Slaughterhouse-Five (1972) Poster

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'Unstuck in Time' makes for interesting narrative
kgprophet16 August 2001
I give this film a 7 out of 10.

It makes an eloquent statement about how traumatic moments in our life stay with us as if it ‘just happened yesterday'. What makes this film so appealing is how it depicts what would happen if you could jump around your entire life. When the future influences the past, it takes on a great significance. Billy Pilgrim is a humdrum Optometrist who nevertheless has an exciting life, surviving the bombing of Dresden in WW2, living through a plane crash, and being transported to another planet. Yet he maintains to be humble. As we follow Billy's life, the portrait of mediocre America is a touching contrast to the other moments that are frightening. He knows how he will die, and in the process becomes unafraid to live life to it's fullest. The inhabitants of the planet Tralfamador (??) say it is best to concentrate on the good moments in your life, and not so much on the bad. But they are still there, and you cannot erase that moment of your life. In essence, the true moral of this film is to accept all that has happened in your life. For if you don't, you deny the validity of your existence. When Billy finally writes about his adventures, others have a chance to learn about the world and themselves that would've otherwise been denied.

Technically, the film uses the moments where Billy jumps in time as meaningful transitions. It interweaves lessons learned from one part of his life and applies it to the present moment (whenever that is). The film's real treasures are the supporting characters that surround Billy. It also vividly transports you to WW2, a semi-autobiographical account of Kurt Vonnegut's real life experiences in Dresden. The film is filled with anecdotes that present the film's other main theme, that life is indeed ironic.

I was deeply touched by this film, with it's ability to whisk you from scenes of horror to amusing ‘Kodak moments'. The music poignantly represents these transitions, and helps to carry the film. In the end, you can accept his death, by having lived his life.
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Brilliantly Directed By George Roy Hill
herbqedi24 June 2002
The realization of this glimpse into the mind's eye of a man unstuck in time is brilliant to behold. Yes, the book is a brilliant work in its own right, and open to interpretation, as a truly complex work must be. The movie is not the book. It is Hill's interpretation of the book, and a brilliant and viable one it is.

Hill won the best Director Oscar the next year with "The Sting". He later filmed the similarly unfilmable "World According To Garp" and also did a brilliant job with it, partially by letting go of John Irving's more depressing side. Other notable credits include Butch Cassidy... and The Great Waldo Pepper.

Michael Sacks, in his first movie, and only starring role at the tender age of 24, is completely convincing and natural. He is equally effective, compelling, and believable at the six distinct stages of Pilgrim's life memorialized herein. If he weren't up to the six-in-one role, the film wouldn't work, but he is, and it does. (I wonder why he has no other major credits, and ceased acting altogether in 1984. If anyone knows, please e-mail me.)

Valerie Perrine is fine as Montana Wildhack. The other characters are all played for maximum irony and effect, and the cast delivers beautifully, without exception. Eugene Roche is the epitome of kindness as Edgar Derby, the yin, to Ron Liebman's yang, a twisted ball of anger named Paul Lazaro. John Dehner is brilliant as a war-hawk professor upset at the Vietnam protesters. His character would be as appropriate amidst today's global conflagration as it was in 1966. Lucille Benson, Kevin Conway, Sorrell Booke, Holly Near, Richard Schaal, and Perry King are the more familiar names in a uniformly excellent cast, including the German actors.

The musical score is also perfect, both in tone and substance. Vonnegut is a master of superimposing satire over irony over futility. The movie does a marvelous job of blending these contrasts and making its audience feel enriched. The music underscores all of these contrasts. The cinematography also is magnificent.

Searching desperately for something to say to show that the movie cannot be 100% perfect, the only thing I can come up with is that the pacing of the movie drags slightly when the soldiers leave the first camp for Dresdner until their new Kommandant gives his "welcoming" speech. It might have played better with about three minutes cut from that sequence. So what?

I recently saw Slaughterhouse Five for the fifth time in 27 years since I originally saw it at my college campus -- this time on DVD. I never fail to catch something new, and I never fail to enjoy it all the more.

