on 18 June 2004
After seeing the mess that was "Breakfast of Champions," I was really skeptical about how the film adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's masterpiece, "Slaughterhouse-Five" would turn out. It isn't the easiest book to translate into film, after all. So, I think it's fair to say that I had my doubts at first. I finally found this available on DVD, and to my surprise it was a faithful and well done adaptation. While it may not be absolutely flawless or spectacular, it does its best to stay true to the source.
Billy Pilgrim is unstuck in time. This meaning that he relives certain parts of his life in random order. There is no beginning, no middle, and no ending for Pilgrim. His life plays in scrambled portions in a continuous loop. This is something that Billy has no control over and he never knows what part of his life he will revisit next. Sometimes he relives the time he was in WW2 and was a P.O.W. in Dresden. Other times it's to his life shortly after the war where he is married and has children. Then there are times when he relives the moment where he is taken to the planet Tralfamadore. Filled with humorous and heartbreaking moments, Billy is forced to live his life like a scrambled puzzle that is never-ending.
Directed by George Roy Hill, this is a pretty powerful and smart adaptation of a true literary classic, which isn't the easiest task in the world. While it's not word-for-word and things are changed around, the film does a more than decent job of staying true to the book for the most part. The only thing that bugs me a little about it is that the film plays more like a drama rather than the satire that is the book. Still, I have to applaud the director for doing a very good job of bringing to life a marvelous book. Michael Sacks is great as "Billy Pilgrim" and really becomes the character. If the wrong actor was used for that part, this movie would be a complete disaster.
As with any film that is based on a book, it is always sad to see things that didn't make it in the movie. There were a lot of things that happened in the book that didn't make it on screen. While I understand that this is necessary, it still makes a little sad. The stuff that does make it onto film plays out very well. People may be confused with the movie if they haven't read the book beforehand, but it is not impossible to enjoy it without reading the actual book. I think the people who have read the book will possibly enjoy this more, however. The only thing that sort of disappointed me was the ending. I know that it probably wouldn't had translated well on film had it ended the exact same way the book does, but I found the movie's ending to be a little corny. Despite that, I think this was a very valid and successful effort, even if it isn't perfect.
So, does "Slaughterhouse-Five" provide a faithful and true depiction of Vonnegut's classic novel? In my opinion, yes. It may not be flawless, but it's definitely a great achievement. Despite some of my minor--and they are minor--problems with the film, I found it to be surprisingly good. If you have read the book, then I encourage you to check it out, of course keeping in mind that it won't be a complete replica of the book. If you have seen the movie and have yet to read the book, then I encourage you to check out the book, which will definitely answer some of your questions about the film and fill in some of those blanks. It was a treat to watch a movie that did its absolute best to never tread away from the written word. -Michael Crane
on 21 October 2006
The past, the present and the future: memories, experience and hopes. This is what we create by living. To an unknown extent it is our actual creation, for 'reality' is a very human thing. Billy Pilgrim has been traumatised by war, as has his fellow soldiers. His lesson is: try to remember the good things, try and forget the bad things. It might not be a noble philosophy, but in a world where he does not easily fit, whether it is a concentration camp or a middle class blancmange dream home, it is valuable information to get him by. Slaughterhouse Five is a very rare thing, a film that tries to make sense both out of the atrocity of war and the hysterical blandness of conformity. It never falters. It is convincing from first scene to last, spun on the fulcrum of Michael Sacks' minimalist acting style, which veers from puzzled incomprehension to calm acceptance, while everybody around him goes their mad, mad way. 'Unstuck in time' means chronological time is abandoned for thematic paralleled jump cuts. The film is not experimental however. Its technique is more subtle. The temporal sequence is disrupted not by the director showing off his technique, which is the usual thing, but by the character's mind. Billy is in shock, and must heal himself. What an eerie species we must appear to extraterrestials. Bach has the last word (on the soundtrack, as he does in Solaris as well).
on 23 January 2009
I read the Time Out fim review, and am glad I took no notice of it - I thought it was absolutely beautifully done. I've not read the book so don't have any view on how they've interpreted Vonnegut's original idea, but on its own it is both a hugely touching and tragic story, and interspersed with enough surreal and amusing moments to heighten the awful reality of the destruction of Dresden.
