I really enjoyed Sara Gruen's novel 'Water for Elephants' and was actually nervous to see the movie as movies rarely compare to the novels in my opinion.
I was glad the movie stuck fairly close to the novel, and have gathered a few comparisons and a lot of my opinions into this post.
Spoilers if you continue to read.... you have been warned.
Overall I enjoyed both the book and the movie and felt it was a good adaptation. But here are some specific comparison's and comments...
Sara Gruen's book opened with the "stampede" from the Benzini Brother's Circus which enticed readers from the get go and then flashed to present day and through flashbacks told the story of Jacob Jakowski's life with the circus.
The movie, quite oppositely, opened with an old man outside a circus he missed. It then goes on to tell his story but with a very slow start. I think if you had not read the book the movie may drag a bit in the start.
The novel seemed to focus on Jacob's tribulations in life. The scenes in the retirement home and the interactions with the other "old folks" in his home as well as with the nurse 'Rosemary' showed the man he had become, while flashing back to see the man he was and how he got where he was now. The movie didn't even have any retirement home scenes.
The most obvious changes were:
-No Uncle Al
-The \celebration' and then fight between August and Jacob
-Scenes following August hitting Marlena including: Running away from the circus, Jacob's attempt to murder August, the motels
The elimination of Uncle Al (or rather a combination of August and Uncle Al into one?) I didn't like because I felt Uncle Al was a strong figure in the book, the only one really, that could put fear in August.
Speaking of August, sorry Christoph Waltz fans, but I felt underwhelmed by his portrayal. I didn't see the crazy, bad, bi-polar, snap I envisioned while reading the book. Sure, there were moments, but it just didn't come across as "crazy" as I imagined.
Another obvious change was towards the end. When Marlena prepares the celebration for August and he "walks in" early and assumes it is a private celebration for Jacob and Marlena. The fight was weak and not as intense or damaging as the novel.
Also the scenes with the hotel stay and Jacob's manipulation of "helping them get back together" etc. was all eliminated. I think it was important int he book to establish the "crazy" in August as well as the development of Jacob and Marlena's realtion and plan to run-away. This change also overlapped into the scene when Jacob goes to "kill" August.
In the book, he decides to go and struggles train car jumping to August's room then decides not to kill him, only to return to the news that his roomate has been 'red-lighted' The novel has them red-lighted first, a quick trip to the room where he sees Marlena and August asleep and decides not to kill... it did not invoke the same emotion or build up in my opinion. I think the scene of Jacob train jumping, in turmoil, anger and confusion could have been a great scene.... who knows.
It was mostly minor changes from novel to movie but they did cause other parts to not work as smoothly or detailed.
To be honest, even in the previews when Jacob gives his "good life" speach and they are about to jump off the train.... I didn't think they really would in the movie... it just seemed a bit rushed and odd to me. I prefered the book's longer development, but obviously movies can't always do as much and in two hours and a few minutes, they really didn't have much time left to add more, but perhaps a few things could have been cut or picked up, the start was a tad slow.
Another change is the death of Silver Star. In the novel of course August lets Jacob do it and makes sure Marlena is far away, in the movie, August is unaware and mad at the shooting of his star attraction, leading to a near red-lighting of Jacob. Also Marlena is there when Jacob puts the horse down, though it creates a bonding moment for the two in the movie that is needed because of the other parts cut out in the development of their love story.
I thought they included the right amount of characters from the circus (Barbara, Walter, Camel, Earl, Blackie etc.) and the interactions were good, though brief. I really enjoyed the scene where Jacob wakes up in the lingierie and clown make-up. Though this was more developed in the novel, it was handled just right for the movie.
I really liked the video and photos of Jacob and Marlena and the kids as he remembered their lives together. Besides the horribly bad "old man" make-up on Robert Pattinson, it was a touching scene to see them "growing old" together with the kids in the circus.
I think Reese and Rob were great. I found their chemistry to be real and shown well on screen. I really loved Reese's outfits and thought she handled 'August' well. Rob was sexy and played Jacob so well, I was really impressed, I barely saw "Edward" at all in him. While those two leads were amazing, the star was Tai who played Rosie. I loved Rob's chemistry with Tai and thought as far as animal actors go, she was absolutely fantastic!
I never imagined an elephant could portray fear, but after being beaten by August, Tai's eyes show pure fear. I was stunned!
Seeing 'Rosie' do her tricks was absolutely amazing, it reminded me of my childhood (though the 80s not the 30s) when the circus would come to town.
They included a lot of scenes that I thought were important or memorable for various reasons. I loved Jacob feeding Rex, the toothless Lion and the tender moment between Marlena and Jacob after the raid.
Though I highlight mostly changes in this post, I really think it stayed close to the novel and worked well. I enjoyed the movie alot!
The movie captured the magic of the novel and told a love story that really touched my heart. I loved the novel and the movie - differently.