Sunday, 1 May 2011

Water for Elephants


Dir: Francis Lawrence (Constantine, I Am Legend)
Cast: Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz, Hal Holbrook, Paul Schneider
USA, 2011

Seen: April 29, 2011 at the Varsity VIP with my sister Jamie

Reason to see: It's the April Film Selection for the Movie Moxie Book to Film Club and my list of Most Anticipated Films of 2011 (#7).

Well, where to start. I was oddly looking forward to seeing Water for Elephants even more after reading and not super loving the book. I still thought the trailer looked amazing, I thought the casting would be good and that the film had great promise of wonder, beauty and lots of awesome animals. There were hints at all of these things, but not as many as I had hoped.

Water for Elephants is set during The Depression and follows the inadvertent adventures of Jacob Jankowski, a veterinary student who runs away with the circus. Hard life and hard times are all around, as are sparkles, acrobats and of course animals. One of my biggest challenges with the book was not connecting to Jacob because he was so male and with him being so young it has a coming of age energy to it. In the film version Jacob is played by Robert Pattinson (Twilight), and the character is a lot more wide eyed and wondrous, perhaps as we see him in action as oppose to hear his thoughts but there is a certain desperate thirst for life that I felt was missing. And I totally didn't expect to miss that, because it's something that almost annoyed me in the book.

The more I thought about it, there were lots of things that I missed from the book that aren't in the film, mostly surrounding every day circus life and the class system that forms the structure of who can talk to who, and who does what. This is almost completely glazed over and the film focuses very strongly on the friendship that Jacob makes with ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz) and his wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who are the top of the food chain in this particular circus. I could feel that the emotional core of the film was to be centred here, but I just wasn't feeling it. Christoph Waltz has a few really great moments, but the character of August is changed a fair bit from the book and I found him very hard to connect with. Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon were good in their roles, but I had really expected a lot more. Who did blow me away was Hal Holbrook, whom I instantly had a connection to the few times he's on screen. Instantly and powerfully. We are talking tears-powerful. But the other parts of the film just left me cold, I felt like we didn't have enough contrast to work off of. It's set during The Depression but we see people being pretty & glamourous way more than dirty and hungry. Not that I like that, but you need it to feel drive to succeed and/or survive, and I just wasn't feeling it.

I did enjoy the representation of the period, in particular the costumes were really great and felt very authentic. I also really liked the animals in the film, although I really wished we had seen them more and had seen all of the ones that were important in the film. I wonder if there were limitations with comfort levels with the actors, because if really felt like it was them with the real animals, which I really appreciate seeing but I still wanted more. More in quantity and in depth, and that is likely because the animals were my favourite part of the book as I connected to them way more than the human characters.

In terms of an adaptation, it's the actually the least of the Book to Film Club films where I think you need to read the book. The narrative is very clear, and a lot of the little moments that would make faithful readers go 'aw!' weren't carried over into the film. There were certainly some changes made to character histories and even some actions that I didn't like, and am still pondering. This is an adaptation that if someone asked me know, I'd recommend watching the film first and if they liked it *then* go and read the book as it adds more and you won't feel like you are missing out while watching the film.

Warnings: Animal distress

Shannon's Overall View:
I didn't love it
I'll watch it again - and likely buy it
I'd recommend it to fans of the book and/or American period pieces

Also see: Most Anticipated Films of 2011, 2011 Book to Film Club and All Film Reviews

© Shannon Ridler, 2011



Anonymous said...

I agree with a lot of your review, especially how the film is poorer because it's missing the bits about everyday circus life. I was kinda surprised the friendship between Jacob and Walter was glossed over like that! That was the part I enjoyed in the book.


Shannon the Movie Moxie said...

I'm totally with you on missing the Jacob/Walter friendship Norlinda! Loved your review too, and now I know I have to keep my eye on Jacqueline West for costumes as I liked the costumes here as well as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button *and* The New World. All three have an odd atmosphere and are period set. Hmm. Interesting!

All content on Movie Moxie is written by Shannon Ridler, © 2006 - 2012