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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Billy Pilgrim Lives...from Time to Time
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...
Published on May 26, 2004 by Michael R Gates

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A Technically Accurate Translation That Misses the Invariable Quirks of the Novel
An extremely loyal interpretation of the classic Vonnegut novel that skirts the issue of explaining its complicated premise by way of a quick typewriter scene. Seeing it on-screen somehow makes everything seem less surreal than it was in print, even when the scene randomly shifts from a Nazi POW camp to a sharp, sparsely-decorated single room apartment on the surface of...
Published on March 19, 2012 by drqshadow

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71 of 75 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Billy Pilgrim Lives...from Time to Time, May 26, 2004
Michael R Gates (Nampa, ID United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Slaughterhouse-Five (DVD)
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.
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52 of 59 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Job Well Done, June 19, 2004
Michael Crane (Orland Park, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Slaughterhouse-Five (DVD)
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
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars How's this for rare...a quality Vonnegut adaptation., October 22, 1999
By A Customer
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.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good movie for those of us who can still think deeply about life, February 19, 2006
This review is from: Slaughterhouse-Five (DVD)
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.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Why Didn't Anybody Tell Me They Made A Movie Of This?, December 9, 2005
C. Chow (Leesburg VA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: Slaughterhouse Five (DVD)
Why am I only finding out now that there was a film of `Slaughterhouse Five'? The advent of DVD has brought back some great films that have been lost or forgotten.

Everywhere I go I'm told that `Slaughterhouse Five' was the greatest book ever written. But I've never gotten around to reading it. The film leaves no doubt that in print or on film this is one of the greatest stories ever told.

The Plot: This is what I've always asked. "What is this great story `Slaughterhouse Five' about?" Now that I know I can see why all my friends were at a loss to explain it.

The story does not sound intriguing in theory but is great in practice. `Slaughterhouse Five' is about a man Billie Pilgrim who is "lost in time" that is, every 30 seconds he jumps forward or backward to a different time in his life. Somewhat similar to `Memento' except it was 5 minutes and he was always going backwards.

Billie Pilgrim's life has three main settings. He was drafted into WWII and taken prisoner at the Battle of the Bulge. As a POW he is taken to Dresden and survives the single worst massacre of WWII. In the 1950s he experiences suburban life as a father. And in his later years he is abducted by aliens and enslaved with a topless movie star to reproduce.

See what I mean, these are three very odd stories that shouldn't work together. There is the very serious issue of Dresden, the "open city" in Germany with no armed forces or war production which was inhabited by European refugees hoping to wait out the war in peace. But on February 14 1945 the Allies decided to destroy German moral by ordering hundreds of British and American bombers to fire bomb the city. On February 15 they returned, and on the 16th they sent in American fighters to machine gun as many survivors as possible. 135,000 civilians died, more than Hiroshima or Nagasaki. A rather serious issue for a sci-fi film.

Why is Billie lost in time? We never know but suspect it may be because he's abducted by aliens where he says time does not exist. Or it may be that after a plane crash he has brain surgery.

Billie is a likeable character because he doesn't really say or do anything on his own. Billie does not shape events, events shape him. He didn't go to Dresden because he wanted to, he gets married and works only because that is what's expected of him. And the aliens abduct him.

Billie is not so much an actor as he is an observer. And his loss of time is just like everyone else. One moment I'm writing this review and the next I'm back to last night watching this film. Our minds jump to different times in our lives.

As for the production quality of this film, it's great. The WWII scenes are very authentic and high budget. The acting is good although there are no notable actors. Billie is played by Michael Sacks whose filmography is thin and unotable. I only remember him as the hostage cop in `Sugarland Express'. The topless actress is played by Valerie Perrine who you may remember as Lex Luther's girlfriend in the `Superman' films.

