‘Water For Elephants’ DVD Review

Director: Francis Lawrence

Starring: Christolph Waltz, an elephant.

Plot: Following a family tragedy, a young vet student winds up working for a roving circus during the Great Depression. He become infatuated with the Ringmaster’s wife and they bond over a disobedient elephant.

Review: Director Francis Lawrence and screenwriter Richard LaGravenese must worked their way through the source material with a hatchet, roughly carving out large chunks of pages that weren’t directly responsible for moving the plot forward. What made the book such a page-turner was the immersion into the brutal and colourful world of the train-driven circuses during the Great Depression and the electric relationships between the main characters. As far as a movie goes, “epic love story set against a colourful period of history, plus a circus” should’ve been a slam dunk, instead this is a mishandled waste of the material.

The movie opens with the old guy from Pixar’s Up turning up outside a circus and recounting his story. It’s difficult not to wonder why they did this instead of opening with the intriguing first chapter of the novel, or why they’re starting with the old man when they aren’t bothering with story as to why he escaped the nursing home.

Just looking at the film as a stand-alone film and not a failed adaptation, it’s packed with poor decisions. When the old man starts telling his story, the voice-over narration is taken over by Robert Pattinson, playing the younger version of the character, but still speaking in hindsight. This leaves us with bizarre moments of continuity clashes such as Patterson narrating “I remember walking through the door” whilst he is walking through the door at that very moment. For whatever reason Lawrence chose to do this, is makes no sense and his completely boneheaded. This kind of sloppy film-making is rife throughout the movie. Patterson and Waltz sit on top of the train discussing the amazing view in a scene set it almost pitch dark night. Scenes from the book are cut out and the story carries on pretending that they happened anyway, so characters go from being enemies to friends from one scene to the next without anything happening in between. Amateur continuity occur frequently.

Director Lawrence seems more per-occupied trying to bait himself some Oscars for costume and art design instead of paying attention to what the camera is doing. When the circus performances are underway we rapidly zip from one shot to the next without being given the opportunity to appreciate what is happening, and the camera is always set up in some ludicrous position – pointing at the ceiling or placed behind a bundle of hanging ropes – leaving the whole thing a confused mess and student level work.

As a character driven piece, the actors are essential. Robert Pattinson and Reese Witherspoon could only be more poorly cast if they’d swapped scripts and played the opposite roles in drag. The movie was sold as a great romance, but these two leads have all the chemistry of two lumps of concrete being bumped up against each other. The only person worth any attention is Christoph Waltz as the unpredictable and menacing Ringmaster, whose dastardly charm is always welcome and any stars I give the movie are for him. Oh, and the elephant ain’t bad either.

Between Water For Elephants, Constantine and I Am Legend Lawrence is really making a name for himself cocking up big screen adaptations.