Water for Elephants [Blu-Ray] Francis Lawrence

Water for Elephants [Blu-Ray] Francis Lawrence
Director Francis Lawrence is well known for his artistic hand in the production of highly stylized music videos. His unique grasp of mise-en-scène shines through in the first ten minutes of Water for Elephants. Though the set and costume design are strong and effective in constructing a dazzling '30s circus atmosphere, where Bahktin's concept of the carnival-esque runs wild, the characters and their attempted natural chemistry fall flat despite their clout. The film is based on Sara Gruen's best-selling novel (of the same name), revolving around the Benzini Brothers' struggling circus during the Depression as they worked alongside, and competed against, the bigger Ringling Bros. The narrative follows Jacob Jancowski (Robert Pattison), a young Cornell veterinary student. During Jacob's final exam, he receives disturbing news of his parents' death after a fatal automobile accident. The grave news is worsened by the fact that his father left him no money or property. Jacob stows away one ominous evening and is soon an intruder on the Benzini Brothers' train. An older carnie, Camel, takes Jacob under his wing and offers him a job shovelling manure. Soon he's introduced to the dictator of the circus: August (Christoph Waltz). August is sceptical of him at first, as Jacob's seemingly pretentious attitude perturbs him. However, after August realizes that Jacob has veterinary experience and an uncanny rapport with animals, he decides he will be very useful. That is, until Jacob falls in love with August's beautiful wife, the star attraction of the circus: Marlena (Reese Witherspoon). Waltz's delivery as August, the violent carnival slave driver, is brutal. At times, his humanity seeps through and there's almost a glimpse of paternal yearning. However, his horrific sadism towards Marlena and the helpless elephant, Rosie, shatter any hints of a soul. Marlena and Jacob bond over their congenial affection for Rosie; Marlena, styled almost perfectly as a '30s starlet, is predictably drawn to Jacob's boyish naiveté and unconditional love for animals. Unfortunately, Witherspoon and Pattison fail to produce a lasting chemistry and the film's central love story suffers. Marlena also suffers from a masochistic, battered wife complex, in which she continually returns to her torturer. This is troubling for the film's heroine and attempted proselytizing of a love for animals. The performances are there, but the chemistry isn't. However, for the audience interested in visually glamorous cinema, it's worth a viewing. The costuming and general ambiance of an alluring circus, juxtaposed with the bleak Depression, is well executed. As well, the Blu-Ray transfer definitely transforms the scenery and adds to the visual appeal. The Blu-Ray also comes with a digital copy and an array of special features, including an in-depth examination of the CGI technology that created the compelling visual elements. The audio commentary with the film's writer, Richard LaGravenese, and director, Lawrence, is also interesting, revealing the process of adapting a novel. (Fox)