Given how many 70's movies have failed miserably to withstand the test of time, Slaughterhouse Five is a true treat to be savored.
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Pleasantly Surprised
mmoore189 July 2004
Like most of those who have posted before me, I am an avid Vonnegut fan and went into this movie with a guarded optimism that it would just be decent.

But George Roy Hill did an excellent job conveying the overall feel of the book -- the time jumping was flawless and I didn't find it hard to follow at all. The actor who played Billy Pilgrim captured Billy's passive, calm and vaguely anti-social demeanor. Lazarro, Montana and Billy's wife are also well played.

George Roy Hill had a knack for directing movies made from great books -- e.g., "The World According to Garp" -- and in the end, I was pleasantly surprised how well this movie turned out.

As far as the Vonnegut adaptations go (I know of four -- this one, "Mother Night," "Breakfast of Champions" and the god-awful "Slapstick") this one is the best of the bunch.

I've always wanted to see a movie version of "Sirens of Titan," but it'll probably never happen -- so "Slaughterhouse Five" is my only chance to "see" Trafalmadore.

Recommended to any true Vonnegut fans. Other people probably won't appreciate it.
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So it goes
lot4929 December 2001
Kurt Vonnegut was more than worthy of the National Book Award that he received for the novel Slaughterhouse Five, but his humor and literary expertise are often lost in screenplays.

This flawed movie was a cult classic since its release because legions of Vonnegut fans were so fond of the novel that they could overlook the film's flaws. This is probably the only Vonnegut novel to make the transition to the screen as a movie that more than a handful of people are willing to watch. And they watch it again and again. I am reminded of Voltaire lovers who enjoy Leonard Bernstein's Candide. This seems to be the best of all possible Vonnegut movies.

There is a wealth of trivia associated with the cast. Michael Sacks disappeared into obscurity. Sharon Gans joined a community theater company that seemed more like a cult. Holly Near became a feminist folksinger. Valerie Perrine would later give a great performance as Honey Bruce in Bob Fosse's Lenny. Perry King and Ron Liebman became minor stars.

The story is largely allegorical. It is not science-fiction. Vonnegut is coping with the trauma of World War II, particularly the horrors he witnessed during the firebombing of Dresden. Billy Pilgrim's emotional numbness and alientation are characteristic of combat fatigue or post traumatic stress. Despite the lack of a chronological plot, Billy Pilgrim's arc is linear.

To the uninitiated, being "unstuck in time" can be confusing. It's sort of like one's first encounter with hypertext. Perhaps, that's why the movie is better on the second or third viewing. The key to enjoying Slaughterhouse Five is to focus on the best scenes and performances -- much like Billy Pilgrim's advice on living.
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Vonnegut's Classic Through Roy Hill's Lens
mstomaso14 June 2007
The film Slaughterhouse 5 is a brilliantly portrayed interpretation of a great but typically multilinear novel by science fiction author Kurt Vonnegut. With all due respect to the literary critics, sci fi really is what Vonnegut most often wrote - whether or not it is viewed as allegory or even 'serious literature'. As such, it was not really made to convey the same messages,nor even the aesthetics of the book, but rather to convey the director's (and others on the creative team) impressions of the book.

The book is also brilliant, but none of Vonnegut's work is easily adapted to the medium of film. Not quite the task Cronenberg took on when he directed Burrough's Naked Lunch, but very similar in method.

S-5 exposes us to the life of Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) and his many loves (his dog spot, his wife played by Holly Near and an actress played by Valerie Perrine), as he either blacks out and travels into the deep recesses of his memory experiencing the delusion of time travel or (as indicated by his occasional leaps forward in time), he actually has become 'unstuck in time.' Between trips back to Dresden during its WWII bombing and trips forward to the planet Tralfamador, it seems that Billy is constantly tripping. Yet he manages to build a successful and very normal American life despite his bizarre and uncontrollable time-travel habit.

The film illustrates the non-linear manner in which the book is written by skipping from time to time in a seemingly random manner, but it manages to do so without losing focus on Pilgrim, who is, in fact always living in the present regardless of what time he happens to be experiencing. Fantastic directoral method!

The film makes a lot of subtle, simple and very good points by making Billy - a quiet simple guy with an extraordinary set of circumstances in his life - a true hero simply because he is relatively nice, somewhat aloof, happy, and quite normal. Sacks' performance is spot-on.

