Thoughts on books, family, and life in one impressive package.

Title: Water for Elephants

Director: Francis Lawrence

Movie Length: 120 minutes

Synopsis (Courtesy of IMdb):

“A veterinary student abandons his studies after his parents are killed and joins a traveling circus as their vet.”

Thoughts: When I first read the book Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, Hollywood had just started production of the movie. As I raved about this beautiful book, I expressed concern at that point in time that I was uncertain how the subtleties of the story would translate to the big screen. I avoided watching the movie in the theaters for this reason. However, the chance to compare the book with the movie was an opportunity I could not refuse.

Visually, the movie is stunning. The scenes at the circus are so vivid, one can all but smell the manure. Christoph Waltz is an excellent August. He manages to balance the charm and sadism that is that character. Renee Witherspoon as Marlena is a bit of an enigma. One never truly understands her motivation other than her love of the animals. Robert Pattinson’s Jacob is honestly not too bad. He portrays Jacob’s initial naivety perfectly but also embodies his growing disgust with August. Out of all the characters, he shows the most growth and emotion in his performance.

Overall, the movie stays fairly close to the book. The major plot points are there with only minor deviations from the book. All scenes occurring within the nursing home are absent, as Jacob tells his story while at the circus without ever going back to the home. Also, while the animals were what made the novel, especially as opposed to the brutality of the humans, this was missing from the movie. Rosie was as adorable and lovable as one could envision,  but there needed to be more of this animal simplicity to drive home the point of Ms. Gruen’s original story. It was much more a movie about a love story between humans versus between animals and humans.

Unfortunately, my concerns about the subtleties of the book carrying into the movie were founded. What was growth and exposition in the novel – the true heart of the novel – were slow filler scenes in the movie. The internal growth of the novel is simply missing in the movie. As a result, the movie loses that special something which made the novel so special.

My final thought is that like any movie made from a book, the original is so much better. There were too many nuances to translate appropriately to the screen. The scenes of animal brutality are difficult to watch, as the director wisely leaves much of the action to the viewer’s imagination. Thankfully, Rosie lightens up those scenes and utterly steals the show, as much as she does in the book. Viewers who have not read the book will be pleasantly surprised, while those who have are warned that there are enough changes to make it seem like a different story. That being said, Water for Elephants is beautiful in its imagery with surprisingly decent acting. There have been much more horrible book adaptations out there.

Acknowledgements: Thank you to Mandy Rodgers from Think Jam Publicity for my advanced copy of the DVD.

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