‘Slaughterhouse-Five’ Arrow Video Blu-Ray Review – A Mind-Bending Adaptation Of A Kurt Vonnegut Classic

BILLY PILGRIM LIVES – FROM TIME TO TIME TO TIME… Past, present and future collide in darkly satirical fashion in Slaughterhouse-Five! Based on Kurt Vonnegut’s classic 1969 novel, this tale of time travel and alien abduction emerged as part of a wave of more cerebral science-fiction films in the late 60s to early 70s, elevating the genre beyond the B-movie fare of previous decades. Upstate New York, 1968. Mild-mannered Billy Pilgrim (Michael Sacks, The Sugarland Express) finds himself “unstuck in time”. Traveling back and forth across the entire span of his existence, he experiences key events of his life in a random order, including his formative years, the firebombing of Dresden and finally, at some undefined point in the future, his surreal adventures on a distant planet. Praised by Vonnegut himself for its fidelity to his novel, Slaughterhouse-Five boasts assured direction by George Roy Hill (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) and a memorable score by renowned concert pianist Glenn Gould. Now exclusively restored in 4K, Slaughterhouse-Five shines like never before, reinforcing its timeless appeal.

For in-depth analysis of Slaughterhouse-Five, please check out my appearance on the Film At Fifty podcast here

For more thoughts on Slaughterhouse-Five, please check out our discussion on The Video Attic: 

Video Quality

Slaughterhouse-Five comes to Blu-Ray courtesy of Arrow Video in its original 1.85:1 sourced from an excellent 4K restoration of the original 35mm negative. The only word to describe this presentation is stunning. The new transfer shows off a great amount of depth and enhanced detail in all of the various settings and time periods. There are certain elements like close-up shots of decaying feet that look quite striking in their clarity. Black levels are very deep with no trace of black crush or compression artifacts. The contrast is well defined, and there is virtually no print damage to be found outside a few stray nicks. The striking photography which captures the dreamy quality of this odyssey sparkles in high definition with natural grain intact and nicely resolved. There are moments that become a bit more coarse than others, but it is never unnatural or unsightly. There is a fantastic amount of detail present with nice textures on the clothing and production design. Arrow Video has done a miraculous job with this transfer in a way that should make anyone who decides to pick this release up extremely happy.

Audio Quality

This Blu-Ray comes with an LPCM 1.0 audio track that sounds perfectly clear without sound effects or the music trouncing on important information. The film employs some impressive sound design when it comes to the transitions through time which is given the appropriate consideration within the mix. The film is as much of an environmental affair as it is dialogue-driven with everything balanced just so in the mix. The score and musical cues come through nicely in relation to the competing sounds which helps establish a unique tonal atmosphere. This presentation presents everything accurately with pleasing fidelity and without damage or other unwanted issues. There are optional English subtitles provided on this release. 

Special Features

  • Audio Commentary: Author and Critic Troy Howarth delivers a very informative commentary track in which he discusses the history behind the film, the process of adapting the story for the screen the ways in which the film stays faithful to and differs from the source material, the history of various creatives associated with the film, his analysis of various thematic and plot elements and more. This is well worth a watch to gain even more insight into this work of art. 
  • And So It Goes: A 21-minute video appreciation from Film Historian Kim Newman in which he discusses the career of George Roy Hill, the development of the film, the work of Kurt Vonnegut and how the film holds up as an adaptation, the legacy of the film and more. 
  • Pilgrim’s Progress – Playing Slaughterhouse-Five: A 14-minute conversation with actor Perry King in which he discusses his early entry into performing, getting involved with Slaughterhouse-Five, why he believes he got the role, the direction from George Roy Hill that made an impact on him and more. 
  • Only On Earth – Presenting Slaughterhouse-Five: A nine-minute piece with Rocky Lang, son of producer Jennings Lang, in which he discusses his father’s career, his experience getting the film made, the general uncertainty over how to present the film and more. 
  • Unstuck In Time – Documenting Slaughterhouse-Five: A 15-minute interview with behind-the-scenes filmmaker/producer Robert Crawford Jr. in which he discusses his collaborations with George Roy Hill, the early development of the project, the experiences of shooting on location and more. You get to see some interesting behind-the-scenes footage, but unfortunately the full making-of documentary was never complete. 
  • Eternally Connected – Composing Slaughterhouse-Five: A 12-minute featurette in which Film Music Historian Daniel Schweiger discusses the music in film including the use of classical music to represent refinement, how Hill uses music to say something deeper about the characters, the establishing of tone, this film in relation to Hill’s larger filmography and more. 
  • Theatrical Trailer: The four-and-a-half minute trailer is provided here. 


Final Thoughts

Slaughterhouse-Five feels like a bit of a strange choice for director George Roy Hill after really hitting the big time with his previous effort. Nevertheless, you have to appreciate when creatives take major swings in their work, even when it does not entirely work out. The film is a truly disorienting experience the first time through, which captures the spirit of the novel. The more you get in-tune with the story, the more it seems to reward with material ripe for friendly debate. The performances are mostly very strong across the board, and the creative elements come together quite nicely overall. Arrow Video has released a Blu-Ray featuring a stellar A/V presentation and a great assortment of special features. For as tricky as the novel is, this adaptation should be appreciated for all that it does so well. Recommended 

Slaughterhouse-Five is currently available to purchase on Blu-Ray.

Note: Images presented in this review are not reflective of the image quality of the Blu-Ray.

Disclaimer: Arrow Video has supplied a copy of this disc free of charge for review purposes. All opinions in this review are the honest reactions of the author.