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MOVIE INFO

Director:
Francis Lawrence
Cast:
Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christoph Waltz, Paul Schneider, Jim Norton, Hal Holbrook, Mark Povinelli, Richard Brake
Writing Credits:
Richard LaGravenese, Sara Gruen (novel)

Tagline:
Life is the most spectacular show on earth.

Synopsis:
Academy Award® Winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz join Robert Pattinson for this epic tale of forbidden love based on Sara Gruen’s acclaimed best seller. Against all odds, a veterinary student (Pattinson) and a beautiful circus performer from a bygone era (Witherspoon), meet and fall in love through their shared compassion for a special elephant. But their secret romance incurs the wrath of her dangerously volatile husband (Waltz).

Box Office:
Budget
$38 million.
Opening Weekend
$16.842 million on 3471 screens.
Domestic Gross
$58.700 million.

MPAA:
Rated PG-13

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Audio:
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:
None

Runtime: 120 min.
Price: $39.99
Release Date: 11/1/2011

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Director Francis Lawrence and Writer Richard LaGravenese
• “Raising the Tent” Featurette
• “Secrets of the Big Top” Featurette
• “The Star Attraction” Featurette
• “The Traveling Show – Page to Screen” Featurette
• “Robert Pattinson Spotlight” Featurette
• “Working Without a Net: The Visual Effects of Water for Elephants” Featurette
• “Feature Performer: Reese Witherspoon” Featurette
• Trailer
• Previews
• Digital Copy


PURCHASE @ AMAZON.COM

EQUIPMENT
Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.

RELATED REVIEWS


Water For Elephants [Blu-Ray] (2011)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 23, 2011)

After all the success of the Twilight movies, Robert Pattinson gets his shot at lead actor stardom via 2011’s Water for Elephants. Based on the novel by Sara Gruen, the film takes place during 1931, smack-dab in the middle of the Depression. As he starts to take the final exam prior to his graduation from Cornell University, veterinary student Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson) gets news that his parents have been killed in a car wreck.

With no other family and nothing left to keep him in place, Jacob decides to hit the rails and hop onto a passing train. It turns out he lands with the members of the Barzini Bros. circus, and they allow him to work as a roustabout.

Jacob quickly gets a promotion, however. Ringmaster August Rosenbluth (Christoph Waltz) wants to toss Jacob from the circus, but he allows the young man to stay when Jacob touts his veterinary skills. This causes some consternation when the pair disagree on how to treat the animals, but August quickly realizes that he needs someone who can offer better help for the circus’s animals.

This becomes especially true when August acquires the circus’s newest “star attraction”: an elephant named Rosie. He gives Jacob the command to train Rosie and get the pachyderm ready to perform with the show’s star human, August’s wife Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). From there we watch Jacob's relationship with Rosie – and a growing attachment to the married Marlena.

When I went into Water, I did so with little enthusiasm. The film’s trailers made it look like sappy chick-flick fare – all the better to sell it to the teen girls who make up Pattinson’s primary audience – and the title didn’t help. I can’t say why Water for Elephants seemed so off-putting to me, but it did nothing to entice me to view it.

But view it I did, and I must admit I liked it more than I expected – well, for a while, at least. The movie starts well enough, as the parts in which Jacob leaves home and finds a life in the circus offer good moments despite one awkward plot contrivance: the fact that with two more hours of work, Jacob would get his college degree. In the film, he claims that he sees no point to doing this, but that’s bizarre. If he had a semester left, sure – pull up stakes, dude! But one stinking exam – two hours of his life – and that’s too much? That’s a really odd decision for someone to make.

Despite that dopey choice, the movie’s first act proves to be effective. The world of the circus offers enough vivid characters and settings to involve us, and we’re curious to see where Jacob’s path will take him.

Though we probably already know: the romantic triangle to which I alluded earlier. That’s an inevitable plot choice and not a particularly interesting one, partly due to the lack of chemistry among the actors. I like Waltz, but he comes across as just a little too nutso as August; if he’d toned down the psychotic aspects of the character, he’d be a better fit. Granted, the movie wants us to see the part as a loose cannon, but Waltz makes August just a bit too wild-eyed and unstable.

At least he demonstrates a strong personality, which is more than I can say for Pattinson and Witherspoon. While both have talent, they just don’t connect to their roles or each other. The romantic side of the film limps along due to their lack of chemistry; we just don’t much care about the characters or what happens to them, so there’s little tension outside of the potential concern that August will cut off their heads and eat the goo inside.

Indeed, the most interesting performance comes from Hal Holbrook as the older Jacob. He shows up at the film’s start and end to bookend the tale of his youth. Holbrook doesn’t have much time on-screen – and his scenes lack much depth – but he adds power to his underwritten role and makes us wish that Pattinson could’ve done more with the part.

None of these issues make Water for Elephants a bad film, and it definitely works better than I anticipated it would; even with its weaknesses, it provides a moderately enjoyable tale. It just falters too much as it progresses, which makes it a disappointment; if it’d kept up with its early moments of promise, it could’ve been a winner.


The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B

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.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.2352 Stars Number of Votes: 17
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Review Archive:  # | A-C | D-F | G-I | J-L | M-O | P-R | S-U | V-Z | Viewer Ratings | Main