure if the Welles influence was intentional or subliminal.

Not surprisingly, though, the key influence on "Gatsby" was "Dial M for Murder," which Martin's father mentioned to Luhrmann as a 3-D movie he enjoyed, and the director viewed the new digital remastering at Warner Bros. It proved a revelation the way Hitchcock made the apartment come alive as a character. It was both theater and cinema.