Don't be misled by the title: it is primarily a war drama, with a bit of random science fiction thrown in - doesn't sound promising, but I'm glad I gave it a go.
on 29 June 2014
One of the most striking aspects of the film of the glorious book, is the editing. The linear flow of a standardised or generic story telling is not so much cut up, rather it is crisply cutting to apparently random yet related periods of the characters life, adhered together as we do our own memories in our mental scrapbook. The flitting back and forth of Billy Pilgrim, the main character, is the stuff of sci-fi, yet the core element of the story & thus, his life, is clearly the horrendous bombing of Dresden & the futility of war etc. And all the impacting moments that are coloured by simply being present at any point in time at historical or life-changing periods...much that tastes of sci-fi, but do not come to the film expecting a clearly defined or over-stated sci-fi tableaux.
Yet thanks to the Tralfamadore aspect of the story, we have the delightful distance of observing the entire life unfold in random intervals, like solid memories coming to the fore unbidden by Billy Pilgrim. As with much of Vonnegut's original thinking, schizophrenia is alluded to and psychiatry is often the scientific way to explain away all this damaging lack of clarity the character has. Yet, Billy Pilgrim having insight from being 'unstuck' in time, has a zen ambience about him. Learnt from the Tralfamadorians, time is, just simply Is. Happened already, going to happen, is happening. And as such, is the perfect counter-weight to the ego-centric human drive for war and cruelty. The sonorous use of Glenn Gould as a soundtrack, of Bach, takes the satirical highly cultured irony to it's furthest point. War is not just Hell, it is downright demeaning and lacking in any sense of insight into Time. War is an attempt to make a mark on History, which simply put, is a vague notion of events in linear order...this film, and the book of course, reveals an attitude of how absurd and preposterous our relation to time, and other humans may be.
The film itself could do with more details from the book in it but that would obviously slow the pace, but as it stands it is remarkably seventies style cinematography, the editing sweet, the music over-lush at times but dramatic, the acting solid and the humour, of which there is much, is a delight if a little black. If any sense of the Vonnegut slant of irony & bittersweet view of so called reality is unappealing, avoid. Never mawkish, nor maudlin, the film drifts finally off into your memory where it will be stored, re-processed and made familiar. Read and absorb the book, assimilate the film. Masterpiece. If it is remade, pray to the Tralfamadorians, who understand and occupy fourth dimension, that it doesn't end the universe by being inferior to this earlier film.
on 14 March 2005
Kurt Vonnegut served in the US Armed Forces during World War II, he was captured during The Battle of the Bulge and taken to a Prisoner of War camp in Dresden to work. Vonnegut and his fellow soldiers were housed in an underground warehouse. Dresden became famous as city with the highest loss of human life 135,000, through Allied bombing on the night of February 13, 1945.
In his book he tells how, Billy Pilgrim a chaplins assistant copes after the war with the death and destruction of Dresden, and with life by imagining that he has been abducted by aliens from "Trafalmadore". The Tralfamadorians see time in a completely different way than humans. They see an entire event instead of individual moments like humans. They give him the ability to become "unstuck" in time, which allows him to move forward and backwards to view his past and impending death at the hands of Paul Lazzaro an enemy he made during his time in POW camp.
This film follows the book very well thanks to the excellent director George Roy Hill, who was well known for directing other films such as 'The Sting' and 'The World According to Garp'.
on 21 July 2013
Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse Five has become one of the classic anti-war novels. It was always set to be a challenge to turn it into a movie and upon its original release it received mixed reviews. Some were critical of the linear chronography of the movie, when the book has a more fluid approach to its time-lines. The acting performances and filming were great, although I suspect it helps enormously if you've read the book beforehand.
Aspects of the book are auto-biographical. During the second world war Kurt Vonnegut was a young US soldier serving in Germany. He saw at first hand the terrible destruction caused by allied bombing of the city of Dresden. When he started to write the book, some years later, his wife implored him not to turn it into some glorification of war with all the soldiers portrayed as heroic athletic icons. Consequently, the main character - Billy Pilgrim - is a clumsy outsider, suffering post-traumatic stress, constantly being picked on by his immature fellow servicemen. The underlying message perhaps being that while all armed forces like to think they'll recruit the best and train them well, the reality is that in wartime standards inevitably have to change. As Billy tries to cope with his stress he withdraws into himself and we share what is going on in his imagination. Despite his severe psychological problems, Billy runs a successful business in the years after the war, marries and raises a family - but continues to have stress-related flashbacks and periods of hospitalisation. He is also kidnapped by aliens - but maybe that's just in his head... Recommended.
