"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.Other than the theatrical trailer, this DVD offers no special features whatsoever. The picture is pretty good, considering how old the movie is. The newest version that has come out on DVD is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen, which really does help bring clarity to the picture. I wasn't really expecting too many features to be included on this DVD, but it would've been nice if a few were added in. I'm sure something could have been done to make this DVD release better.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"
Billy Pilgrim Lives...from Time to Time
Michael R Gates | Nampa, ID United States | 05/26/2004
(5 out of 5 stars)
"A faithful adaptation of the novel by celebrated American author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE (1972) is about the life of one Billy Pilgrim, a milquetoast of a man who has somehow become "unstuck" in time and therefore randomly ping-pongs back and forth to relive various events in his life. Although the film does depict instances when Billy re-experiences a few snippets from both his childhood and the moments immediately preceding his death, most of the time he is relegated to three major periods of his life: His tour of duty in WWII, during which he is a POW in Dresden, Germany, as it is bombed by Allied forces; his mid-life era, in which he suffers from suburban ennui while he labors in an unsatisfying career and contends with his overbearing, overweight wife; and the time he spends as a captive of extraterrestrials on the distant planet Tralfamadore, where he is kept in a dome-like cage and "forced" to mate with a beautiful soft-core porn starlet.As bizarre and confusing as this summarization may sound, the unusually structured plot is not all that difficult to follow, and the film is actually quite excellent. This cinematic success can be primarily attributed to the skills of screenwriter Stephen Geller, director George Roy Hill, and film editor Dede Allen. Due to their strong understanding of the novel and a good sense of aesthetics, they are able to seamlessly shift the story from one era or event to an ostensibly disparate one by intercutting one scene with another while attention is focused on some detail common to both. This circular narrative better serves the message of the film than the more common linear (i.e., natural moment-to-moment flow of time) plotting, as it makes it possible to juxtapose events that, while separated by years or even decades chronologically, are similar in theme.And just what is the message this surreal film is trying to convey? As with the novel upon which it is based, the primary message is a nihilistic one, to wit, that life and the absurd events of which it is comprised are meaningful only because humans impute meaning to them. However, the film also has a subtle but complex existentialist and ontological subtext. Just below the nihilistic façade is the suggestion that humans should be willing to assume ultimate responsibility for the consequences of their actions. In addition, the non-linear plotting suggests that living beings are not disconnected entities WITH a history, but are, instead, comprised OF their history. In other words, a being is not an objective, corporeal identity existing in a state of temporal flux; a being is an abstract entity that is simultaneously all the different things he has done, is doing, and will do. Heady stuff, that.The acting in SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE is top-notch. As Billy Pilgrim, Michael Sacks epitomizes the naïve, baby-faced child-soldier Billy in the WWII sequences, but he also gives very believable performances when portraying the listless middle-aged Billy and the Billy living as a zoo specimen on Tralfamadore. Sexy Valerie Perrine plays soft-core porn actress Montana Wildhack, Billy's "mate" in the Tralfamadorian zoo. A one-time topless dancer herself, Perrine infuses her character with genuine emotional depth and complexity rather than playing it as the stereotypical porn bimbo. Ron Leibman chews the scenery in the supporting role of Lazzaro, Billy's comrade-in-arms-cum-assassin, and Eugene Roche gives a very affecting performance as Billy's wartime mentor, Edgar Derby. There are also cameos by very notable thespians such as Sorrell Booke, Roberts Blossom, John Dehner, Lucille Benson, and British actor John Wood.The new DVD release from MCA/Universal is a no-frills disc offering only the theatrical trailer as bonus material. However, unlike previous DVD releases of the film, the widescreen presentation is anamorphically enhanced for 16x9 televisions. The digital transfer is good, but there are noticeable filmic and digital artifacts. Nonetheless, the disc is offered at a very reasonable price, and the film itself should have a spot in the collection of any serious film lover."
How's this for rare...a quality Vonnegut adaptation.