This film is beautifully photographed, very well paced, perfectly directed and edited. The acting is all quite good, and comes from a well appointed cast mostly consisting of character actors. I was particularly impressed with Eugene Roche's excellent portrayal of Edgar Derby.

Highly recommended for the art-house crowd and friends of intelligent sci fi.
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Luminous and haunting
Jaime N. Christley12 July 1999
There seems always to be something exhilaratingly depressing about Vonnegut's work. It's as if our lives were slowly coming apart at the seams. There always seems to be an element of tragic waste in his characters' lives, and never is the feeling more evident than in the book and film of "Slaugherhouse-Five." It's not surprising to learn that Vonnegut really did live through the firebombing of Dresden during World War II.

If there's a weak element of the film, it's the bombing itself. By never letting the audience see outside the bomb shelter Pilgrim was in (and if so, not making it vivid enough for me to remember it), the horror and sheer magnitude of the event is downplayed. Two hundred thousand people died in the destruction of one of the greatest, most majestic cities in all of Europe, and all we're given is a shaking camera. Those who've read the book know that the trajedy was conveyed all to well by Vonnegut's skillful, near-photographic descriptions of the event and its aftermath. Very little of it made it to the screen.

Aside from that, George Roy Hill does an excellent job of communicating the existential dread of what must have been thought to be an unfilmable novel. The fate of Pilgrim's wife through her reckless driving could have come off as tasteless black comedy, but any cheap laughs are thankfully avoided, and the sequence is as shocking as it is heartbreaking. The really far-out parts of the novel (the four-dimensional aliens, Vonnegut's conception of the future and the end of the universe) are done with complete seriousness; another director might have had a condescending approach to the material, and killed the magic. The novel, by itself, is one of the best I've ever read -- it gleefully trashes the rules of standard novel-making, narration, and continuity, and manages to tell a real whale of a tale (there's a lot of weird stuff to swallow in it.) When I saw Hill credited as director, I moaned in agony, recalling the headaches that were induced by his smug, syrupy box office smashes "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" and "The Sting." After those two, I gave up all hope in Hill, the same way I did with Richard Lester after "Petulia" and "Help!" By the end of the movie, however, I ate my words. It's a beautiful, thought-provoking, and enchanting film, and does justice to a fine novel.
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One of the best
mike-12305 March 2005
There is a definite 70s feel to this production of a book that does an amazing job of spanning the most fascinating period of American history -- 1945-1970. I first saw this film in 1986 as a late teen at the height of Regan America, the cold war, nuclear detente. Billy Pilgram was the beginning of that world that I was just starting to pay attention to. The movie had a really profound effect on me at the time. Reading the book afterwards and getting into his other books, didn't detract at all from my assessment of the movie adaptation. Even seeing it now many years later doesn't detract from an amazingly solid film. The transitions as Billy gets unstuck in time are some of my favorite movie images. Also beautiful is the music which totally turned me on to Glenn Gould.
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Nearly as good as the book!
Alan D29 January 2002
This is a very clever, thoughtful, well made movie. It succeeded in doing what I thought was nearly impossible, i.e. to put this amazing book on film. There are one or two small points that keep me from giving this picture anything higher than a 7, the main one being Ron Liebman playing the Paul Lazzaro role - highly irritating. Other than that, a brave and imaginative, clever, witty film that I would heartily recommend to anyone.
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My favorite movie ever.
chambo-26 February 1999
Slaughterhouse-Five is my all-time favorite movie. If you haven't seen it, don't be fooled by the title (it's not the fourth sequel to a horror movie) or the fact that video stores, if they carry it, typically file it under "Sci-Fi" (it's not a space movie, well, not primarily). Slaughterhouse Five is a movie about war, family, business, pets, space, time, aliens, friends, bitter enemies, revenge, overeating, fascism, communism, and mostly about just wanting to be left alone. It is the funniest and saddest movie you're likely to see, and it encompasses more aspects of life than you could imagine. Worth repeated viewings.
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A brilliant and faithfull adaption.
Jess-2417 January 2001
"Slaughterhouse 5" is perhaps the best book-film translation I've ever seen.

