The “Harry Potter” movies were better than the books. Now that I have your attention, it’s time to discuss an important matter: adapting a book into a movie. It’s an old topic, but an important one nonetheless, given a movie slated to hit theaters one year from now: “The Great Gatsby.”

Despite its distant release date, a recent article in The New York Times reminded me of an important fact concerning this oft-adapted novel: You can’t make a good movie version of “Gatsby.”

I first learned this lesson when my 11th-grade-English teacher showed us the third incarnation of “The Great Gatsby” on film after finishing our unit on the book. I was stunned. How could they take a novel I really liked and make such an awful movie that was so stilted, slow and boring?

As the story goes, Nick Carraway, a young Ivy League grad, moves to the West Egg of Long Island upon graduation to begin his life. The year is 1922 and it’s the Jazz Age — the film’s inclusion of all of that era’s gaudy splendor creates a rich backdrop, complete with bootlegging and phrases like “old sport.” Nick soon meets his neighbor, the mysterious Jay Gatsby. Gatsby is in love with Daisy Buchanan, who is in turn in a relationship with Tom Buchanan, a kind of meathead in fancy clothes. Gatsby throws lavish parties and pines after Daisy, but does not ultimately get the girl of his dreams. That’s about it. Seriously.

So far, there have been six film versions made of “Gatsby,” including a silent film and a Korean adaptation. After the lackluster 1974 version starring Robert Redford in the title role, they tried for (what should have been) the last time in 2000: a TV version starring Toby Stevens (“Die Another Day”) that aired on A&E. Each time, the beauty of Fitzgerald’s words was lost in translation. When read, the novel’s opening words are powerful in their lyricism: “In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.” Fitzgerald could write, and he pulls us in right from the get-go.

But a film has got to move, and the minute you rely on mere language to spur a plot forward, you risk inviting the audience into a book club — back to that 11th grade English class in which the teacher went on and on about how Gatsby’s longing for Daisy Buchanan was supposed to represent the American Dream. I’m sure the American Dream factors heavily into the book (in fact, I even remember being forced to write a paper on the topic), but a book of metaphor and allusion deserves to be left well alone, if only because the actual plot is BORING when filmed.

The novel may explore the growing materialism of a country that has increasingly lost sight of its core values — a key reason Baz Luhrmann, the new film’s director, cites as to the timeliness of the remake. But I couldn’t care less. The story plays second fiddle to the greater themes. Unfortunately, a movie can’t just hold the camera on the characters for an extended period of time and explain the deep implications of the disintegration of American values in an age of cynicism and hope lost.

Unless Luhrmann and Co. plan on adding in a shootout, or a government conspiracy, or time travel, audiences can likely expect a simple, frivolous movie about deeply complex people. Perhaps Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead role will be eye candy enough to propel the movie through two-and-a-half hours of what amounts to characters thinking intensely about the things they really want out of life. Maybe Luhrmann will use 3-D technology (yes, he’s releasing it in 3-D, but that’s a conversation for another time) to wow us. But I’m doubtful.

To return to my original claim, can we say the Gatsby problem holds true for all books making the leap to the silver screen? Of course not. There’s “The Godfather,” “The English Patient,” “The Lord of the Rings” (all three of them) and, yes, “Harry Potter,” to name a few. These films grab the audience with their narratives and don’t let go, keeping us perched on the edge of our seats to see the next development of Frodo’s journey, or Harry’s or Michael Corleone’s. In a way, they do the same thing Fitzgerald does with language: They mesmerize.

The task for filmmakers lies in recognizing when a story has reached its pinnacle in a respective art form, whether that be novel or book, TV show or theatrical performance. “Gatsby” will continue to confound 17-year-olds for years to come. Let it stay that way. Don’t subject moviegoers to the false allure of a blockbuster come Christmas 2012, only to deliver a film that’s more a critique of capitalism than an action-driven narrative. It’s not fun to watch; not at all.

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