Follow us on

Featured Blu-ray / DVD Review: Water for Elephants

October 30th, 2011

Water for Elephants - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Water for Elephants is yet another attempt by a Twilight alumnus to prove they can be a box office draw. This time its Robert Pattinson and, while the film did better than Remember Me, it wasn't exactly a blockbuster. The question of his box office drawing power won't be answered with this film, but will those who do see, want to see more from the actor?

The Movie

The film starts on a rainy night at the circus. They are trying to pack up and head for the next town, but an elderly gentleman, Jacob Jankowski, is in the way. The manager, Charlie, brings him into his office while they try to track down the retirement home he's living in. Then Charlie and Jacob get to talking and Jacob reveals he used to be in the circus. Not only was he in the circus, he worked in the Benzini Circus during the biggest disaster in the history of circuses. This obviously intrigues the manager, who asks Jacob to tell him the story.

His story begins during the Great Depression with a young Jacob getting ready to take his final exam, so he could be a veterinarian, just like his father. However, just as his final examine begins, he's told there's been a car accident and both his parents were killed. He also learns that his dad had borrowed heavily to pay for his tuition and now that they were dead, the bank owned the home, the practice, everything. After such a great loss, Jacob just wants to run away and hops on a train. He's quickly grabbed by the other men on the train, but one of them, Camel, makes sure he isn't beaten and thrown off. He even says he can get him a job at their next stop. The next morning he finds out just what kind of train he hopped onto. It's a circus train.

Jacob does get a job and even gets to work with animals. More specifically, the manure they leave behind. (He is later upgraded to veterinarian, after his boss, August, learns he went to school.) Before that, he meets August's wife, Marlene, and he's instantly in love. This sets up a dangerous situation, as August is a volatile and violent man and he's not above red-lighting workers that don't pull their weight. (Red-lighting is when a person is thrown from a moving train. It's usually fatal.) When he first sees Marlene, she's with her horses, but one of them, Silver, is limping. It's Jacob's ability to diagnose Laminitis just by looking at it that impresses August, but also makes him feel threatened by Jacob. This might be even more dangerous for Jacob than falling in love with Marlene. And then when Jacob disobeys a direct order by August to euthanize the sick horse, he's pretty much solidified his position in August's bad book. But August needs a veterinarian, so he keeps Jacob on, for now.

At this point, we start running into spoilers. Water for Elephants earned overall positive reviews, but barely. It certainly has a mixed report card when it comes to execution. On the positive side, the film looks fantastic and the circus of the 1930s is certainly recreated here extremely well. We get to see the performances, the behind-the-scenes with the roustabouts, little ways they trick the rubes, etc. I would have been more than happy to spend a couple hours watching that part of the movie. Unfortunately, the film focuses on the love triangle between Jacob, Marlene and August. This is a problem, as Robert Pattinson doesn't have any real chemistry with Reese Witherspoon. At the beginning of the movie, Robert Pattinson's character is traumatized by the death of his parents and the loss of the family home, so it is understandable that he feels detached for much of the early film. I was expecting his character to come alive when he first met Marlene, but that didn't really happen. I spend a long time waiting for that spark to happen. It never did happen and I'm not sure Robert Pattinson has that spark in him, at least not with the material his been given recently.

Robert Pattinson was so much more interesting when he was playing Cedric Diggory.

The lack of chemistry between the leads is exacerbated by the dialogue, and whenever Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon have to carry a scene, there's little to grab your attention. Christoph Waltz is better at doing that, but we've seen him playing this part, and do it better in a stronger film.

Overall it is not a terrible movie and enough elements work that it is worth checking out. However, when the leading man has better chemistry with an elephant than with the leading lady, you know the film has flaws.

The Extras

Extras on the DVD start with an audio commentary track with the director, Francis Lawrence, and the screenwriter, Richard LaGravenese. They offer enough insight into the movie that fans will want to listen to it, but there are enough dead spots that it hurts the momentum. There are also a trio of featurettes, starting with The Travelling Show: From Page to Screen, which looks at the genesis of the book, how the producer found the story, and how it was turned into a movie. There is a four-minute spotlight on Robert Pattinson and three-minute spotlight on Reese Witherspoon.

The Blu-ray has a number of exclusives, starting with Raising the Tent, a 16-minute featurette on creating a realistic 1930s circus. Secrets of the Big Top spends 12 minutes looking at the history of circuses in America. The Star Attraction is a 9-minute featurette on Ty, the titular elephant. Working Without a Net is a 23-minute look at the many, many films that required extensive digital effects and how they were put together. It has a lot more style than most similar features and that's very helpful. The disc is BD-live enabled with a single featurette, Stars of the Circus, which looks at the animal trainer. The Blu-ray also comes with a digital copy.

Moving onto the technical presentation, I'm happy to report I have no complaints with either the video or the audio. There's excellent detail levels, the colors are great, the blacks are inky without swallowing details. You don't have to worry about compression issues or print damage. The audio has plenty of action in the surround sound speakers, especially while we watch the circus in action. There are directional effects, and the base gets to perform as well.

Finally we get to the price. The Blu-ray costs 30% more than the DVD. Considering the exclusive extras, the extras that push the technology and the film's technical presentation, this is worth the upgrade.

The Verdict

If Water for Elephants stuck with the behind-the-scenes of a struggling circus trying to come up with a new star act, it could have been a really good movie. (Or conversely, they could have made sure the two leads had some better chemistry.) As it is, enough works that it is worth checking out, but there are enough flaws that it can be a frustrating experience. If you are only interested in renting, the DVD is fine. But if you are looking to buy, the Blu-ray is worth the upgrade.

- Submitted by:

Filed under: Video Review, Water for Elephants