Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cinema Saturday ~ Water for Elephants ~ (DVD & Book) review

Water for Elephants
Book (movie tie-in version)Algonquin Books/March 1, 2011/368 pages/
DVD Fox/November 1, 2011/120 mins; Blu-ray (+ digital copy)

(Giveaway info at bottom)

Ever dream of running off to join the circus? If you didn't, after reading Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen you'll be packing your bags. Jacob Jankowski is left penniless and without a degree when his parents both die during his final exams for veterinary school. It’s the 1930s and the Great Depression so neither jobs nor money abounds and Jacob sets off in search of Albany and some form of work.

He never makes it, though Instead he finds himself on a train belonging to the Benzini Brothers Circus. Soon he’s in charge of the animals. Working for Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth he meets Marlena, the beautiful equestrian star – and wife to August, the animal trainer who’s as enigmatic as he is twisted – and Rosie, the ‘untrainable’ elephant. The three will form a bond that may have to be stronger than any other.

The characters are what really drive – and make – this story, both human and animal alike. Even if you might suspect somewhere during the story, what will happen at the end – and you might still be wrong – it’s what’s happening in the middle that keeps you reading. Those middle parts – and, of course, the delightful characters and the circus. The circus in Water for Elephants is so well written and real feeling that you want to travel back in time and join a real, live traveling big top. You absolutely feel like you’re in a 1930s circus.

Jacob, the 90 – or possibly 93- year-old narrator (he’s not sure) is made absolutely lovable in both his grumpiness and the way you wish for him to be back as that 23-year-old working the circus. On principle you wouldn’t imagine that a 90 (or 93) year-old narrator would be that perfect, but he is.

Water for Elephants is a romance, but personally, I found the circus life and Jacob’s life independent of Marlena – or at least his interactions with her, not necessarily his recollections- were stronger and more enjoyable to read. I don’t think it was a lack of chemistry, etc. More that it was that Jacob was such a strong, enjoyable and lovable character that anyone else was really competing with him. It was his story.

Rating: 7/10

Water for Elephants is a brilliant film – sure to instantly become one of your favorites. Staying very close to the novel, the movie will be an excellent viewing for fans of the novel and those new to the story, both.

One of those movies you can easily watch again and again, Water for Elephants has everything good about the novel (see my review above), but is also one of the few, few book to film adaptations I liked even better than the book.

In the novel I saw the story more as Jacob’s story and didn’t view the romance as very strong. In the movie, however, it was fantastic. Both Reese Witherspoon as Marlena and Robert Pattinson as Jacob were very expressive and did a terrific job; the romance came through brilliantly. You truly feel for both characters – and their relationship with each other.

The movie is different by starting with Jacob at the circus and remembering the circus and things then staying in the thirties. It is very different from the book and all but takes out the elderly Jacob character (who I loved in the book) but it really allows the viewer to get immersed in the 1930s storyline and stay with things. It works fantastically.

There are a few scenes (from the novel) missing from the film but their absence does not detract from the film's quality. Instead it allows the movie to retain a more central storyline and keeps as much of the focus on the relationship between Jacob and Marlena (and the circus) as possible. (And the absence of some of the racier things from the book keeps a PG-13 rating, as well.)

The fashion in this film is great! It fits with the time period but also with the setting. It’s 1930s friendly and circus friendly . .. I really want to be a 1930s circus performer for Halloween now.

The filming of Water for Elephants is downright beautiful, too. There are some films that you watch and regardless of whether you like the content or not, you have to admire their cinematic quality – I would argue that this is one of those. It’s one to own on BluRay.

There’s really nothing bad I can say about this movie – it took everything I loved about the book and seeing the story portrayed one film improved other parts.

(Definitely check out the special features after you watch the movie, too – especially “The Traveling Show - Page to Screen” which looks at the transition from book to film.)
Here's a great study guide the wonderful Fox Publicity people sent me. It has some great things to think about:

From October 29, 2011
I addressed some of the Study Guide questions already in my review, one I didn’t address but would like to is: “Discuss Christop Waltz’s villainous August. Have you seen him in other films as the baddie? Die he add to the story and character of August in your opinion?” I’ve seen Inglorious Bastards and while watching Water for Elephants I remarked how perfect Waltz is for this period pieces – that it’s good he wasn’t living during this time period; he would have had to be a bad guy!

Rating 10/10

Now that you know how great both are, surely you want to win a Book/DVD bundle of Water for Elephants? ENTER HERE

gigantic thank you to Fox for my copy of Water for Elephants so I could review it!


  1. great review! I am in LOVE with this movie. such a sweet love story! this movie def makes my favorite list!

  2. would like to see this movie. good review trevor tb-4

  3. Taylor ( 31, 2011 at 12:58 PM

    this is the best movie ever!

  4. i didn't watch nor read the novel, but I'll definitely be interested, now that I read your review.

    the difference in both, esp the movie, makes me wish that I didn't give the movie a miss when it was showing...


  5. Wonderful review, this movie seems so good : )


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