Water For Elephants [Blu-ray]
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Coming off of the commercial success and artistic failure that is the Twilight series, Robert Pattinson has been looking for the right role to make the cross over from teen idol to serious adult actor, but Water For Elephants just doesn't quite manage to pull him across that chasm (that role looks like it may come with David Cronenberg's upcoming Cosmopolis adaptation). As mainly a music video director, Francis Lawrence's visual take on the Prohibition era circus lifestyle is a delight to behold, but his melodramatic romance falters with little spark between his love blind leads that fail to make a believable on screen connection.
As an elder circus goer, Jacob (Hal Holbrook/Patterson) reminisces about his first job as an elephant bull man with a circus owner after missing the local show. While in veterinary school at Cornell, Jacob's parents died in a car accident, and thanks to his college tuition, he was left without a home. He decided to start walking the tracks toward Albany for a job, but on the way he managed to hop a train, which happened to be a traveling circus. He is nearly tossed off, but he convinced the megalomaniacal head master, August (Christoph Waltz) that he was a veterinarian that can take care of the animals. Jacob quickly fell for the verboten star of the show, Marlena (Reese Witherspoon), August's wife. The struggling circus picked up an elephant named Rosy, who Marlena eventually became starring partners with, while Jacob cared for the animal on the road. The obvious love triangle developed as August scrambled to maintain his place as the ring leader.
Despite being based on a the best selling novel of the same title, Water For Elephants seems a bit flat. Witherspoon is mostly to blame, putting forth a dull, one dimensional performance that makes Marlena seem like she doesn't care if she's with either man. She obviously put more work into the physicalities of her role rather than the emotions that the story is built on. Patterson, though not spectacular, brings more life to Jacob than he ever has as Edward Cullen, but his true romance is with Rosy rather than Marlena. His time on screen with the elephant feels natural and full of warmth. Though Waltz is made out to be the third wheel, he is the true star. His hefty mood swings and power hungry patriarchal position allow him to be maniacally dark, similar to his ingenious role in Inglorious Basterds. It's once again a commanding performance that steals the show from the sad excuse for a pair of young love birds in Patterson and Witherspoon.
For the Blu-ray release of the film, Fox has put together a nice combo pack with plenty of bang for your buck. The lush visuals have received a beautiful transfer that have absolutely nothing to complain about. It looks brilliant. The DTS-HD 5.1 master track is just as sonorous as the picture quality, and the stirring orchestral soundtrack is a perfect fit for the bustling big top atmosphere. There are quite a lot of noteworthy extras included on the disc. The most disappointing though, is the rather uneventful commentary track with Lawrence and writer Richard Lagravenese. There are two featurettes, “Raising the Tent” and “Secrets of the Big Top”, about the recreation of the 1930s circus for the film that really delve into the research that was undergone to get this movie off the ground. “The Star Attraction” is another featurette in the same vein about Rosy the elephant and her role in the film, and “The Traveling Show – Page to Screen” shows the process of how the book was written and how the story was adapted for the screen. Probably the most interesting extra on the disc is “Working Without a Net”, which dissects the visual effects that make the film a whole. It's quite astounding how many digital effects were in place. Rounding out the disc are two featurettes that look at the romantic leads and their involvement in the film, as well as a theatrical trailer. Included in the package is a digital copy disc for your computer or on the go devices. The discs are housed in a standard Blu-ray case with an attractive holographic dust jacket.
Water For Elephants fails to engross us in the smoldering romance that it promises, but it is a visually appealing love story that sees Waltz in another great supporting role. If you're looking for something to rent with the lady friend, this could be a serviceable choice, but don't expect fireworks.
--Jordan M. Smith
Release Date: November 1, 2011