Let’s start by discussing that.
I’m so tired of book snobs always claiming “the book was better.” It’s almost as if they just want to brag that they’ve read it, when so few people in society read books.
Two of my favorite movies – One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest and The World According to Garp – were better as films. It can be done.
I think movies usually deserved to be judged separately. Do we really want to compare the Stephen King short story Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption with the two hour movie we all love? What’s the point?
The reason I’m going to go against my rule and mention the book is because I’m about to make a statement that’s going to sound so crazy. I haven’t read the book, but I have no doubt that the book is better than the movie.
I brought somebody with me that confirmed this (although I liked the movie more than her). She told me all these interesting things about the circus characters that weren’t shown in the film. I’m sure other aspects of the book were watered down for the film, too.
For those that haven’t read the book, it’s a story about a vet student whose parents die in a car accident. He realizes that dads vet practice wasn’t making money. It’s the Great Depression, and when people couldn’t pay, he’d often do the work in trade. He also had to pay for the kids education at Cornell.
With no money and no place to live, Jacob (weird that he’s played by Robert Pattinson, with a more popular Jacob being from his Twilight films), hops a circus train and decides shoveling poop and dealing with a sadistically mean circus owner is the life for him.
He falls in love with an elephant, and with Reese Witherspoon — the wife of that circus owner. He’s played brilliantly by Christoph Waltz, who now needs to give a rest to these villainous characters for awhile.
When Waltz realizes Pattinson knows about animals and helps him diagnose a problem with a horse, he’s hired.
I heard Witherspoon say in an interview that she did ride the elephant in some scenes, but not the horse. So, we won’t have any Natalie Portman type stunt-doubles coming out and complaining.
I heard Pattinson say in an interview with Jimmy Kimmel that he had no clue why the movie was called Water for Elephants. Well, when he first meets Waltz, he’s playing poker and jokingly says “We’ll give you a job bringing water for the elephants.”
One of his thugs replies “But we don’t have elephants, boss.”
Maybe Pattinson was confused because it could’ve easily been called Whiskey for Elephants. That pachyderm was packing in a lot of alcohol – a tough feet considering it was Prohibition.
The sets and production, from under the big top to the train, had a nice look and feel.
Perhaps it could’ve been a bit more gritty, but it worked for me.
Some critics argue that there’s no chemistry between the leads. I had no problem with how their romance blossomed, and the fact that Witherspoon has a lot of reservations about leaving her abusive husband.
I also like how I could see them falling for each other. Both of them are compassionate when it comes to the animals they’re working with.
Other movies that people find romantic – Titanic and The Notebook come to mind – I don’t find that romantic. Usually in romances, you don’t see why the people are falling so madly in love with the person they do.
Although like Titanic, this movie starts with an old person telling the story to a young, eager circus worker who is glad to hear it. That person is played by Hal Holbrook, who had me crying in Into the Wild when he asked to adopt the young man. He brought tears to my eyes in this; but as effective as he was bookending the film with the story from the past – movies have to give this technique a rest.
Some might think Pattinson didn’t do the best acting job, but he was fine in this role. He had to shed his British accent, and he pulled off what Leonardo Dicaprio couldn’t in Titanic – he actually looked like a young man and not just a teenage boy.
The movie is predictable (even if you haven’t read the book), it’s flawed (why does Waltz keep letting Pattinson hang out with his wife?), it’s not as passionate a love story as it could’ve been, it has slow parts, and as epic period pieces go – this is far from the greatest show on Earth.
I found the ending very powerful and I left the theatre very happy I had seen it.
I’m giving it a B.