Let me safely say that Kurt Vonneguts 'Slaughterhouse 5' is my favourite book ever. It is incredibly funny and moving above any book I've ever read. But it is also a very complex and philosophical story with many deeply rooted undertones. As such, I strongly urge people to READ THE BOOK before you see this movie. A great many points are left unexplained to the viewer, assuming they have read Vonneguts version. As I read it beforehand, the movie didn't insult my intelligence by putting Vonneguts ideas in plain view. Instead, it relies faithfully on the viewers interpretations, not unlike the book.

Once again, unless you have a mind open like a 7-11, READ THE BOOK. Take my advice, and be immersed in the greatest story of the 20th century.
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Kurt thought this movie was better than the book
bbbaldie25 November 2013
I couldn't track it down, unfortunately, but remember that Rolling Stone interviewed Vonnegut in the late 70's, and he stated that there were two movies that Hollywood had done that were better than their books: Gone with the Wind, and Slaughterhouse-Five. Kurt said Hill left out stuff that he should have left out of the book.

I finally watched the film just yesterday, and agree that it was masterful at capturing the book. The time-traveling was exactly as Kurt described it. The characters were nailed. If only Hollywood could be this good when it interpreted books every time.

If you're unfamiliar with the book and the film, I'd suggest reading first, then watching. It'll make the more obscure parts of the film clear, and you won't be disappointed by George Roy Hill.
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Slaughterhouse-Five Review
Al_The_Strange1 January 2013
Chances are you may have heard of Slaughterhouse-Five; it's one of the highly-tutted classics of science fiction, penned by the ever-eccentric Kurt Vonnegut. As of this writing, I've never actually read the book, but this movie seems to capture the gist of things. It's a very strange, surrealist story that chronicles a man's life and death through a series of random time-jumps. The man was a prisoner in WWII (and the actual slaughterhouse was his residence), before raising a dysfunctional family afterwards, and then being abducted by aliens. Yep, strange stuff indeed.

The film will be most memorable for the rough and dirty war scenes, the sporadic family outbursts, and the scenes on Tralfamadore. Parts of it drag a little, but there's enough interesting scenes to pull the film together and maintain interest, especially for fans of sci-fi, war movies, or bizarre cinema in general.

I have no idea how close of an adaptation this movie is to the book, but on its own merits, the film does an interesting job of using its random narrative structure to show the character at the different phases of his life; really, it shows somewhere between three to five different narrative strings at once. Some scenes run into each other, with characters in one timeline finishing off dialogue from another, or scenes mirroring each other so that they're intercut together. It makes the film run as one long and smooth stream of consciousness, while exploring the character's life, memories, and psyche in full. In a way, you probably could interpret this whole film as the memories, memoirs, and dreams of a man who's either mentally insane or dead.

If there's anything to complain about, it's just the sheer randomness of the story, for even with its constant focus on the main character, it never settles on any specific plot structure or tangible form.

The film has quality photography and really excellent editing. Acting is a bit over-the-top, but it gets the job done really well, and the writing is not bad. This production has fine-looking sets, props, and costumes. Music is not bad either.

For bringing a literary classic to life, the film is worthwhile seeing. As random and strange as it is, I'd recommended some caution: rent it and see what you think for yourself.

4/5 (Entertainment: Pretty Good | Story: Good | Film: Good)
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Which Words Can Explain Its Magnificence?
Enrique-Sanchez-5615 August 2005
Twenty years ago, I remember watching this movie for the first time on the Saturday late show in the days before today's ubiquitous cable channels and remembered how memorable and wonderful that Vonnegut read had been in college.

The first thing that took me by storm was the music of the greatest master of music: Johann Sebastian Bach, soulfully played by another master, Glenn Gould, that introspective, quirky, and genial Canadian pianist who played the slow movement of Bach's Fifth Keyboard Concerto during Billy Pilgrim's ascent to Tralfamadore...

The eternal flavor of that piece evoked a sense of time which had no boundaries.

I sat mesmerized and entranced at the movie's drawing power into my consciousness and the deepest places of my psyche.

Here I had found a film that spoke to my innermost fears and desires. War, Love, God, Eternity, Music, Comedy, Drama, Brotherhood and so many other oft-repeated symbologies and phrases.

