Slaughterhouse Five Review

Like Proust's prose, Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) is experiencing time with no continuity. Each event of his life is being replayed to him with no order or reason, jumping decades backwards and forwards. As we follow him through his disjointed life, we discover the traumas of his childhood, his annihilating experiences as a POW in Dresden and his near misses with death in the Battle of the Bulge. As we switch between the scenes, we start piecing together the existence of Billy Pilgrim and the scars that the war has left upon him along with his inability to come to terms with the death that has surrounded him.

Fitting snugly between two Oscar winners (The Sting and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), Slaughterhouse-five is an unusual film in George Roy Hill's glittering opus. Although the Oscar's didn't shine on this one, possibly due to it's outspoken anti-war sentiment, France gave it the Prix du Jury at Cannes. Kurt Vonnegut's eponymous novel was not going to be an easy adaptation - it mixed together two styles that seldom meet:sci-fi and gritty wartime tales. Added to that, Vonnegut's depiction of Pilgrim is not altogether sympathetic. Although that can work on paper, the Hollywood machine has great trouble digesting these charaters as leads.

As a result, the film does at times seem stuck between a rock and a hard place - or rather intellectual fidelity and studio's big bucks. The fragmented narration, however, works very well with a clever use of parallel editing allowing us to follow the multitude of ellipses with relative ease but the introduction of the sci-fi elements jar a little - in the book, this can be interpreted as a coping mechanism for Pilgrim but this is not completely obvious in the movie and it threatens to spoil the film. The ambiguous nature of Billy, on the other hand, is handled far better with an impressive performance from Sacks, playing both a young wide-eyed kid as well as an ailing old man. His loss of control in parts of his life are played elegantly along with some satire of the American middle class dream and Billy's lack of agency in every single part of his existence. The film may not stand as a completely successful adaptation but, given the source material, Hill did a mighty fine job of it.

The image:
The print may not be perfect but it's incredibly good given the age of the film. There are occasional specks but globally it's a solid transfer. There are certain scenes (especially some of the snow scenes) that show a lack of stability and don't come through well causing a shimmering effect. Bar that problem, it's a very good transfer but it's a shame they've cropped it from 1.85 to 1.77.

The sounds:
The mono soundtrack works well with sufficient spectrum and punch in the bombing scenes. I don't think a remix would have added much and besides, mono was the director's original choice so it's good that Universal respected that.

The extras:
Just the trailer which is quite an interesting effort at selling a film that must have been difficult to market especially after the success of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The full release comes with Kurt Vonnegut's book but we didn't receive it so I have no idea what it looks like. Still, it's worth reading before watching the film as I feel it may help fill in some of the blanks left by the film.

It's nice to see more obscure films seeing the light of day. Slaughterhouse five is not as accessible as Hill's other work but still demonstrates an eager mind, ready to experiment with the medium and push audiences to their limit. The transfer is very good (with a few reservations) but the extras are pretty minimal.

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