Blu-ray Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

STUDIO: Arrow Video | DIRECTOR: George Roy Hill | CAST: Michael Sacks, Ron Leibman, Eugene Roche, Valerie Perrine, Perry King, Holly Near
RELEASE DATE: Dec. 3, 2019 | PRICE: Blu-ray $27.99
BONUSES: commentary, featurettes, interview, more
SPECS: R | 104 min. | Fantasy satire/comedy drama | 1.85:1 widescreen | stereo

RATINGS (out of 5 dishes): Movie  1/2 | Audio  1/2 | Video  1/2 | Overall  1/2

As a follow-up to his smash hit Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, director George Roy Hill decided to tackle adapting a book considered by many to be unfilmable: Slaughterhouse Five or The Children’s War, Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s complex, time-shifting mix of science fiction, war drama and satire about suburbia.

Enlisting Stephen Geller (The Valachi Papers) to adapt the 1969 book after Butch Cassidy’s scripter William Goldman passed on the project, Hill sticks with an experimental telling of the story throughout, which has won the underrated helmer admiration for his ambitiousness.

The focus of Slaughterhouse-Five is Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks, The Amityville Horror), whose life is represented in three different phases: He’s an unhappily married optometrist with a mundane life in upstate New York with annoying wife Valencia (Sharon Gans) and family; he’s a chaplain’s assistant in World War II where he’s harassed by fellow platoon member Lazzaro (Ron Liebman, Rhinestone) and helped by cohort Derby  (Eugene Roache, When a Man Loves a Woman) while witnessing the horrors of the American bombing of Dresden, Germany; and he’s involved in an affair with pornographic movie star named Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine, Lenny) on the remote planet Tralfamadore.

Even at a time when the film industry was catering to young audiences in a post-Easy Rider “New Hollywood” period, Slaughterhouse-Five remains an audacious work. Director Hill was an experienced veteran who had been in the business for 20 years, starting on live TV dramas and moving on to direct such films as The World of Henry Orient and Hawaii, before tackling this experimental, big budget studio effort geared to the youth market that made Vonnegut’s controversial novel a sensation. The film didn’t score at the box-office but saw strong reviews and a major award at the Cannes film Festival. Hill would win the Best Picture and Best Director Oscar for The Sting a year later.

Arrow has afforded the film a superior Blu-ray edition with a gorgeous new 4K transfer and a surplus of fine extras. There’s an informative commentary by author/historian Troy Howarth, as well as interview segments with Rocky Lang, son of Universal Studios house producer Jennings Lang;  actor Perry King, one-time child performer who plays Billy Pilgrim’s son in the film;  British critic Kim Newman, who offers an in-depth overview of the film’s place in science fiction history;  and film music expert Daniel Schweiger, who takes an up-close look at the film’s score by the legendary Glenn Gould, who leaned heavily on the work on Bach in much the same way, Schweiger points out,  Stanley Kubrick used classical music for the score of 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Thanks to this release, Slaughterhouse-Five should welcome a new generation of fans, science fiction and otherwise, who may have heard of the film version of Vonnegut’s work but have never seen it, as well as an older generation familiar with the material who have not revisited the film for a long time.

So it goes.

Buy or Rent Slaughterhouse-Five

About Irv

Irv Slifkin has been reviewing movies since before he got kicked off of his high school radio station for panning The Towering Inferno in 1974. He has written the books VideoHound’s Groovy Movies: Far-Out Films of the Psychedelic Era and Filmadelphia: A Celebration of a City’s Movies, and has contributed film reportage and reviews to such outlets as Entertainment Weekly, The Hollywood Reporter, Video Business magazine and National Public Radio.