Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Water For Elephants DVD Review/Book Comparison


Take a journey back in time with the romantic tale based on Sara Gruen’s New York Times #1 Best-Seller novel of the same name, Water For Elephants, coming to Blu-ray and DVD on November 1st from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Starring Academy Award®-winner Reese Witherspoon (Walk The Line), Robert Pattinson (Twilight series) and Oscar®-winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), the film presents an epic tale of forbidden love in a magical place filled with adventure, wonder and great danger. Showcasing the decadence of a bohemian circus and the majesty of its animals against the backdrop and beauty of a bygone era, Water For Elephants makes the ideal holiday gift idea for your favorite film buff, fashionista or book-lover!

Devastated by the sudden death of his parents at the height of The Depression, a young dreamer from the wrong side of the tracks, Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson), abandons his veterinary studies at Cornell University. With no other family, no house, and no money, Jacob stows away on a train carrying the circus performers of The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Hired as a veterinarian to care for the troupe’s animals, Jacob is temporarily filled with the promise of an exciting life that comes with a traveling circus troupe. However, as he builds a rapport and falls in love with the star of the show, Marlena (Witherspoon), they become prey to the circus’s owner, Marlena’s violent and abusive husband August (Waltz). As the circus begins to crumble from within and against all odds, Jacob and Marlena come together and fall in love through their compassion for a special elephant. With their love on the line, Jacob and Marlena come to a crossroads that will forever change their destiny.

Directed by critically-acclaimed filmmaker Francis Lawrence (Constantine), Water For Elephants features fantastic supporting performances from Paul Schneider (Lars and the Real Girl), Jim Norton (Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets), Mark Povinelli (The Polar Express), Richard Brake (Batman Begins), and Academy Award®-nominee Hal Holbrook (Into the Wild).


I picked up Water For Elephants by Sara Gruen eighteen months ago when I heard that Robert Pattinson had been cast as the leading man. I was blown away by the story - the romance, the exotic setting of a circus, the cruelty, the friendships, and more. It was one of my favorite reads of 2010. I was unable to make it to the theater to see Water For Elephants last spring, so I was beyond thrilled that Fox offered me the opportunity to review and discuss an early copy of the DVD. Like most movies adapted from a novel, the film version of Water For Elephants is not as good as the book, but I still really enjoyed it.

What the film does best is showcase the simultaneous glitz and dirtiness of the circus. Not only that, it does a wonderful job of portraying the 1930s. The desperate poverty, train-hopping, Prohibition, jazz, and the somewhat seedy entertainment options. It was a slight variation on the usual portrayal of 1930s America. The film employs a style of cinematography that you don't see much anymore - everything seems larger than life - more beautiful and more terrible. Even though I was lying in bed watching the DVD on my laptop, I could smell the dust kicked up by the animals, the cotton candy and peanuts, and the sweat and tears of the performers. I was transported into another world. Arresting visuals is one thing that a movie can provide that books largely cannot. Water For Elephants did a fantastic job with the visuals.

I loved the fashion. Clothes are one of the best ways to showcase a particular moment in time and the costumes in Water For Elephants were fabulous. I particularly liked the clothes that the circus audience wore. Every day people wear. One little girl stood out (probably because of the close-up shot); she was wearing a sailor outfit and had Shirley Temple curls. Adorable. Marlena's dresses and costumes were another highlight. Her performance costume was exotic and glamorous. I wondered whether it was a little too risque for the time period, but I would assume the costume designer kept it in line with 1930s performer outfits. The gowns she wore at the dinner scenes were gorgeous - simple yet elegant.

The three main characters in Water For Elephants are Jacob, Marlena, and August. I'm a big fan of both Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon, so I was inclined to like both of their performances. And I did. Rob portrayed Jacob just as I imagined him to be in the books. He didn't act out the role with a great deal of emotion, but book Jacob is a relatively flat character who didn't wear his emotions on his sleeve. Rob did a great job of creating a kind, somewhat awkward, and rolls with the punches character. Reese was also wonderful. You could tell how much Marlena loved animals. I also understood, perhaps even better than from the book, why she stayed with a man like August. Reese's Marlena believed that the circus was the only place for her...or the only place she deserved.

