Slaughterhouse-Five (8/11/12)

Slaughterhouse-FiveMovie One Hundred Eighty Eight

Slaughterhouse-Five is the story of a man who serves in World War II and then is abducted by aliens and becomes “unstuck” in time, based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut.

Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is a soldier during World War II and survives the fire bombings in Dresden. After the war, he marries Valencia (Sharon Gans) and becomes a successful eye doctor. Sometime later, he is abducted by aliens from Tralfamadore and kept in an exhibit with a beautiful celebrity, Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine). The Tralfamadorians do not have the same concept of time that we do, and Billy learns to time travel through his entire life at any point. Due to this, the film jumps back and forth between events in Billy’s life after World War II.

Recently, I finished reading Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut and firmly decided to see the film version. As far as book adaptations go, Slaughterhouse-Five is very fair to the source material in many ways, but the small touches are lost. Sometimes the small touches go a long way, for instance, every time someone dies in the novel, Billy remarks “so it goes”. That line isn’t spoken once in the film, despite numerous mentions in the novel. As a result, the film, if viewed as its own entity, does not have the charm or identity the novel has.

I was surprised at how well Slaughterhouse-Five translated to the screen, I was having a hard time picturing how a film where time travel is so frequent could be anything but a confusing mess, but the cuts in the film between periods are well thought out. I never had any question as to when Billy was or even where he was, but that could be attributed to my knowledge of the plot from the novel. The actors playing the characters were all as I imagined them and they all perform quite well.

Standing on its own, I would have a hard time recommending the film version of Slaughterhouse-Five. Conversely, I would easily (and wholeheartedly) recommend the novel version of Slaughterhouse-Five. Both are strange and satirical, but the film is simply missing that intangible *something* that makes the novel so special. If you’re a fan of the novel already, I think you’ll still enjoy Slaughterhouse-Five as much as I did, though.

I give it 4 Tralfamadorian exhibits out of 5.


Rotten Tomatoes


20 responses to “Slaughterhouse-Five (8/11/12)

  1. Kurt Vonnegut is one of my heroes and Slaughter House Five was the first thing I read by him (like most people, I think). I tried to watch this though and couldn’t stomach it. I just didn’t think it worked plus I admit to being biased when books are made into films.

  2. Wow! I love the novel Slaughterhouse-Five (and Vonnegut in general) but I didn’t realize this movie existed. I may have to check it out, just for curiosity’s sake.

  3. Love the novel, find this film adaptation to be nearly unbearable. I always thought Michael Sacks was a complete miscast as Billy Pilgrim. I can appreciate how the film tries to remain very loyal to the novel, but I think that’s almost to a fault. I also just feel that everything in the film lacks an imagination. The world that’s created within the novel is so visceral and unique, the film feels like a very bland adaptation to me. I am curious to re-visit the film though after your review, haven’t seen it in nearly a decade.

    • I didn’t like Michael Sacks at first but he grew on me as Billy. You’re right that the film doesn’t really have much of its own imagination. If it were to be remade I’d like it to have more going on visually.

  4. This was recommended to me some years ago and I never saw it. I am glad I didn’t since it seems like I need to read the book first. Nice review.

  5. Thanks a lot for drawing my attention to this as well – I also didn’t know that a film version of the novel existed. I love the novel very much, but I cannot imagine how a film could even come close to capturing all the ‘satirical complexity and genius’ of the novel. For me the exact words in the novel are as important as the pictures one imagines when reading (I just love Vonnegut’s style), so I really dread watching this in case I didn’t like it at all hehe

    • It’s safe to say that the film doesn’t capture some of the novel’s fantastical ideas, but the general idea is there. I can see dreading this one, but if you don’t go in expecting the same level as the novel, it delivers…Well, it did for me, at least.

  6. Pingback: My August Movies Round-Up | Andy Watches Movies

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  8. ‘Five’ is an interesting film, I liked it – but without the novel’s dark irony, it comes across as merely frivolous.

    Good summing up, Andy – coz now I want to watch it again…

      • Oddly, reading the comments above, I was quite surprised folk didn’t know about the film version!

        But thinking about it, when I saw ‘Five’ (round about 1979-80, read the book about 4 years after that) it was still talked about in Sci-Fi movie circles, but in the last 25-30 years or so it’s faded into obscurity. So, yeh, maybe it’s a generational thing.

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