Welcome to The Most Spectacular Show on Earth!
If you look closely, you’ll see there is something different about this big screen adaptation. Under this Big Top, you’ll find magic. Unlike most movies today, Water for Elephants is classic storytelling at it’s best. Actions, decisions, consequences, words; it’s about following these wonderful characters in a timeless journey of love, loss, and finding a place in this world where you truly belong.
The Story: Set in 1930’s America, Water for Elephants centers around a young Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson). This Cornell educated veterinary student seems to be set in life, but suddenly loses everything after his parents die in a tragic car crash. With no money, no home, Jacob hops aboard the nearest train and finds more than he bargained for. He finds The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth, a struggling second-rate one ring circus. When put in charge of the shows menagerie, Jacob finds himself immediately enchanted by the shows star attraction, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon) and her amazing equestrian act. The only problem is, she is married to August (Christoph Waltz), the charming but unstable ringmaster and owner of the troubled depression era circus. As Jacob’s journey with the show continues, August purchases Rosie – the liquor loving elephant who is seemingly incapable of following a single command; that is, until Jacob discovers the secret to make Rosie perform. Jacob learns that there is more to this circus than beauty and glitz, but what lies beneath the tent floor is violent and malicious. Yet, the true lesson is looking beyond that and finding love amongst the thorns.
The Characters & their Actors: In his finest performance to date, Robert Pattinson portrays Jacob as a charming, smiling, kind-hearted caretaker to the circus’ menagerie. Pattinson brings the Jacob we all loved in the book to life, giving us a hero we can connect with and root for. The chemistry between Jacob and his elephant friend and scene-stealer Rosie (Tai the Elephant) is undeniable. In fact, I found myself captivated with their interactions, even more than Jacob and the rest of the circus gang [A particular scene between Jacob, Rosie, and a jug of pink lemonade comes to mind].
Yet, the character relationship between Jacob and August (Waltz) is not to be overlooked. Christoph Waltz gives us another great performance as a tough, violent, selfish character who will do anything when it comes to his circus. However, you are able to sense that small ounce of humanity – of reason – Waltz brings to this character. He plays off Pattinson’s Jacob with ease. These actors take their polar opposite role’s and form a relationship we can believe.
Fans of the book will remember old-time favorites like Kinko/Walter (Mark Povinelli) and Camel (Jim Norton) to have more of presence in the story. Yet, though their roles have diminished in the adaptation, their portrayals are strong enough to make their mark on the narrative.
The inevitable weakest link in the chain, was unfortunately Reese Witherspoon and her over worked portrayal of Marlena. Her presentation gave the audience a flighty, bored wife that lacked any real substance, even amongst the serious horrific events that her characters life had endured. In turn, it seemed that the relationship that was created with Jacob resembled a friendship, rather than a forbidden love affair.
From Page to Screen: Die-hard fans of the novel will be quite surprised to discover that the biggest and most notable difference between the film and the novel actually enhances the story. The fusion of August with the character Uncle Al (in the novel) gave the film version of August more depth – It raised his stakes in story. You never miss the tyrant Uncle Al, because Waltz portrays the two well combined characters, you almost forget there was an Uncle Al to begin with. The film brought these somewhat similar characters together, to create one nasty well-developed personality.
The other most notable difference, is older Jacob’s (Hal Holbrook) lack of story line. The films only scenes that represent older Jacob is when he arrives at the “new and improved” circus and begins to tell his story of his time with The Benzini Brothers. The large part of the original novel dedicated to older Jacob’s detestation of his nursing home and present life is completely abolished. However, through the use of dialogue we still understand Jacob’s reasoning to run away with the circus. His motivations behind his actions are not lost on the audience, even with his lack of narrative.
Final thoughts: Water for Elephants is one of the few novel to film adaptations I’ve seen that actually worked. Despite the differences between the two, the characters stories, persona’s, and their motivations all remained intact. The film only enhanced my love for the story and the characters. In the end, this film is stunning. The cinematography is beautiful; with a realism and grittiness that make it seem like a classic old Hollywood film. Water for Elephants is everything I want out a film – romance, drama, action, and a healthy dose of humor. Without a doubt, I’ll be in my local cinema again watching Rosie and her friends at the circus.
Movie Rating: A-
If you liked Water for Elephants, you also might like:
Book Review: Water for Elephants
Trailer Talk: Water for Elephants
Have you seen Water for Elephants? What did you think of the movie? Have you read the novel? Do you think the movie adaptation did justice to the novel? What was your favorite scene? Favorite character? Will you see it in the theatre again? Tell me in the comments!
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6 Comments Add yours
High Marks from you for this one. I got the book but still haven’t read it. I’m working myself up for it so who knows when I’ll see the movie…
You know I’m super critical when it comes to novel to film adaptations, so I was pleasantly surprised that WFE did such a good job at adapting the novel. Yeah, there was things that could have been better, but it was a really good movie. You have to see it and you HAVE to tell me (in detail) what you thought of the book when you read it 😉
Ooohhh I FINALLY saw this last night! But in my defence its been out in Australia for like two days so I tried the best I could…
I enjoyed this film, even though it was a bit dramatic for my taste (I seem to have the attention span of a two-year old at times). I’ve read the book but not for years so I’d forgotten the majority of it so it was interesting to see it unfold, but unless I’m completely wrong they did a pretty good job of staying true to the book.
RPatzz was quite good wasn’t he? There were maybe two scenes where I was like hmm…no, but overall I found he captures Jacob quite well. And while I like Reese Witherspoon in it I felt that maybe she was a bit old for him and there wasn’t enough chemistry between them?
The guy who played August did an AMAZING job, you really were just in fear of when he was going to turn on you by the end weren’t you? (Well. I was.) However, I thought they could have shown his bipolar-ness a bit earlier in the film. I know he was all over the place but before he hits Marlena you kinda just view him as a bit stressed maybe?
And oh! Loved Rosie. She provided much needed comic relief. Damn that would have been fun for the actors!
I haven’t read the book in a while either, but it was definitely one of the best novel to film adaptations I’ve seen. Gosh, how amazing was RPattz? It was so nice to see a movie with him smiling and laughing. I think that needs to be a prerequisite for all his movies: All RPattz films must contain a certain amount of smiley Rob. What do you think? 🙂 Yes. I agree. Reese was too old to play Marlena. In the book, she is only supposed to be in her mid to late twenties. Yeah, there was hardly any chemistry between them. But he and Rosie? Now there’s a couple … lol Christoph Waltz (August) was great. In my theatre, everyone was clapping and cheering when he finally bit the dust. I don’t think he seemed stressed, but rather more schizophrenic. One minute he’s charming, the next a violent psychopath. Rosie was awesome!
Darn it. Talking about WFE really makes me want to see it again 🙂
YES! You’re so right that a smiling Rob is completely necessary. I would LOVE to see him do a really goof-ball rom-com because when he smiles you’re not thinking about death or destruction of any of those things that accompany his usual movies. Although I did realise that in every film except Twilight he either dies or gets the shit beaten out of him…what’s with that film-makers???
Yeah that’s what I thought as well. i think it was the age difference between them. I really like Reese Witherspoon but she probably had a hard time kissing an actor that her daughter was probably more into she than she was. Saying that, now that I’ve seen the film I can’t really picture anyone else that could play Marlena.
haha that’s really funny! I loved when August died. That was the standout bit of the film that I remembered and it was like aahhhhhh when is it just going to happen already! I honestly think that should of ended the film there actually.
HAHA you COULD just go back to the cinemas and see it again you know…
PS. I dunno why I’m not Hannah and no longer Set in Motion but let’s just go with it shall we?