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'Water for Elephants' read-made for big screen

Veterinary school student Jacob, played by Robert Pattinson, meets and falls in love with circus performer Marlena, played by Reese Witherspoon, in Water for Elephants, based on Sara Gruen’s novel.

20th Century Fox

Veterinary school student Jacob, played by Robert Pattinson, meets and falls in love with circus performer Marlena, played by Reese Witherspoon, in Water for Elephants, based on Sara Gruen’s novel.

With its spangly costumes, sympathetic animals, sinister villain and steamy love triangle, Water for Elephants was destined for the big screen.

Sara Gruen's bestselling 2006 novel, her breakthrough third book, is rich in cinematic elements. Many of the qualities that have made it a favorite of book clubs across the land also make it a logical choice for Hollywood treatment.

Of course, it doesn't hurt that, with 4.3 million copies of the book in print, Water for Elephants already has a well-primed fan base. The book spent 12 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list when it was released in hardcover five years ago, and the movie tie-in edition has topped the paperback list for the past nine weeks.

Among the novel's movie-ready qualities is its setting in a struggling Depression-era traveling circus. The combination of 1930s small towns that the reader can't help but picture in sepia tones with vividly described circus scenes — all bright colors, swift motion and cacophonous sounds — practically begs to be filmed.

Add to that its ingratiating hero, Jacob Jankowski, who runs away to join the circus twice in his life. He does it first when, as a bright young veterinary student, he's orphaned when his parents die in a car crash, and again, in the novel's contemporary frame story, when he escapes from a nursing home at age 90 (or maybe 93).

During his first circus tour, Jacob meets the beautiful Marlena, who goes to work in pink sequins and can bend an entire herd of magnificent Arabian horses to her will under the big top — but who is herself at the mercy of her cruel husband, the animal trainer August.

Fill out the cast with the circus' violent owner, Uncle Al, and a cast of endearing freaks. Add those gorgeous horses, a fiercely loyal terrier and a most remarkable Polish-speaking elephant named Rosie. Put them all to work in a story filled with romance and revenge, and roll camera.

Colette Bancroft can be reached at cbancroft@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8435.

'Water for Elephants' read-made for big screen 04/20/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 20, 2011 5:30am]

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