It uncovered a new or perhaps latent vision of, or attitude toward, life and the purpose of life. My life and the purpose of my life.

The secrets that lay beyond the flimsy stratum of my existence were spread out before me and our uncooked smorgasbord of realities began to make sense to me.

Plainly said: this Kurt Vonnegut-George Roy Hill interpretive masterpiece spoke to me. It called out to me to reexamine how I lead my life and how I thought of it.

Had Vonnegut-cum-Hill developed a new philosophy-religion? Perhaps that would be overstepping the boundaries of explanation. One thing I was sure of, I would never be the same again.

I bought the VHS many years ago and have watched it countless times. Finally tonight, I came across the DVD version with Spanish subtitles that I could finally share with my elderly parents.

Perhaps after watching this they will understand me better. Perhaps not. But at least I know that after knowing this movie and this book, much of life has begun to make sense - at least, amidst the G-force carnival ride which I have lived in the exterior world.

Recommended without reservations.

Hello, Farewell..... Hello, Farewell..... Hello, Farewell.....
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Read the book too!!!!
MarieGabrielle14 July 2006
This film is one of the few you may watch and later reflect: ..."wow, I learned something".... (An increasingly rare event, these days). Michael Sacks is very believable as the title character, Billy Pilgrim, a character who endures WW2, the Battle of the Bulge, the bombing of Dresden, and finally, his life in suburban America.

Kurt Vonnegut Jr. is, of course, a brilliant writer, but if you read his book first, the movie may clarify a few things. The book was reportedly something the director thought could never be adequately reflected on screen; If you read the book after the movie, you will be impressed by Vonnegut's impressions. Several of his quotes are timeless; (on his wife: ..."she was trying to make sense of the random order of her life, by buying and collecting items from gift shops"...

The book and film are existential, in the sense that we see the character, as he has lived his life; the one constant, his loving dog, Spot. His wife and son (well played by a young Perry King), their insular lives in suburban America. Billy Pilgrim also lives to witness his son, touring Vietnam to "get the communists" as his father had done. We see him look to the stars, tired of the rationalizations and hypocrisy.

Eugene Roche, a veteran actor, portrays Pilgrim's war buddy, who was ironically shot for stealing a piece of Dresden China. The "Tralfamadore" sequence of Pilgrim's fantasy, is well done, with a young Valerie Perrine as Montana Wildhack.

If you have not yet read the book, you will want to after seeing this film. One film worth buying on DVD for future reference, Especially the next time you are seeing the U.S. enter yet another war. 10/10
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Fun and strange structure well suited to the movie's purpose
Tilyou116 August 2005
(This contains a "spoiler" only in the limited sense that it mentions the movie involves Dresden during WWII, and what happened to that city).

I hadn't seen this movie since... well, probably since it first was released, and I wasn't prepared for how great it is. There is nothing "allegorical" it. The parts set in WWII are realistic, and are directly based on Kurt Vonnegut's wartime experiences as a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany's Dresden, safe deep below ground while the city was firebombed at the end of the war; resulting in more damage and casualties than Hiroshima, and arguably with a lot less purpose.

Being "unstuck in time" is a great description for the way our brains really work most of the time -- at any one moment reflecting on a particular childhood afternoon during 6th grade, or reliving an argument or love scene from the night before, or fantasizing an imagined future. Then the street light changes, and for that instant at least you're back on Second Avenue, looking both ways for traffic...

This movie's great achievement is to mix up stories from WWII, the present, and an imagined (or if you prefer, extraterrestrial and mildly pornographic) future in an amusing and bittersweet way; and in way that makes psychological and dramatic sense. The most awful things cannot be confronted directly (think about Sauron in the "Lord of the Rings" who is all the more horrible because we never hear him directly -- his voice is issues only from proxies). For Vonnegut, the horrors of Dresden were impossible to write about in a completely direct way, which makes the movie's structure not only fun, but also deeply "right." As to the acting, Michael Sacks is great as Billy Pilgrim, and Eugene Roche great as Edgar Derby; but Valerie Perrine despite having less screen time as Montana Wildhack practically steals the show. Gorgeous, charming, luscious, perfect! What Tramfalmadorian for "hubba! hubba!"?