`Slaughterhouse Five' may sound as bizarre as its title named after Billie's POW barracks, but it's a very powerful story that will make you laugh, cry, and smile. I can't believe a film buff like me didn't know about. It just shows you how many lost gems are being found on DVD.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Come Unstuck in Time With Billy Pilgrim, January 26, 2001
Joel R. Bryan (Athens, Georgia United States) - See all my reviews
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.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Slaughterhouse Five full of irony, July 1, 2004
This review is from: Slaughterhouse Five (DVD)
Slaughterhouse Five is an excellent adaptation of Kurt Vonnegut's novel about one man's journey back and forth in time between World War 2 and present day (1970's) America. If you haven't read the novel, you will spend the first part of the movie trying to fit the pieces of the puzzle together which make up the sequence of his life.
The movie deals with a number of different themes; the horrors and injustice of war, the possibility of time travel, space travel and premonition.
The movie is full of ironies; Billy Pilgrim, an American of German ancestry, is sent to fight Germans in WW2. He is captured and becomes a POW in one of the "safest parts of Germany" - Dresden. It turns out Dresden suffered higher casualties than Hiroshima. As an American POW, he is bombed by his own people, the British and Americans. A good-natured POW is shot for looting while the bad Paul Lazzaro survives and prospers. A small figurine survives the bombing only to be broken afterwards. The figurine is symbolic of the city of Dresden itself; innocent, fragile, a senseless victim of the war.
Billy Pilgrim survives the trauma of the war, a plane crash, losing his wife in a car crash and then takes a trip to Tralfamadore. The viewer is left to decide whether his space travel is really happening or the hallucinations of someone trying to cope with life's experiences.
The story does have a positive message: try to put things into perspective; look at your life as a whole and not get bogged down in the day to day trials and errors. There is also a certain fatalism going on; things are going to happen that are outside of your control, there will be nothing you can do about them, just try to get on with it and enjoy the good times.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars George Roy Hill's Forgotten Masterpiece, October 24, 2000
This review is from: Slaughterhouse Five (DVD)
I first saw this film on television in the late 1970's and found it stunning. Over the last twenty years or so I have returned to it time and time again a bit like Billy Pilgrim, the central character, who re-visits his past and travels forward in his future. I was once able to see it in a cinema and even with a badly scratched print it's qualities were still apparent. Now it is available on DVD and I have fallen for it once again.
George Roy Hill, the film's director, works best with a broad canvas and he certainly has one here as this film deals with the madness and chaos of war and in particular the distruction of Dresden at the end of the second world war. The horror of post traumatic stress and the even more horrorific way that it is treated is also vividly portrayed; this contrasts with the domestic "honey I'm home" style domestic blis that Billy experiences in 1950's New England. Add to this Billy's escape from a plane crash and being kidnaped by aliens to be an exibit in an intergalactic zoo along with his faithful dog, Spot and a porn star and you can see how varied this film is.
It is all shot with a surreal clarity, especially the snow scenes at the start of the film, which I enjoyed far more than the muddy browns of "The Sting" that George Roy Hill also directed at about the same time.
The mock-Bach music also enhances the drama and gives the whole film a touch of class while it also highlights the comedy but in the end it is the convincing peformances from the actors especially Michael Sacks in the central role that make the film such a delight.
To the one reviewer who was disappointed that this was not a slasher movie, I'd venture to suggest, that if the hundreds of thousands of dead bodies in Dresden killed in the most horrific of cercumstances was not enough for them than their apatite for death must be impossible to satisfy.
Almost thirty years after this film was made it still has the power to engage and has an important anti-war message to make. It is a tragady that the film is not better known than it is; see it if you can.
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17 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars SLAUGHTERHOUSE FIVE, August 8, 1999
This review is from: Slaughterhouse Five (DVD)
I watch A LOT of movies and even review movies online as a hobby. This film is my very favorite movie of all time (and after 46 years of living, that says a lot). Vonnegut to me, uses Billy Pilgrim as a virginal character (although in the film he does produce two children with his wife). He is like an innocent who goes through world war II and tries to avoid doing harm. As a result of a misunderstanding while a prisoner of war, he makes a lifelong enemy. We see Pilgrim's life process..his ups and downs, and his otherworldly adventures and in this movie, we are shown a new way of experiencing the Tralfamadorians say..the secret to living in a crazy world is to concentrate on the good times and ignore the bad. If I only had one movie to watch on a desert would be this one. Two thumbs and five stars all the way!
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bleak, powerful, honest, May 8, 2006
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This review is from: Slaughterhouse-Five (DVD)
Given the recent spate of chest-thumping, rough-but-noble-soldier films, complete with overblown "stirring" scores & slo-mo "hero shots" about WWII, it's refreshing to return to a truly honest film about that war ... and about all wars. What we have here is the reality: tired, dirty, emotionally shocked men unprepared for the randomness & casual cruelties of war. Ironic that it takes an absurdist tale such as this one, complete with time travel & aliens, to present the indifference of the universe far more accurately than supposedly realistic films. But it's so: there's no divine, historic mission -- no larger-than-life heroes -- no ultimate glory & honor. There's just the destruction of civilization & the slaughter of the innocent, all in the name of the State, or the Flag, or Our God, or some other empty platitude.

Like many late 60s/early 70s war films, this one has a stark look to it, with all the gloss wiped away, revealing the senselessness of war & the hollowness of its justifications. It doesn't excuse the evils of something like fascism, or the necessity of stopping it -- it simply points out that "the good guys" tend to become what they're fighting, that it destroys their humanity, that it swallows human beings whole & sucks out their souls. War is simply an ugly, filthy business, and it shouldn't be decked in patriotic ribbons & noble-sounding phrases.

The cast is superb here, with Valerie Perrine's soft porn actress Montana Wildhack a standout, full of joy & life, the antithesis of war. Tellingly, Billy Pilgrim only seems truly happy & content during his time with her, rather than in his by-the-numbers marriage, where the only true affection in his life seems to be his dog. Ron Leibman's psychotic Paul Lazzaro ("That's two Zs, dammit!") is all too real, a wounded, self-loathing shell driven by his own consuming fear & hatred & insecurities, while Eugene Roche's kindly but fatally naive & trusting Edgar Derby is both comic & tragic at once.

The transitioning between time periods is cleanly & subtly accomplished, one memory leading to another, as well as suggesting the randomness of the universe itself. In short, an underrated gem from the golden age of American filmmaking, and a welcome antidote to films that pander to the most simplistic worldviews. All in all, most highly recommended!
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Slaughterhouse-Five by George Roy Hill (DVD - 2004)
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