Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The elephant in the room

Let me preface this review with these four words: I read the book.

And then these four: This review contains spoilers.

If you have not read the book and plan to...turn back now. If you have not seen the movie and plan to...watch for the wild-arrangement of asterisks. You'll know it when you see it. Reader beware...

Water For Elephants
Director- Francis Lawrence
Written by- Richard LaGravenese and based on the novel by Sara Gruen 
Top Billed Cast- Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, and Christoph Waltz

Ah, the circus. The real circus. This is a story about the circus. Sort of. The circus is the setting, the people are the story. Robert Pattinson plays a young man who, having lost his parents, his house, and his career in one foul swoop, set off to try and fine a new path in depression-era America. He stumbles onto a train..but not just any train..it's the train for the greatest circus on earth! Well, behind Ringling..but we won't talk about them.


* At the start there was great usage of lines from the book directly into the script. And I liked that a lot. In my opinion, if you're going to have a movie based so heavily on a book...you need to treat it with respect and use the lines the author wrote for her characters as much as possible. After all, the book was a best seller first so obviously the dialog she wrote was more than sufficient for character growth and development.

* I LOVED how the train seemed almost..melodic at the beginning. They really used the chuff-chuff-chuff and the horn to punctuate the cadence of the scene.

* I love big scenes in movie. No, not scenes involving big things. I like scale and this movie had several good large-scale scenes. One of which was the first time they showed them setting up for the show. Lots of equipment and lots of actors but well done.

* Really enjoyed the score in this movie. It was soft when it should be and swelled when it needed to.

* They seemed to really capture the era with the lighting and and tone of the filming, I appreciated that.

* Christoph Waltz..just wow. As sad as I am that they cut out Big Al..at least they cast an actor capable of combing the roles. Well done.

* At this point..my notes kind of just morphed into various praises for Waltz. Therefore, he gets two asterisks.

* I think this line kind of captures not only what the circus is about, but also what movie making is about: "To talent...and illusion."

* The filming style, for the most part, wasn't overly mind blowing but there was one scene in which you really see a change in Waltz' character and they showcased this by switching to a handheld..and it worked. I'm not a huge fan of handhelds because they're so shake a lot of the time, but this time it was good.

* Though there were a LOT of things that were different from the book (and I do mean a LOT), they did seem to pay homage to it at times and I especially appreciated the inclusion of the lemonade scene, even though it was different.

* At first, I really wasn't feeling Reese Witherspoon's performance. She just didn't seem passionate enough. But, as she described her (totally wrong) backstory, I finally bought it.

* My notes, ever entertaining, describe several things that I liked..but I'm not entirely sure what I was talking about. Something about an instrument that I appreciated, fly noises, and good fog use? I'll go with that.

* I don't normally include the viewer's reactions to movies in my reviews but I thought it spoke for the film that hardly anybody in the audience said anything for the first 60 seconds after the credits began to role; nobody jumped up; no loud complaints. When people finally started to stir, they were whispering. I don't think I heard an actual voice until I was in the hall...and there were other movies getting out at the same time so I'm not sure which group was doing the talking.


* I was really excited to see the older version of RPats' character (Jacob)...but then he spoke. And I couldn't understand him. Is annunciation really that hard?

* I couldn't really decide if the voice overlay was a good thing or a bad thing so I put it here. It was interesting..but I don't think it was necessary.

* Camel...great character..poor actor choice. I just didn't like the way he delivered his lines.

* When Sara Gruen described the circus in her book and she mentioned a Giraffe...I didn't picture a baby one and I doubt she meant one either. In fact, I'm pretty certain she did not since she described its massive body and what not. Did circuses have baby exotics? Yes. Did this one? Maybe. Did it have a baby giraffe? I don't think so.

* RPats...since your character is a (almost) vet who's father was a large animal vet and who was planning on taking over the practice...shouldn't you know how to lift a horse's leg??

* I hate hate hate hate cgi smoke. It never works.

* If a horse has an abscess or is foundering to that degree..it's not going to walk as nicely as that one did.

* Call me the spatter police, but sheesh..he was wearing white and the shot was at point blank range...but there was no blood. None.

* Marlena's backstory. I just can not wrap my mind around why screenwriters feel the need to change such a non-important (to the character development) plot point needs to be changed sooooo much? I mean, it's not like they changed it a little, like added a city or changed some names..no no, what they had her say was just a complete lie and I didn't understand it.

* Either they have an extremely talented makeup artist on call 24/7 on that struggling circus, or Marlena has magic quick-heal skin.

* If you thought you were going to get to see some awesome stunts by Reese Witherspoon and her stunt double..you'd be wrong. I was under the impression that they were going to do all these cool things with her and the elephant and her and the horses. Nope. It was rather lame.

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* As one of the major plot points in the book, the whole "jake" incident is not hard to remember. In the book, Camel offers Jacob some and he does NOT drink any. So when Camel gets sick...Jacob has a moment of "Thank goodness I didn't drink it!". Yet, in the movie...he drinks it and is miraculously fine.

* I was not a fan at ALL of the way they depicted the menagerie escape. It was jumanji-like.....and that was lame even then.

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Now Mother..

This movie is rated PG-13. You should be prepared to talk about spousal abuse, the great depression (specifically prohibition), and the circus way back when. There is smoking, drinking, a strip tease, and (a bit more than) implied sex. Viewer beware..

This movie. The parts that I liked, I really liked. The parts that I didn't like, I hated. It's not that I was in love with the book...at all. It's the fact that I saw no need, no real reason, behind the changes they did make. Heck, in my notes I even praised parts of it that they changed because it made sense; they didn't have all day, they needed to tell the story. But the bits that they changed weren't left out..they were just different. Still took up time, still cost money..just not the same. 3.5/5 stars.

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