  • Charles
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A problem film for those unfamiliar with the book
michaelsjmurphy16 January 2001
Kurt Vonnegut has had little luck with the translation of his vision to the wide screen. His style and subjects rarely lend themselves easily to linear film-making, and this adaptation of his best-known novel points up the problems inherent with that fact. A viewer who has never read the book will be hopelessly lost almost from the beginning, as the story line is told from the point of view of a man who has come "unstuck in time." This conceit (where the hero has no control over the order in which he experiences his life), while used to stunning effect in the book, can make for a very muddled FILM, and here sadly, the final product can't be excused for its fidelity to the spirit of the novel. Technically, this film has some high points. The cinematography and designs are excellent, capturing the desolation of Europe engaged in WWII and the isolation of the foot soldier fighting that war, as well as recreating the feel of a bygone time and place. The casting of this film is an eclectic mix, with Michael Sacks giving a convincing, if not memorable performance in the role of Billy Pilgrim. Sharon Gans is wonderful as his overweight and overwrought wife. Ron Liebman provides manic talent here as the hero's main antagonist, and Valerie Perrine demonstrates her lack of acting talent beautifully, ironically playing a talentless actress/centerfold model (and the object of Pilgrim's more prurient desires). Having seen this film on both the big and small screens, I can say that little is lost in the shrinkage.

Rating 6.5/10
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Billy Pilgrim's Majestic Silence Speaks for Humanity
sbox16 September 1999
Warning: Spoilers
[WARNING: This Review May Contain "Spoilers."]

Our protagonist has quite a lot to say in this thought provoking film. Of course, the subdued hue of Billy Pilgrim lets his message be heard through his dignified manner. Despite the fact that Pilgrim seems always to be out of place with what is happening around him, he comes out of every situation, relatively unscathed. I equate Pilgrim's good fortune to Vonnegut's mildly sarcastic view that there is more good than bad in the world.

Good is on trial here as well. The "goodness" of the Allies is questioned when Billy endures the firebombing of Dresden. He suffers for it throughout his life, as did Vonnegut.

However, despite its weirdness, this film elevates man. This film triumphs the human condition and picques our minds to think. Billy Pilgrim's kindness and thoughtfulness is reminiscent of Atticus Finch in ,"To Kill A Mockingbird."
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Turgid adaptation of the Vonnegut classic drains the story of its creativity, wit, and dynamism
kylopod4 August 2006
"Slaughterhouse-Five" begins with a man, Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks), typing on a sheet of paper that he has become "unstuck in time." He's caught in a time warp causing him to shift back and forth without warning to different points in his life. This premise sounds a lot more interesting than what the movie delivers. Is he calling out for help? We can't tell. The movie never lets us in on Pilgrim's reaction to what's happening. We don't know if he's upset, scared, perplexed, happy, bemused, or anything. We are simply shown various points in life, connected in odd ways. One moment he's a POW in World War II, threatened by German soldiers who are about to shoot him; the next he's at his wedding and people are "shooting" him with a camera.

The problem is, this looks more like a narrative device (and not a particularly original one, at that) than evidence of time travel. It's more like a story told out of order than a story about a man caught in a time warp. Sure, something weird is going on whenever he appears to "remember" the future, like when his younger self starts addressing his future wife, and a fellow soldier standing there thinks Pilgrim is propositioning him. But the film has relatively few such moments, and we can't help thinking that what we're seeing is simply the perspective of an older man experiencing flashbacks, a distinct possibility considering that we later learn that the older Pilgrim had a nervous breakdown.

I tend to enjoy movies with fractured story-lines of this sort, because the task is not merely to see events unfold, but to piece together what has already happened. Unfortunately, this movie lacks a narrative focus. Pilgrim seems a very ordinary fellow, and the movie never explains what makes his life story worth telling. Nothing about him is particularly attractive, or particularly repulsive, either. He's just bland. We see him as a POW, where one soldier has an inexplicably passionate grudge against him, while another befriends him. There will be some tragedy, some bombings, and some killings along the way. By flipping forwards and backwards in time the movie struggles to make all this engaging, because it all comes off rather tame for a war movie. An account of the bombing of Dresden is filmed with surprisingly little emotional power. There's a lack of thematic focus in these scenes; they seem to be there only to provide biographical information about this character, without actually contributing to the movie's larger purpose.