A haunting emotional film detailing the complexities of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, fragments of life weaving in and out, picturing an interplay within the various strands of recollections. Here each silvered fragment is pictured in micro elements, detailing a man being locked out of his state of being forever, cast adrift from a real world.
I read the book 30 years ago. I bought this film with some apprehension, as most modern sludge from Americana sends me off to nod very quickly. However, no need to worry, this is a brilliant rendition, a startling film that rushed home all the micro elements Vonnegut detailed in his books. When understood this becomes so much clearer. It portrays an era when US films said something about the world instead of trying to run away from it. See Catch 22 for another version.
Thrown into the deep end from childhood by let's make a man out him the brute father, Vonnegut nearly drowns within his masculine test. The viewer learns this fact as we time travel between his life memories as Billy ages. Each parcel of life becomes the propulsion for his "time travels" riping between poles of the past and the future, he becomes serialised into time fragments. It is a common occurence as a person ages, more memories surge in, those previously held at bay break free and begin to dance within the mind. Billy becomes infused with the big ones, his war memories as they crowd into his memory to greet and beat him.
Perenially bullied by Lazaro, he becomes constrained, trapped within vignettes of fear and ridicule; making friends with the teacher, a mid western good natured man who saves him from early death. This is his "enlightened witness." Within his real world Billy lies locked within a thousand yard stare. In his waking moments he builds an alternative vista and populates it inside his head with his favorite porno actress, lying as a polarity as a place of safety, because the real world is so horrendous. And why not live in a surrogate if the real world offers nothing?
A huge chasm of emotional disconnections leads him stranded in an estranged marriage, where he reaches out, but no one can hear him. Instead he sacrifices himself for money to buy his family material posessions instead of talking to them. Driving his son into rebellion and later ultra conformity in undertaking the eternal return of enacting carnage in Vietnam.
Billy is trapped in the Dresden firestorm as he forever pulls the bodies out of the wreckage of 25,000 civilians incinerated in one horrendous attack to break civilian morale towards the end of the war. Unable to articulate his horror, he subsumes it, all later appearing as vivid flashbacks as he tries to adjust to civilian life as an optometrist.
As the scenes melt and ripple throughout the film, it becomes clearer, he cannot regain focus on the present. Those who see this as some sci fi fable, need to beam down to earth. Vonnegut depicts the detailed therapeutic work needed with veterans as they are caught within the horror of their traumas pre, during and post war experiences.
Billy eventually builds a perfect illusionary life with a porn star on an outer galaxy, then Billy Pilgirm finds an inner peace but at what cost? This is why watching the film is required. It is not lite entertainment but a beacon into a netherworld.
Riveting, emotional and beautifully filmed, this is a staggering emotional portrayal of life and psychological death.
on 19 March 2014
I saw this in the early 70's on television when I was very young. It so stuck in my mind that for years I wondered what it was called as I had missed that when the credits had run. I have to thank Google as I put in what I remembered, something like Dresden + moving in time + aliens and it brought this up.
I really love the film it had what I like to see in a film, a decent story and a different slant on reality. The film also explored some aspects of war. There also some rather funny scenes especially the driving scene with the main characters wife.
on 23 November 2013
This movie which is based upon the book of the same name, and it helps to debunk the idea that any human being has any form of superior right to exert authority over any other human being. The result of such thinking is always negative. God never speaks and therefore human frustration results in might makes right. The victors in battle always claim that God was on their side, but reality shows that human life is nothing more than an illusion that is carved out of ignorance and fear. It is then manifest by the brute force ideology of might makes right. Confused? See this movie or read the book and the penny may drop that there is no such thing as victory of right triumphing over wrong, because in the end the victors also perish. No human being has any inside knowledge of what we are doing on this Planet, and it might be a good idea to quit the pretense. In the meantime, yes in the meantime, well, in the meantime if we can't get along with other human beings, then I guess we will continue to deceive ourselves as a species in an effort to make the next war, the last war. But it won't be the last because the moment dictates our responses to life, and that means in the absence of a note from God, we just have to kill or be killed, as senseless as that seems. On the other hand, all of Nature just gets on with the business of killing and never bothers to try and make sense out of it. See this movie (or read the book) to get my point.
on 30 March 2014
It's a good film based on an awesome book!
I read it in the Sixty's and I didn't think it could be filmed, how wrong I
Evan my Son & Grandson watched it and found it's themes and moralities thought provoking
A quote from Grandson ''i really enjoyed this film i found it really interesting and i saw how good older films can be a lot better that the newer ones that you can watch today all in all this is a really good film.''