June 28, 2013
Release Date: 1 July 2013
2012 | 15 | 172 minutes | £15.99 (DVD)/£22.99 (Blu-ray)
Distributor: Warner Home Video
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, Tom Tykwer
Cast:Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon
Cloud Atlas is the film equivalent of one of Wallace’s inventions from Wallace And Gromit; undeniably spectacular in its own way, but you can’t help feeling there must be easier ways of achieving the same results.
David Mitchell’s original novel had a clever structure that provided a rosetta stone for its themes; the film is pretty much all structure and little else, a delicate cinematic game of KerPlunk that could come crashing down if you pull out the wrong straw, leaving nowt but a load of balls.
Not that the book and the film have the same structure. The book featured six interconnected tales, each set in a different time period. The first five stories – set in the mid 19th century, 1931, 1975, the present day and a dystopian future respectively – are each interrupted halfway through. Then the sixth story – set way in the future, when Earth has descended into savagery again – is told in full, before the novel travels back in time, completing each of the other stories in turn. In each story, the protagonist is influenced by the life and work of the protagonist in the (chronologically) preceding story.
The film instead takes the stories and gives them a Rubik’s Cube shuffle. It intercuts all the plotlines, often ruthlessly; few scenes are more than a couple of minutes long, while at times, it goes into bewildering montage overdrive, with voiceovers from one period commenting all too aptly on events taking place in others. Different time, same shit, basically seems to be the message.
At times it’s breathtaking, a melange of different genres – Richard Curtis sitcom, crime caper, costume drama, sci-fi actioner – brought crashing together with devil-may-care bravado. It often looks nothing less than spectacular, and the visual echoes across the different time periods create an intoxicating pictorial tapestry: a dream here is made reality there; a derring-do stunt in one timeline is reflected in another.
The acting from the genuinely starry cast is superb. Halle Berry is excellent as a ’70s private detecive, Ben Whishaw gets to do his patented “sensitive-but-driven artiste” turn and Jim Broadbent excels in not one but two main roles – git composer and hapless revolutionary in an old people’s home. However, the decision to cast all the leads in multiple roles through the different time periods is a conceit too far. It’s a gimmick that distracts rather than enriches, especially when Hugo Weaving does a turn as a nurse who puts you in mind of Miss Trunchbull, the abusive headmistress from Matilda! It highlights the film’s main weakness; it’s a structure built on flimsy foundations, all filmmaking bluster that’s easy to admire, but difficult to love. The characters feel far too much like playing pieces for you to truly care about them; the staccato editing likewise distances the audience from events. The main themes – everything is connected, we keep going round in circles – which felt so crucial to the novel feel exposed as mere platitudes here.
In the end, Cloud Atlas is an entertaining, technically dazzling cinematic piece of fluff that engages intellectually but not emotionally.
Click on “Next” to read our verdict on the extras.
Depending on how you look at it, the Blu-ray (rated) either has seven short extras or one long one, with a nearly an hour’s worth of making-of material, split into seven chapters (if you buy the DVD you get just the first chapter). Thankfully they don’t go all “concepty” on us and intercut all the chapters together, though, to be honest, some of the “subject headings” are so vague (“A Film Like No Other”, “Everything Is Connected”, “The Impossible Adaptation”, “The Essence Of Acting”, “Spaceships, Slaves And Sextets”, “Eternal Recurrence”, “The Bold Science Fiction Of Cloud Atlas”) you may not even have noticed if someone had shuffled a few of the interviews around.
Taken as a whole, the Making Of is really rather good. There are loads of lively interviews with all the main actors, all of whom enthuse with sincerity about the project. Okay, actors are paid to fake sincerity, but they genuinely seem to be having a whale of a time, though they do also seem to be in some kind of competition to see who can come up with the most pretentious justification for the multiple parts shtick. The sight of Hugh Grant delighting in his first screen kill is almost worth the extra cost of the Blu-ray version alone.
The triumvirate of directors are joined by Cloud Atlas author David Mitchell to add some insightful comments on translating an “untranslatable” book. There’s lots of intriguing behind-the-scenes footage, and contributions from various producers and designers, all edited into a highly watchable and enjoyable documentary. The best thing you can say about it is that once you’ve seen the attention to detail that went into making the film, you want to watch it again to pick up on everything you missed.
Shame about the lack of a commentary, though.
Dave Golder twitter.com/DaveGolder