The later scenes are all over the map. There is even a Hollywood-style car wreckage sequence that probably cost more to film than anything else in the movie, including the scenes on Planet Tralfamadore. This bit of broad comedy feels out of place in the mostly contemplative story and brings the movie to a grinding halt.

The movie's message--that time is static, that everything which happens is inevitable, and that one's task in life should be to cherish the good moments rather than try to control what happens--is provocative enough. But the film lacks the grace and elegance that allowed Vonnegut's book to bring this message alive. Take, for example, the book's description of an attractive woman as a "sensational invitation to make babies." The book abounds with playful, wry prose of this sort that reinforces Vonnegut's mechanistic outlook on life. The story at its core is a philosophical argument, but Vonnegut prevents it from becoming dry and academic, which I cannot quite say about the film.

In the book, the time-tripping never feels like a mere narrative device; it feels like it's really happening. Even though there's still a distinct possibility that the experience is occurring only in Pilgrim's mind, it at least comes off as an actual experience. Pilgrim, in the book, is oddly calm and resigned to what's occurring, but not emotionless. He cries at one point. He's anxious about the situation. He's unsure about how to define himself. In the movie, we get none of the sense of Pilgrim struggling to adapt to the situation, of being forced to grow as a result.

I found, when reading the book, that the disparate sections of the story connected a lot better. The war scenes were there not only because they allowed Vonnegut to insert semi-autobiographical material into the novel, but because they tied into the story's questions about human existence, dwelling as they did on the moral dilemma underlying the bombing of Dresden. Being caught in an eternal time warp, Pilgrim doesn't fear death. But he doesn't really value life either. He shows no love for his rich wife, described in the book as fat and plain (though played in the movie by an actress who was neither of those things, but who still utters the lines about thinking nobody would marry her and promising her husband she'd go on a diet). He shows no love for anyone, indeed, even himself. So we're left to ponder whether his liberation from the human time scale is really desirable.

The movie, unfortunately, can't seem to portray his apathy without also making us feel apathetic. When I watched the movie, I was repeatedly tempted to turn it off in the middle, because I simply didn't find the story engaging. The book, on the other hand, I could not put down. I suppose the difference with the book, besides its witty prose, is that I found myself able to show concern even for a character who had lost sight of that very concept. Vonnegut understood, better than the movie did, that the glimpse we get of life on a cosmic scale does not take away our essential humanity.
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another early 70's classic!
Pookie-103 September 2001
I've never read the book but I think this is an excellent film, if anything seeing the FILM first gives me interest in reading the novel, as opposed to the other way around.

