Based on the acclaimed novel by celebrated novelist Kurt Vonnegut Jr., “Slaughterhouse-Five” stars Michael Sacks as Billy Pilgrim, a man who has become unstuck by time, uncontrollably jumping back and forth to key moments in his life. These moments include his tour of duty as a Chaplin’s assistant during World War II; his life after the war as a respected salesman and father of two; and his abduction by aliens to the planet Tralfamdore.
Writer Stephen Geller has done an excellent job in adapting Vonnegut Jr.’s story, and director George Roy Hill succeeds in bringing to life what I am sure was deemed by many to be an un-filmable novel. Dede Allen edits “Slaughterhouse-Five” extremely well, and does so with surprisingly little confusion within its puzzle like structure. The movie - as described by the main character when speaking about his life - is nothing more than “a collection of moments, strung together in random harmony”. His life has no beginning, no middle, and no end. Thus, the film follows suit, as past, present, and future merge into one. Michael Sparks (in his debut role) gives a solid lead performance, while supporting roles by Eugene Roache and Ron Leibman are excellent.
The movie prominently focuses on the fire bombing of Dresden by allied forces during World War II. Tens of thousands of people died in what many believed to be an illegal act. Among those is Vonnegut, who – just like Pilgrim - actually survived the bombing whilst there as a prisoner of war. The city of Prague in the Czech Republic substituted for Dresden, while the depiction of the bombing was used with stock footage.
For its many good points, there are a small yet crucial number of bad elements which bring the movie down. The first is a high speed pursuit which feels extremely tacky and out of place; Second, are the subsequent placid reactions from the characters in regards to a tragedy, which should have garnered a bigger reaction than the dour poker faces on show; And third, are the Tralfamdore scenes that ruin the great time hopping sequences before it, and only seem to be omitted in an attempt at humour and titillation.
But despite these moments, “Slaughterhouse-Five” is an innovative and entertaining movie, which leaves an impressionable mark on the sci-fi genre.
Phillip Adams interview with Kurt Vonnegut Jnr (audio only)