The Review at a Glance: (max score: 5 )
Audio/Video total rating:
( Max score: 100 )
Studio and Year: 20th Century Fox - 2011
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Feature running time: 120 minutes
Disc Format: BD-50
Encoding: AVC (MPEG-4)
Video Aspect: 2.35:1
Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio, Spanish/French Dolby Digital 5.1
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish
Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Robert Pattinson, Christophe Waltz, Hal Holbrook
Directed by: Francis Lawrence
Music by: James Newton Howard
Written by: Richard LaGravenese based on the novel by Sara Gruen
Region Code: A
Blu-ray Disc release Date: November 1, 2011
"Life is the most spectacular show on earth"
Academy Award winners Reese Witherspoon and Christoph Waltz join Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga) 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 dangerousely volatile husband (Waltz).
Devastated by a tragic event in his life, a young dreamer, Jacob Jankowski (Pattinson), abandons his veterinary studies at Cornell University. With no house, and no money, Jacob stows away on a train carrying the circus performers of The Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Hired as a veterinarian to care for the troupe's animals, Jacob is temporarily filled with the promise of an exciting life that comes with a traveling circus troupe. However, as he builds a rapport with and becomes closer to the star of the show, Marlena (Witherspoon), they become prey to the circus's owner Marlena's violent and abusive husband August (Waltz). As the circus begins to crumble from within and against all odds, Jacob and Marlena come together through their compassion for a special elephant named Rosie. With her help, Jacob and Marlena come to a crossroads that will forever change their destiny.
My wife read the novel and loved it. She eagerly awaited its arrival on blu-ray to see how well the film adaptation would hold up. My grandmother took me to the circus when I was around 8 years old. It was Ringling Bros./Barnum & Bailey and she insisted that the circus was something that every child should experience. She was absolutely right and I loved it. Water for elephants is a period love story that uses the 1930's circus train life as a backdrop. I expect that this is very much like the type of circus that my grandmother would have seen when she was a girl and it's easy to see its allure for the audience, especially during that time. The plot is seemingly straight forward and revolves around a young man who through happenstance finds himself onboard the circus train and suddenly an integral part of the troupe by way of his veterinary training. This leads to direct exposure to the star of the show, Marlena, whose act is built around performing horses. Marlena's husband, August, owns the circus and is a cunning, domineering and violent task master who sees Marlena as a prized possession. He quickly senses the attraction between his wife and young Jacob which sets the stage for his villainous behavior. When the circus takes on a 40 + year old elephant named Rosie from a fledgling circus it represents not only a new act but will lead to the series of events that will change them all forever.
The narrative has an enriching depth that speaks to love not only between people but to that between people and animals. The romance in the story doesn't define it but serves as an element blended with the story's sense of adventure, reflection, and devotion that rises from the bonds formed by the experiences of the characters. A film like this lives or dies by the credibility of its villain. Christophe Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) never misses a beat and serves as the catalyst that drives the film's best moments. I am a Reese Witherspoon fan and have been ever since seeing her in 1991's The man in the moon. I was never sold while watching her interaction with co-star Robert Pattinson (not a fan) but it didn't really have an adverse impact on the proceedings thanks to the decent development/integration of the story's remaining elements. This is a beautifully crafted film that combines both subtle and overt cinematographic components that express the filmmaker's vision. The film has an entertaining throwback feel and while not perfect I found much to like in the characters and story. My wife thought that the adaptation successfully conveyed the spirit of the novel and made for an enjoyable experience.
The rating is for moments of intense violence and sexual content.
AUDIO/VIDEO - By The Numbers:
REFERENCE = 92-100 / EXCELLENT = 83-91 / GOOD = 74-82 / AVERAGE = 65-73 / BELOW AVERAGE = under 65
**My audio/video ratings are based upon a comparative made against other high definition media/blu-ray disc.**
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Low frequency extension:
- Surround Sound presentation:
- Dialogue Reproduction:
(Each rating is worth 4 points with a max of 5 per category)
- Black level/Shadow detail:
- Color reproduction:
This is a solid high definition presentation that is indicative of a newer release film. Detail is readily apparent as images are firmly resolute with crisp edges, defining sharpness, and two dimensional depth that enhances dimension. Colors are beautifully rendered with revealing delineation and tonal warmth. The long range shots of the earth toned colors of the rolling hills and countryside look terrific. Fleshtones appear lifelike with natural tonality and complexional delineation among the cast. Contrast is boldly applied and blacks exhibit good dynamic range with discernable gradational highlights and excellent depth of field during low level scenes. The lossless sound mix features definitive front channel separation and opulent clarity. Soundstage depth and imaging across the left, right and center channels is quite good. This enhances directional sounds and dialogue, allowing deep room penetration, high level perception of detail, and appropriate near field placement. The surround channels effectively extend the front soundstage by adding spatial ambience, directional pans and discrete sound placement. Dynamics and low frequency effects have solid weight and tangible authority that resonate well in the room. The combination enhances the film's active segments and results in a decent surround sound experience.
- Audio commentary with director Francis Lawrence and writer Richard LaGravenese
- (HD) Raising the tent - 15 minute featurette
- (HD) Secrets of the big top - 12 minute featurette
- (HD) The star attraction - 9 minute featurette
- (HD) Robert Pattinson: Spotlight - 4 minutes
- (HD) Working without a net: The visuals effects of Water for elephants - 22 minutes
- (HD) Feature performer: Reese Witherspoon - 2 minutes
- (HD) Theatrical trailer
- BD-live: Live Extras Exclusive - Stars of the circus
- D-Box Motion Code enabled
- Digital Copy Bonus Disc
Adapted from Sara Gruen's novel of the same name Water for elephants is an entertaining drama that succeeds more than fails via a flawed but workable script, well drawn characters (including Rosie the elephant), and excellent production elements that combine to give it a throwback feel that I found enjoyable. It comes to Blu-ray from 20th Century Fox in a well rounded package that features rewarding high definition audio/video and a decent supplemental offering that looks behind the scenes at the production. Water for elephants is definitely worth checking out so toss it into your rental queue and take it for a spin.
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