I'm getting so sick of reading these endless reviews hammering in "read the book read the book!" Jeezus Christ allmighty, is the book crowd still so dense as to think a movie could or should in some way actually be 100% faithful to an adaption and capture all of the emotional subtleties as the written word can? Movies are movies, books are books, both have wonderful things to offer! end of conversation!
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Timeless and unstuck
JasparLamarCrabb7 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
You can't say director George Roy Hill and screenwriter Stephen Geller haven't pulled off a near miracle. Adapting Kurt Vonnegut's seemingly un-filmable masterpiece was surely heady, but the film is great. Central to its greatness is the casting of Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, Vonnegut's alter-ego who travels through time to the destruction of Dresden during WWII and into the future where he has a completely different wife and home-life. Vonnegut shaped and molded Billy from nothing and Hill and Geller do the same with Sacks. He's such a perfect blank slate. That's not saying he gives a bad performance. On the contrary, he's excellent and extremely believable. The film is harrowing yet funny, tragic yet comic. Eugene Roche, Sharon Gans (as Billy's high strung and inept wife) and Rob Liebman co-star and they're terrific. Valerie Perrine is undeniably sexy as Montana Wildhack and Lucille Benson has a funny cameo as Billy's clueless mother. Folk goddess Holly Near is Billy's daughter and a then unknown Perry King is his son. Dede Allen did the masterful editing and the cinematography is by Miroslav Ondrícek.
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Deliberately disjointed
moonspinner5531 July 2002
Kurt Vonnegut's novel detailing the strange odyssey of Billy Pilgrim was probably unfilmmable, though--to his credit--director George Roy Hill gives it a noble try. Stephen Geller adapted the popular book about a man living his life out of sequence, going back and forth in time before finally settling down on a distant planet with a movie-actress as his companion. 'Odd' is an understatement for this patchwork film. At first, all the scattered puzzle pieces are fun, but eventually the pacing flags and you're left with the main character, who simply isn't very compelling. Valerie Perrine gets stuck with the vulgar role of the actress, yet she manages to give the brightest performance in the picture. *1/2 from ****
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Not bad. Not bad at all.
Superunknovvn26 May 2006
Reading Kurt Vonnegut's novel it seems impossible to ever make this book into a movie. The story jumps back and forth and the reader becomes unstuck in time with the main character Billy Pilgram. This shifting of different periods of time is indeed the biggest problem of the movie. If you haven't read the book, you will probably get confused about what's going on. Is Billy having flashbacks? What kind of narrative is this? Still, I think George Roy Hill and Stephen Geller did a good job. They included the most important conclusions of the novel, and got the feel right with indications of humor and cynicism. Of course, the movie can in no way substitute the book, which is an essential read anyway, but it's helping you visualize Vonnegut's story. The director gloriously avoided relying on special effects that would have looked dated by now. There's a plane crash, aliens and the destruction of a whole city but we never actually see any of it. The mayhem of Dresden is shown through a comparison of the beautiful city before and after the bombing and not by having buildings collapse or people die (so it goes). I think, war captivity in Germany was portrayed as an almost innocent, carefree time, which it definitely wasn't, but maybe Hill felt that this was necessary to show how unnecessary and brutally exaggerated this attack was. See this movie as an addition to the book, it doesn't stand very well on its own. For a film that's almost 35 years old, it does hold up pretty well, however.
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One of the top 10 of all time
JerBear-230 May 1999
How wonderful to have a movie remain so faithful to a book that I absolutely love. There are some other Vonnegut novels I'd like to see receive this kind of treatment. If you read Vonnegut, then you know that the idea of turning his words into a visual format must be a daunting task.

This is a wonderful movie and if the movement of the plot is too confusing for some, then it would probably be better if they stuck to the Lion King, which is driven by a single, easy to follow plot. The fact that Billy Pilgrim is unhinged in time is integral to the plot as well as the concept. Valerie Perrine's nudity is merely a plus.
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" I live my life as others do, except that mine is lived in reverse "
thinker169125 January 2009
Kurt Vonnegut, the author died recently (2007) but whilst his life ended, his literally images, words and works live on in the cinema. This is one such gem called "Slaughter-House Five." It's the story of Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks) who's character is plucked from one life period and transferred to other times and dimensions. What is curious about Pilgrim is that he is aware of his Past and future, as they happen and before. In his most prevalent episode he is a prisoner, during World War Two, where a most ardent antagonist Paul Lazzaro (Ron Leibman) takes an instant dislike to Pilgrim and wrongly believes he caused an American G.I.'s death. Another prisoner Edgar Derby (Eugene Roche) tries to explain why and offers Pilgrim a great deal of life's philosophies, which Pilgrim already knows but can't stop the progression. While his past is in progress, Pilgrim is content to spend time in his future where a beautiful woman named Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine) and he have been brought together for the purpose of mating. If you read the book, understanding the movie is easier, but not if you expect the life sequences to be spatially correct. The film story is beautifully crafted as is the novel and each lend themselves to the fanciful purpose of creating a Classic. ****
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Brilliantly Adapted
PatrickH-223 August 1999
This is an all-around excellent film, made even better by the fact that it is such a good adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novella. It not only faithfully recounts the plot, but it manages to bring out the book's inner logic (which is diffficult to follow in print.) In other words, the outrageous sci-fi-tinged story makes sense. Also, the visuals are wonderful, especially the scenes in Dresden. The fire bombing scene is handled very well, as are the Tralfamadore scenes (which could have been very very silly, but are not.) The entire cast is extremely good.
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