DirectorGeorge Roy Hill
Release Date(s)1972 (December 3, 2019)
Studio(s)Vanadas Productions/Universal Pictures (Arrow Video)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: B+
- Extras Grade: B
Based on the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., Slaughterhouse-Five is a science fiction drama about Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks), a man who has become “unstuck in time.” Flashing back and forth between his days spent in World War II with POWs Edgar Derby (Eugene Roche) and Paul Lazzaro (Ron Leibman), his marriage to and his life with Valencia (Sharon Gans), and his future life on the planet Tralfamadore with the beautiful Montana Wildhack (Valerie Perrine), this narratively perplexing sci-fi tale was not a major hit upon release, but it pleased the writer of its source material immensely, declaring it to be quite “harmonious” with what he originally wrote.
Directed by George Roy Hill (The Sting, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Slap Shot), Slaughterhouse-Five is indeed a perfect marriage of source material and filmmaker. It is entirely scattershot by design, dropping the audience—without warning—in the middle of moments that intertwine with each other over the span of the life of one man. Following Pilgrim on his disjointed journey, himself being fully aware of the various outcomes of moments in time that he takes part in, the film examines the understanding of human interaction, how it affects the lives of others, and how knowing one’s fate can play a part in something bigger. It’s also, as we find out by the end of the film, a play on the idea of humans being the great cosmic joke of the universe.
The performances are all strong, including those from Michael Sacks who seems to inhabit the character at different stages in his life with relative ease. Also effective is Ron Leibman as the psychotic Lazzaro, who plays a major role in Pilgrim’s ultimate fate. The real stars of the show, however, are those not featured on camera. Director George Roy Hill, who pursued the project despite being told that it was unfilmable, and editors Dede Allen and Stephen A. Rotter—all of whom manage to find the drama in this fragmented story and connect moments that are years apart from each other without them feeling heavy-handed. As such, Slaughterhouse-Five is certainly not an easy film to approach, but it’s ultimately rewarding for those paying attention.
Arrow Video brings Slaughterhouse-Five to Blu-ray sporting a new 4K restoration of the original 35mm camera negative. It’s a strong, natural presentation with a healthy grain structure and a high encode. Detail and depth are potent, particularly in wide shots where frequent activity is taking place in both the background and the foreground. The color palette offers a variety of bold hues, whether it’s the drab colors of World War II, the strong greens and reds of a picturesque backyard setting, or an alien planet of multiple swatches of color. Blacks are deep with good shadow detail and contrast allows for clear images without appearing cloudy. Minor debris is leftover, which is limited to occasional speckling, but it’s a wonderful presentation otherwise.
The audio is included in English mono LPCM with optional subtitles in English SDH. This is a film that uses sound design to its advantage as it moves from one time period to another, and that really shows in the original soundtrack. Dialogue is always discernable, but sound effects and score offer a surprising amount of fidelity. It’s a track that could have just as easily been remixed into a surround experience—perhaps even 4 track stereo in its day—if the budget had allowed for it. Everything is bright and clean with no leftover damage or distortion to speak of.
As for bonus materials, the following are included:
- Audio Commentary by Film Historian Troy Howarth
- And So It Goes: An Appreciation of Slaughterhouse-Five with Kim Newman (HD – 21:05)
- Pilgrim’s Progress: Playing Slaughterhouse-Five (HD – 14:07)
- Only on Earth: Presenting Slaughterhouse-Five (HD – 8:41)
- Unstuck in Time: Documenting Slaughterhouse-Five (HD – 14:38)
- Eternally Connected: Composing Slaughterhouse-Five (HD – 11:36)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 4:32)
Troy Howarth’s audio commentary provides plenty of contextual information about the film, its source novel, and those who made it. Kim Newman speaks about the career of George Roy Hill and how he’s not normally mentioned among the top filmmakers of the 1970s despite making several classic films, but also discusses Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.’s work. Perry King talks about his career and how he came to work on the film. Only on Earth speaks with the son of the film’s executive producer, Jennings Lang, about his father and his career. Unstuck in Time features behind-the-scenes filmmaker Robert Crawford, Jr. who talks about his time documenting the film, as well as providing behind-the-scenes footage that isn’t presented separately. Eternally Connected speaks to film music historian Daniel Schweiger about the film’s use of classical music. Also included is a 20-page insert booklet with cast and crew information, The World According to Billy Pilgrim by Peter Tonguette, and restoration details. It’s worth noting that the Umbrella Entertainment DVD release features a 36-minute audio interview with Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., which hasn’t been carried over here.
A sorely underappreciated film for most of its life, Slaughterhouse-Five is an odd but thought-provoking piece of science fiction entertainment, one that Arrow Video has finally given the deluxe Blu-ray treatment it so richly deserves. Highly recommended.
– Tim Salmons