Michael Crane | 10/22/1999
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Kurt Vonnegut is one of those writers who, when you hear about a movie adaptation of one of their works, you always immediately think "How the Hell are they gonna manage that?". His books are stream-of-consciousness tirades against the madness of mankind...not exactly cinema-ready audience pleasers. This has been proven by experimental disasters such as "Slapstick (of Another Kind)". But under the expert and fearless direction of George Roy Hill ("The Sting", "The World According to Garp", "Slap Shot", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid"), the movie version of "Slaughterhouse 5" has nothing to feel embarassed about when placed next the the excellent novel. The key to this, as in all great novel-movie transfers, is a worthy cast. And here we have one in spades. I don't think there's another movie made that has done such a bang-on job at matching the flesh and blood actors to their literary equivalents. Protagonist Billy Pilgrim is played perfectly withdrawn by Michael Sacks, with Sharon Ganz as his overweight, overprotective wife. He has become unstuck in time, forever bouncing around his own life. From the horrors of WWII to the mundane insanity of marriage, the film masterfully transitions between these random chronological events, till Pilgrim eventually ends up on display on the distant planet Tralfamadore, paired together with barely-clad sexpot Montana Wildhack. Viewers can enjoy the same laser-like accuracy in casting with the various supporting characters. Newcomers to Vonnegut might find themselves slightly unstuck through the meandering narrative, but the inherient quality of the film should see even confused moviegoers to the end of this cinematic Vonnegut masterpiece."
Come Unstuck in Time With Billy Pilgrim
Joel R. Bryan | Athens, Georgia United States | 01/26/2001
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I would've bet Kurt Vonnegut's novel was unfilmable. And I would've lost, baby! Lost! But losing's okay, because this George Roy Hill film is a well-made version of one of literature's wildest works. Michael Sacks plays WWII vet/optometrist Billy Pilgrim, a lost soul who's become "unstuck" in time, courtesy the fourth dimensional aliens from the planet Tralfamadore. So Pilgrim constant relives his horrific war experiences (like Vonnegut, he survives the Battle of the Bulge, becomes a prisoner and witnesses the Dresden firebombing in which more civilians died than in Hiroshima), his marriage to a woman (Sharon Gans) who gets fatter and fatter then dies in a car accident, his near-death experience in a plane crash and his time in an alien zoo with Playboy playmate Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine, looking super-sexy). The film's slow pace gives it a philosophical, thoughtful feel that fits the novel. The only discordant note is the slapstick quality of Gans' car crash death; it goes on a bit too long, as if the filmmakers felt the need to introduce some action to liven things up. Other than that, it's like the novel come to life, and almost as moving. Ron Liebman ("Norma Rae") gives a ferocious performance as revenge-obsessed Paul Lazzaro; to read his vicious speeches is one thing, to actually hear them adds just the right touch of horror. Eugene Roche plays decent, doomed Edgar Derby. So, what's it all about? The Tralfamadorians tell Pilgrim since they can see every moment in time simultaneously, the secret is to only look at the good ones. So Pilgrim tries to make the best of the situations he's in. The trick, evidently, is to remember to look surprised, and to accept that life is a mix of very pleasant moments inevitably followed by very horrible ones. Look for a young Perry King (TV's "Riptide") and Boss Hogg himself, Sorrell Booke as Sacks' father-in-law."
A very good movie for those of us who can still think deeply
Hatchet Jack Zamberlin | Slapout, Oklahoma | 02/20/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Nearly all of the movies made from Kurt Vonnegut's books are simply awful (HAPPY BIRTHDAY WANDA JUNE, MOTHER NIGHT, BREAKFEST OF CHAMPIONS). There is one delightful exception -- SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE. The makers of this film took the time and trouble to make their movie subtle. They accepted the fact that Vonnegut has never appealed to the loud, over-stimulated, self-absorbed, resource-guzzling masses. Kurt's books appeal directly to the depressed, quiet, suffering young men and women who are still in school and can still think deeply about life.
The hero, Billy Pilgrim, is pretty much carried along by the events happening around him. He finally sees the insanity of trying to take charge of his own life and learns to simply accept things the way they are. This is essentially a Taoist tale. Most stories told by Vonnegut are from a Taoist perspective. The hero is dropped into the middle of a meat grinder of a life and told repeatedly that he must not allow himself to be turned into hamburger. But, contrary to his most feverish and guilt-ridden efforts, he is turned into hamburger. When he finally accepts the reality of being a lump of hamburger, life becomes a little easier for him to deal with. "