What I didn't like as much was Jacob and Marlena together. Call me a Cougar-hater, but I could not get past the fact that she is ten years older than him. As a result, instead of going "Awww..." when they kissed, I went "Ewww..." Yes, I know. Very mature. I don't remember if it said how old Marlena was in the book, but I never thought was she more than a year or two older than he was. While I think Reese acted the part of Marlena wonderfully, I would have liked the romance better if they had chosen a younger actress. (Or an older actor, but Rob is the right age for Jacob)

The stand-out performance was Christoph Waltz as August. I loved the layered approach Christoph took to the role. He portrayed August as completely psychotic. But not necessarily evil. He was sick - very sick. That doesn't excuse the things he did - mindlessly maiming and killing animals and humans. But Christoph created two characters. The charming, friendly August who was horrified about the terrible things he did and the violent psycopath. He did a wonderful, subtle job of mixing the two personalities. I hated him and I pitied him. Best of all, I believed him. My only problem with him was his accent. Christoph is Austrian. When he speaks, he doesn't sound like he has a German accent. Rather, he sounds like he's speaking American English with an odd, but hard to place difference. Since I always imagined August as an American in the book, his voice was distracting. I actually liked the way he talked, but it wasn't what I expected.

Since the film cannot and should not be 10 hours long, many parts of the book were condensed or left out. This made some of the connections a bit choppy. For example, we got to know Walter and Camel, but not nearly as well as in the book. The focus on the triangle between August, Marlena, and Rob - as well as Rosie the elephant - was the main feature of the movie. There wasn't time to get the same feel for day to day life for the circus lackies as in the book. Like the book, the movie features Jacob as an old man looking back on his life. Part of me thinks it would have been smoother to skip old Jacob and just focus on the 1930s. But old Jacob's reminisces were some of my favorite scenes in the book. I rather like the references to them in the movie.

If I had my choice between reading the book Water For Elephants and watching the film Water For Elephants, I'd choose the book any day, but that's the case with almost any book versus movie (and the reason I have a book blog, not a film blog). If I had the choice between the film Water For Elephants and many other films, I would probably choose Water For Elephants. The gorgeous cinematography transported me back in time and the actors did a great job of bringing to life and even enhancing characters I loved from the novel.

I highly recommend Water For Elephants the film! And if you haven't read Water For Elephants the book yet, pick it up and then watch the film. Both are wonderful.

*I was provided a free copy of Water For Elephants in exchange for an honest review.


  1. I love this movie. Such a beautiful story.

  2. I hadn't read the book, but I did see the movie and absolutely loved it. Can't wait for it to come out on blu-ray! Someday I will read the book, too, hopefully. Glad you loved both!

  3. I loved the book, but I haven't watched the movie yet. I tend to stay away from movies when I loved the book so much.

  4. I haven't read this one or seen the movie but I've heard great things about both:) I'm the type that usually likes to watch the movie first so I'm not disappointed in anything when they've had to change or cut something to make the movie fit in a certain amount of time. Definitely need to make time for these though!

  5. thanks for doing this post! i was wondering about the comparison between the movie and the book. i started reading the book but when i got to the stripper part ... it was just too much for me and i put it down.

    the movie was in one word: ENCHANTING.

    then i saw the tent in minnesota for CAVALIA and it seriously looked like the movie and i wanted to see it soooo bad. it looked awesome!

    hope you are well alison! xoooox

  6. I read the book a few years ago and enjoyed but not as nearly as much as you did. I'm not a fan of Robert Pattinson at all. *ducks from flying objects* So I really didn't have any desire to see the film. Glad you enjoyed it though!

  7. I haven't reat it, either seen the movie... I think I really need to now ! Great review, I will try to do it soon ! thanks

  8. I so need to read this book! (Which I have sitting on the shelf) I need to see the movie as well. My mom has been asking me to see it with her.

  9. I loved Rob Patts in this film. He's a true talent. I tried reading the book and just couldn't get into it though my sister loved it and basically told me the whole story, but I really did enjoy the movie. There were many emotional scenes!

  10. It's so cool you got to do this. I read the book a month ago and I was shocked to learn Marlena was supposed to be in her early 20's. I think if they focused on the actual subject of the book and not making a celebrity romance vehicle this movie would have been Academy Award material.

  11. No doubt that Christoph Waltz completely stole the movie. One of the best performances I've seen in a long time!!

    ♥ Melissa @ Melissa's Eclectic Bookshelf

  12. Still need to read this and watch this! The setting sounds really well done. I don't handle animal cruelty particularly well but as long as I keep in mind the animals weren't actually harmed in the making of the movie, I think I'll be okay. And lol! at the cougar comment. I think that would gross me out too :)

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  15. This one is new to me, and I really want to read it. Sometimes I need that light, entertaining read and this sounds like it is perfect. Great review!
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