Water for Elephants appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. The image looked good most of the time but wasn’t great.
Overall sharpness seemed fine, but exceptions occurred. Wider shots tended to be a little soft, and some interiors could also appear iffy. Those weren’t a major concern, as the majority of the flick was concise and accurate, but the presentation lacked the consistency I’d like. No issues with shimmering or jaggies occurred, and the movie lacked edge haloes. No print flaws marred the transfer either.
As one would expect from a period flick – especially one with romantic overtones - Water came with a muted, semi-golden palette. Actually, it didn’t follow the sepia route as much as expected, but the hues still remained restrained. Within those visual choices, they seemed positive and displayed appropriate clarity.
Blacks were dark and tight, but shadows could be a liability. This was really only an issue in nighttime exteriors, though, as “day for night” filters tended to make the image too dark. Other low-light shots worked better. Overall, the picture came with enough strengths for a “B-“, but it wasn’t as attractive as I’d expected.
On the other hand, the film’s DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack delivered much more satisfying audio than anticipated. The soundscape managed to open up the material in a solid manner, as it used a variety of settings well. Train sequences created an impressive impression, and the various sounds of the circus also used the five channels in a broad, encompassing manner. The elements combined in a convincing manner that added a lot of pep to the proceedings.
Audio quality was also winning. Music was full and bright, while speech seemed natural and distinctive. Effects came across as accurate and dynamic; the movie boasted deep, tight bass when necessary. This all added up to a surprisingly engaging soundtrack.
When we shift to extras, we launch with an audio commentary from director Francis Lawrence and writer Richard LaGravenese. Both sit together for this running, screen-specific look at adapting the source novel and story/character topics, cast and performances, recreating the circus, photographic and visual choices, stunts and effects, sets and locations, period details, music, and working with the animals.
Chalk this up as an officially “pretty good” commentary. Never great but never dull, the track explores a good mix of subjects in a reasonably complete manner. Though I can’t claim that the piece delights, it’s an efficient and informative track.
A mix of featurettes flesh out the set. In Raising the Tent, we take a 15-minute, 42-second look at the recreation of the circus environment with comments from Lawrence, production designer Jack Fisk, Circus World executive director Stephen J. Freese, costume designer Jacqueline West, cinematographer Rodrigo Prieto, and actors Reese Witherspoon, Christoph Waltz and Robert Pattinson. The program covers research and attempts at realism in the creation of the movie’s circus and other period details. We find some useful material here, but the piece feels a little too self-congratulatory as the participants often tell us how amazing the work is.
During the 12-minute, 13-second Secrets of the Big Top, we hear from Freese, Pattinson, Fisk, Witherspoon, circus expert Gary C. Payne and producer Andrew Tennenbaum. We get a quick history of circuses as well as details about their development in the 1930s. Enough good information appears here to make the show worth a look.
The Star Attraction goes for nine minutes, 12 seconds and includes notes from Pattinson, Witherspoon, Lawrence, Waltz, executive producer Kevin Halloran and author Sara Gruen. We learn about the film’s elephant actor as well as Witherspoon’s training to work with her. It delivers a decent examination of those areas.
We look at the novel’s adaptation via the nine-minute, 14-second The Traveling Show – Page to Screen. It features Gruen, Tennenbaum, Lawrence, LaGravenese, Witherspoon, and Waltz. We learn about the original book and its shift to the screen as well as casting. We get a few good notes about the material, but the show’s too quick and superficial to offer much.
Next comes Working Without a Net: The Visual Effects of Water for Elephants. It goes for 22 minutes, 37 seconds and provides a series of before/after reels. We see the original photography and view how the effects artists changed/corrected the shots. We also find some pre-viz material. This is interesting to check out, though the program would’ve been more informative if it’d included commentary to explain the work.
The actors highlight the last two featurettes. We find Robert Pattinson Spotlight (3:58) and Feature Performer: Reese Witherspoon (2:35). In these, we hear from Lawrence, Pattinson, Witherspoon, Tennenbaum, LaGravenese, and circus choreographer Sebastien Stella. “Spotlight” is just frothy fluff about the actor’s greatness, but “Performer” tosses in some decent details about Witherspoon’s circus training. That makes it worthwhile, but you might as well skip “Spotlight”.
The disc opens with ads for The Descendants and Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. We also find the film’s trailer.
A second disc offers a digital copy of Water. This lets you move the movie onto a computer or portable viewing thingy-dingy.
Though I expected Water for Elephants to be little more than a drippy “chick flick”, the movie actually delivers some entertainment value. Unfortunately, most of its good moments occur in the first act, so it peters out as it progresses and ends up as a less than satisfying effort. The Blu-ray provides decent picture, surprisingly strong audio and a reasonably useful set of supplements. I feel fairly pleased with this release but the movie’s too up and down for my recommendation.