Thursday, April 28, 2011

‘Water for Elephants’ movie: A book lover’s perspective

People frequently complain, “The book was so much better than the movie!”  In fact, many beloved books never make the successful jump to the big screen.  There are several reasons for this.  Obviously, turning a several hundred page book into a two hour movie means that things are going to get cut or changed.  Another reason has to do with the readers themselves.  When a reader envisions the book in their mind, the story becomes intensely personal.  This means every variation between the book as they pictured it and the finished movie is a chance for the reader to feel a loss. 
The movie adaptation of Sara Gruen’s bestselling novel Water for Elephants hit the silver screen this past Friday.  My general opinion is that it is one of the better book/film adaptations that I’ve seen.  Director Francis Lawrence went to great lengths to create authenticity.  We saw both the magic of the circus, but also the gritty realities of circus life during the depression.  The story stuck closely to the book plot, with no obviously missing story lines. 
The film is cast as a perfect vehicle for Robert Pattinson to show audiences the range of his acting abilities.  Flanked by Oscar winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz, Pattinson’s Jacob shows courage and vulnerability that is utterly believable.  Waltz, playing the paranoid and cruel August, is so good even I was afraid of him.  Even when he was smiling, there was a hardness behind his eyes that made him seem unpredictable. 
My only disappointment has to do with Witherspoon.  She looks great in her 1930’s costumes and hair, but there is something about her that just didn’t sit right.   August took Marlena from the rough life of a foster child and thrust her into the harsh world of a traveling circus.  In the book, Marlena was glamorous and beautiful, but that was only a veneer for the broken woman that she was inside.  Witherspoon is all veneer.  We don’t get that depth.  However, she does handle the animals and stunts like a pro.  In fact, I think she had more on-screen chemistry with the elephant than with Pattinson.  In the love scenes, we can see him trying so hard, really embracing the character.  Witherspoon just didn’t seem as present.  Hello?  How hard can it be to pretend to be in lust with the hotness that is Robert Pattinson? 
Then, there is the real star of the movie--Tai, the elephant who plays Rosie.  Each time she appeared on screen, all eyes were on her…and not just because she is nine feet tall and 4,000 pounds.  She made me laugh as easily as she broke my heart.  Even having read the book, I found myself drawn into Rosie’s story all over again. 
Overall, I have to give this movie a five star rating, based mostly on their devotion to following the book.  My issues with Witherspoon didn’t distract me from the magic and Pattinson, Waltz and Tai were wonderful.  

1 comment:

  1. Water for Elephants will be undoubtedly loved by the reader, despite the less than satisfying ending. The story's conclusion feels as though Gruen was rushed and ran out of ideas, and quickly created a surreal ending. Regardless, Water for Elephants is a must read and definitely one of my favorite books; I would recommend it to anyone considering reading it.