I woke up early this morning and watched my Netflix movie of the week, Slaughterhouse Five. Being a big fan of Vonnegut's book, it's something I've meant to watch for some time but just hadn't gotten around to before now. I'm not normally one of those people who will pound my foot and say it's better to just read the book; I think of a film version of a novel as very different creation.
Vonnegut's original book works because it manages a delicate balancing act between subject matters both darkly serious and darkly comic. Move throughout the novel switching back and forth between being horrified and chuckling to yourself, often on the same page. The basic plot elements are in the movie ; Billie Pilgrim jumps through various points in his life: the bombing of Dresden during WWII, raising his dog Spot, surviving a plane crash, and living out his last days as a zoo exhibit on this distant planet of Trafalmadore. But the movie tells the story by focusing on the dark elements of the story, forgetting the comedy. Sure, there are some funny moments. There's a very slapstick scene of Billie's wife tearing up the highway in her new Caddy, trying to get to the hospital after Billie survives a plane crash. But those moments are few and far between.
I don't blame the movie on an untalented director; it was done by George Roy HIll, who directed classics like The World According to Garp, The Sting, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This movie made me realize that a large part of writing is creating a unique voice. Vonnegut's book would just be a forgotten wacky sci-fi novel if it wasn't for the sly, wry ironic tone we get from Billie as the narrator. Without that tone, without that litany of "So it goes" that pops up, under-cutting every tragic event Slaughterhouse Five becomes a series of tragic anecdotes that ends up numbing you to everything.