By Ani (San Francisco)
Slaughterhouse-Five, directed by George Roy Hill, is the screen version of the amazing novel by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. The film is extremely well done for its time, being made in 1972, and done with the extent of the technology that they had at the time compared to the technology that goes into film-making today. This funny, and at times, heart-tugging film explores the journey of the protagonist, Billy Pilgrim, played by Michael Sacks, during his experiences of being a prisoner of war in World War II, getting abducted by aliens, and having the ability to time travel, also known throughout the movie as “time tripping”.
With the dramatic and eerie opening line of “Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time”, Vonnegut’s novel unfolds and comes to life as Billy experiences “time tripping”, switching back and forth between the war, the present, and the future. Almost every other scene is from a different time in space of Billy’s life. Billy is able to transport himself back to the war, then back with his loving family, to the future of his journey on the planet Tramalfadore, and even to his death.
Michael Sacks does an excellent job of playing the somewhat ditzy and clumsy character Billy Pilgrim. He stumbles his way across the opening scene in the snow, barely making it out alive due to his slow nature, constantly telling the other soldiers he encounters and befriends to go on without him. His boyish and extremely handsome face adds greatly to my already imagined character of Billy. His character has an extremely passive role to play, as he simply stumbles along through the war, as prisoner of war, and through his marriage, until he becomes unstuck in time.
Aside from the heaviness of the war, this film has the right amounts of lightheartedness, with Billy’s wife Valencia, starred by Sharon Gans, and her cheery persona, creating a lovely family image that was common during this time period. The film also contains the necessary sex appeal with the beautiful Hollywood starlet Montana Wildhack, played by Valerie Perrine, showing off her nude and natural curves as her and Billy are on the planet Tramalfadore together. Her first encounter with Billy, she appears topless, breasts out, naturally gaining the attention of every man in the theater.
Unfortunately, we never get to see the Tramalfadorians, which would have been the finishing touches to the movie. However, we experience a minimal exposure to their planet as only the last thirty minutes or so of the movie focuses on their planet. Billy picks up their fascinating idea of letting go of the bad times, and simply focusing on the good aspects of life, leaving the viewers with an extremely positive image as Montana gives birth to hers and Billy’s newborn son.
Now, enough of the praising, time to criticize! I did not enjoy the lack of the incorporation of the true meaning behind Vonnegut’s novel. This movie was scripted and directed to portray a fairly positive message, when, in my opinion, the true meanings of Vonnegut’s novel are the evil results that war bring, and the deterioration on the human mind due to the horrors of war. The brief scene of the bombing of Dresden does the historical event absolutely no justice. The scene of the young German boy running, screaming, and crying towards his family’s home shows the sadness and pain that people felt during the war, however it was not enough. The scene showing all of the dead bodies should have been more gruesome, in order to give the full effect.
The second thing I did not enjoy about this movie, that I can imagine others in the theater felt the same way, was the way they portrayed Billy’s “time tripping”. I thought the transition used during these scenes were unorganized, and that they should have introduced each time trip with some sort of effect on Billy such as dizziness, or spinning, really anything to indicate that he had undergone his unusual psychedelic experiences. The movie sort of just jumped around from time to time with no warning, startling many viewers.
I do admire the positive light that Hill creates as he directs the film version of the somber novel, ending the movie with a new life being created as Billy and Montana give birth to their new baby boy on the planet of Tralmafadore. The use of almost all new and unexperienced actors gave the movie a lovely, genuine touch, and respected the wishes of Mary O’Hare, whom the book is dedicated to, as Vonnegut promised that the stars wouldn’t be casted by mainstream, cliché actors such as Frank Sinatra.