We were a little harsh, according to readers, when ‘Water For Elephants‘ came out last spring so I thought I’d give it another look at home on blu-ray, but while it looks and sounds perfect, the movie still just fails on so many levels.
Sometimes you can have a bad day or the screening is just full of other reviewers not in the best spirits, so I try to check out a movie again when it hits blu-ray/dvd at home to see if that makes the movie a better viewing experience. While ‘Water For Elephant’s‘ transfers beautifully to blu-ray/dvd, it doesn’t change the fact that the film feels like one big plodding mess…although beautiful to watch.
It feels like writer Richard LaGravenese should have watched more movies that were set in this time period to get a better feel of how people were in the 1930′s for a better adaptation of the bestselling novel. ‘Water For Elephants’ reminded of what happend to ‘Never Leave Me‘ which was a brilliant book, but adapting to the big screen was quite the labor and the audience can feel just how laborious it was. Condensing the sizable book to a two hour running time is never easy, and he’s done fine at that, but so much of the fiery passion in the book escapes the screen.
Mainly I want to know why Reese Witherspoon isn’t doing better movies. I loved her, along with the Academy Awards, for her strong portrayal in ‘Walk the Line‘, but it doesn’t feel like her recent choices in films have the same passion she felt as playing June Carter Cash. For some reason, I wasn’t surprised that Robert Pattinson and she showed no chemistry on screen as he never seems to show any whether against a sexy woman or guy. There seems to be something missing, much like in his most famous character he’s played in the ‘Twilight’ films. That series seems to server him for playing a seeming nonentity.
The only interesting angle in this love triangle is Christoph Waltz, who played the sadistic Nazi in ‘Inglourious Basterds’ with glee, and he steals every scene he’s in playing Witherspoon’s husband, the cruel, jealous circus ringleader. His performance shows just how lackluster Patterson and Witherspoon are in the film, and he actually had me rooting for him. I found the scenes with both him and Witherspoon more electric and filled with chemistry over the ones with Pattinson. It makes you feel like she chose a vanilla guy after going through the emotional turmoil of someone with some personality so going with someone without one was the safe bet.
I’ll assume that after this experience Director Francis Lawrence will go back to action films like ‘I Am Legend’ as his strength is surely in that genre. While it’s great when directors go outside their genre, but it’s doesn’t take long after the film has started that you know he’s way out of his comfort zone. The book is such a delicate balancing act of emotions and ideas that it takes a very special director like Ang Lee who understands how this can play on the screen so the audiences truly becomes vested in the characters and feels part of the movie rather than just an outsider watching a movie.
Hal Holbrook is a welcome addition to the film and starts the movie (much like ‘Titanic’ ruminating on the past. Much of this is way too much exposition and as any screenwriter knows the phrase ‘play it, don’t say it’ this advice could have served the movie quite well.
Here’s the extras you get on the blu-ray edition:
Raising the Tent (HD; 15:42) looks at the film’s production design and how it recreated an actual circus.
Secrets of the Big Top (HD; 12:13) is an interesting overview of the history of circuses, including the first American circuses circa 1792-93. This was way more interesting than the actual film.
The Star Attraction (HD; 9:12) is a sweet featurette focusing on Tai, the elephant who portrays Rosie in the film.
The Traveling Show—Page to Screen (HD; 9:14) offers original source novel author Sara Gruen talking about her creation and the adaptation process.
Robert Pattinson Spotlight (HD; 3:58) will probably disappoint Twilight fans by being so short.
Working Without a Net: The Visual Effects of Water for Elephants (HD; 22:37). This is hands down one of the most creative and enjoyable featurettes documenting visual effects of any recent Blu-ray.
Feature Performer Reese Witherspoon (HD; 2:35) is a brief look at the actress’ circus training for the role.
Theatrical Trailer (HD; 1:55)
Feature Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Writer Richard LaGravenese. This is an okay if not especially enticing commentary that spends way too much time with one of the two participants declaiming about how this or that sequence is “one of my favorites,” while imparting too little information about the adaptation and filming process. You almost feel like LaGravenese is keeping quiet on the film knowing it’s not his best work, but I would have enjoyed hearing more from other crewmembers on this one.
Best Movies Ever News Rating: D
‘Water For Elephants’ feels more like dramatic scenes pieced together trying to complete a coherent idea or story. Fans of the book may enjoy it, but for newbies, this will make them have no desire to ever pick it up. While it looks and sounds great on blu-ray, you can see other beautiful films like ‘Melancholia’ which is much more enjoyable.
If you still want to pick it up, here’s where you can: