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DVD Review: Water for Elephants

November 1, 2011

Water for Elephants – A 20th Century Fox Release

DVD Release Date: November 1st, 2011

Rated PG for mature theme, violence, language may offend

Running time: 121 minutes

Francis Lawrence (dir.)

Richard LaGravenese (screenplay)

Based on the novel by Sara Gruen

James Newton Howard (music)

Robert Pattinson as Jacob Jankowski

Reese Witherspoon as Marlena Rosenbluth

Christoph Waltz as August

Hal Holbrook as Old Jacob Jankowski

Our reviews below:

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Water for Elephants DVD Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

In adapting Canadian author Sara Gruen’s wonderful novel Water for Elephants for the big screen, director Francis Lawrence has crafted a film that is refreshingly old fashioned.  I mean that in the best possible way.  Jacob Jankowski (Robert Pattinson) is an orphaned university drop out in 1931, who finds himself hired as a veterinarian for The Benzini Brothers’ Most Spectacular Show on Earth.  The sleazy circus is run on dark secrets by the sadistic ringmaster, August (chillingly played by Christoph Waltz) and the star attraction is his beautiful wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).  But when Jacob finds himself falling for Marlena, August becomes paranoid as he starts to lose his tight grip on the circus.

The crucial scenes of both animal and human abuse are suitably disturbing, but are somewhat toned back from the book and only shown in brief flashes.  The beautiful cinematography is nicely touched with shades of memory, and the production design is spectacular right down to the paint on the trains and authentic costumes.  The final few scenes of Water for Elephants are moving and sentimental, winding down with the same mixed emotions as when the big top tent is taken down after the circus.  Mature audiences will come to enjoy the show, and hopefully take away their own memories from the experience.  Please read my full thoughts on the film here.

The Blu-ray includes commentary with director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese, as well as numerous featurettes on everything from adapted the book to the visual effects.

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Water for Elephants DVD Review by Erin V.  

***1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the best-selling novel by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants tells the story of Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrook/Robert Pattinson), a man in his 90’s who reminisces about the days in 1931 when he worked on the Benzini Bros. Circus – and witnessed one of the greatest circus disasters of all time.

While the story is bookended by the older version of Jacob telling his story, the majority takes place in ‘31.  When veterinary student Jacob ends up with no place to live he ends up jumping on board a train to try to ride it to work in the city, but inadvertently ends up running away with the circus.  At first, the cruel ringmaster August (brilliantly played by Christoph Waltz) orders him thrown off of the moving train, but when his vet training leads him to make a discovery about one of the horses in August’s wife Marlena’s (Reese Witherspoon) star act, he is kept on, eventually becoming the trainer to a new elephant that the circus buys, named Rosie.

The film is very quiet, and builds up a lot of suspense at times.  It is dark, but also beautiful to watch, with a very real ’30’s feel.  I thought that all of the actors were good in their rolls – in particular Waltz and Pattinson, this marking the first time I’ve seen real acting potential from the latter.  And to top it off, the score by James Newton Howard works quite nicely to set the mood.  Due to its content, this is a deserving PG-13, but for adults and older teens it is one that I would suggest seeking out.  Well made and with a great story, it feels far shorter than its two hour running time.

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Water for Elephants DVD Review By Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

Based on the bestselling novel by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is an often sad yet beautiful movie about human and animal friendships.  When veterinary student Jacob (Robert Pattinson) misses his final exam after the sudden death of his parents, he hops on the Benzini Brothers circus train.  It is the Great Depression of the 1930’s and work doesn’t come easy, but Jacob is at an advantage with his veterinary training.  He not only falls in love with the animals, but also Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), a kind and gentle horse rider.

The problem is, Marlena is the wife of the psychopathic ringmaster August (Christoph Waltz), who is cruel to both the humans and animals.  When an injury forces Jacob to put down Marlena’s prized horse, August replaces the animal with an elephant named Rosie (played by asian elephant Tai).  Jacob and Marlena train Rosie using humane vocal cues, but August insists on abusing her with a bullhook.  August is equally abusive to Jacob and Marlena as well as the other circus performers, and the film builds up to a satisfying and amazing conclusion.

Water for Elephants is beautifully shot and the acting is really good.  Christoph Waltz is chillingly psychopathic and Tai the elephant is a great actress.  While the animal abuse scenes are hard to watch, they are tastefully shot and done entirely with humane training and CGI effects.  The AHA was on set and gave the film a seal of approval.  These scenes are counteracted by an amazing story and a beautiful friendship between the humans and animals.  Water for Elephants is a beautiful film with a classic feel that both teenagers and adults can enjoy.

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Water for Elephants DVD Review By Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

In the 1930’s having a travelling circus roll into town was a source of exciting and welcome entertainment for depression-era families.  However, for the circus workers and animals forced to ride the crowded trains it was a different story.

Based on the novel by Canadian author Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is a story told in flashback by an elderly man, Jacob Jankowski (Hal Holbrooke) about his time with the Benzini Brothers circus in the 1930’s.  The story begins with Jacob as a young veterinary student (played by Robert Pattinson).  When personal tragedy strikes, Jacob abandons his studies, runs off and hops on a freight train.  It turns out the train is carrying the circus troupe run by the intense and demanding August (Christoph Waltz).  Jacob ends up working as a vet for August, a job he sticks with for the sake of the animals and because of the feeling he develops for August’s wife, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon).

Water for Elephants has a wonderfully authentic 1930’s feel to it.  The cinematography is beautiful, capturing the bright circus colours and the physical beauty of the animals.  All this contrasts with the harsh treatment and poor conditions that both the animals and circus workers had to endure at August’s hand.  Sensitive viewers will find some of the animal abuse scenes hard to watch.  The acting is good in the film, with Christoph Waltz giving a particularly strong performance.  The star of the show however is Tai, who plays the majestic Rosie the Elephant.  This really is her movie.  Water for Elephants is a period piece worth seeing on DVD.

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Water for Elephants DVD Review By Tony

***1/2 (out of 4)

Water for Elephants is the memoir of an old man (Hal Holbrook) recounted to the boss (Paul Schneider) of a visiting circus. In 1931, Jacob (Robert Pattinson) lost his Polish immigrant parents in a car accident just as he was sitting his finals at Cornell’s veterinary school. Wandering off down the railway track, he jumped on a circus train and was taken in. Jacob’s willingness to work and talent around the animals caught the attention of the ruthless boss August (Christoph Waltz), who left no doubt that the laws of the “suckers” no longer applied in his world, particularly for Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), who knew her place as the star attraction and boss’s wife.

As circuses were failing all over during the depression, their assets–material, animal and human–could be bought and disposed of cheaply. Animals no longer useful would be recycled as big cat food. Their human counterparts or those failing to show proper respect for August’s supremacy could find themselves thrown off the train on the way to the next town. Jacob’s ability to communicate with the new star elephant where August’s cruel methods had failed, and the inevitable attraction between Jacob and Marlena were intolerable challenges to August’s authority, with an outcome that circus folk would remember to the present day.

Based on the best-selling book by Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants is beautiful to watch. Shot in rural Tennessee with historic rolling stock, the images of a train lighting up the night forest transformed daily into the greatest show on earth are unforgettable. The strictly defined hierarchy within the circus community is well drawn out by a good supporting cast. The three principal actors are excellent, Waltz the elegant sadist we would expect from previous roles, Witherspoon both seductive and vulnerable, and Pattinson for once filling a role with greater range and maturity than he has been given up to now. Francis Lawrence, previously known for music videos and action films, has proven capable of directing a sensitive and worthy treatment of the popular book.

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Consensus: With beautiful cinematography and good performances from a strong cast, director Francis Lawrence’s Water for Elephants tells a heartfelt story and offers an authentic and moving look at circus life in the 1930’s.  ***1/2 (Out of 4)

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