is coming, premiering at TIFF
this month before hitting screens in the States in October and across the pond many moons later in March. And it certainly has potential but there are also serious pitfalls which will have to be overcome to make it successful adaptation.
Based on the celebrated 2004 novel by British author David Mitchell
, Cloud Atlas
has an epic premise – telling six intertwined stories spread across thousands of years of history and into the distant future while dealing with themes of humanity and loss. It’s complex stuff and Mitchell’s structure makes it stranger still, telling half of the first five stories before revealing the entirety of the sixth then giving is the endings of the previous tales in reverse order.
The film was snapped up by Tom Tykwer
for an ambitious adaptation, with the German filmmaker drafting in The Matrix
to help with the screenplay. The trio eventually also divided directing duties to product the 164 minute film.
Check out the impressive extended trailer which debuted back in July.
Looks good, doesn’t it. so what could possibly go wrong?THE SOURCEMitchell’s
book is certainly impressive but it’s also an unavoidably epic piece of work – some 544 pages in length and dense with characters, background detail and fabricated mythologies. It’s fast moving and entertaining, with several distinct styles and a subtle sense of connection between the stories. But the book is also prone bloated and has difficulty with an ending that doesn’t quite manage to tie the disparate strands of the stories together. Obviously the point of an adaptation is to try to create a streamlined version of the original while still retaining its essence and meaning but there’s a chance that the source was just too convoluted and overwrought to begin with.THE PLOT
At root, Cloud Atlas
is six stories roughly related by a recurring suggestion of reincarnation and some common themes, including the search for a piece of music called the Cloud Atlas
Sextet. Early reviews based on test screenings have suggested that Mitchell’s nested structure has been abandoned for the film, with Tykwer
and the Wachowski’s
instead opting to mix the stories together, moving across time and space. The danger here is of hopelessly confusing those audience members unfamiliar with the more ordered sweep of the novel. There’s a chance that this change could actually benefit the movie, making connection between characters and story strands more concrete and maybe even focussing on a more tangible theme throughout.THE GIMMICK
They’re also using a more obvious device to piece together the different tales. The impressive ensemble cast, which includes Tom Hanks
, Halle Berry
, Jim Broadbent
, Hugo Weaving
and Susan Sarandon
, will all play several characters throughout Cloud Atlas
. That’s hardly a film first but the filmmakers have taken things a step further by having them not only play difference ages but also races and even genders. It immediately conjures up images of Eddie Murphy’s
exorbitant cross-dressing or movies, like J Edgar
, which insist on layering thick makeup onto young actors to make them aged. There is, in short, much potential for the ridiculous – as evidenced by the terrifying image of Hugo Weaving
as a middle aged woman or the titter worthy shot of Tom Hanks
as a gangster. There’s no denying it’s an interesting process and a worthy attempt by the special effects teams involved – we just hope it doesn’t end up being a distraction.
THE FILMMAKERS Tom Hanks and Hugo Weaving in Cloud Atlas Enlarge
Finally, the big one. There’s no two ways about it – the Wachowski’s are far from the movie making superstars they once were. It’s been a long thirteen years since The Matrix made them a household name and their efforts since have gone from the merely disappointing The Matrix Reloaded to the openly awful Speed Racer. It’s the hints of the latter’s garish aesthetic in screenshots from Cloud Atlas which has me most concerned, particularly (maybe unavoidably) in the futuristic story ‘An Orison of Sonmi~451,’ which seems to have seen considerable changes from the book, mostly in terms of adding action sequences. This story goes to some wildly unusual place and without some sense of grounding, a thing the siblings have lacked in recent years, it could become a tiresome experience.
Tykwer has also seen his cache fall in recent years – falling hard with the hopelessly self-involved Perfume in 2006 and being generally ignored when The International released three years later. He too is prone to style over substance but might be able to keep it in check here. The filmmakers have confirmed that the Wachowski’s handled the 19th century story and the two set in the future with Tykwer covering those set in the 20th century. It remains to be seen if the change in style will feel at all organic.
Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski Enlarge
Cloud Atlas is an impressive book in many ways; not least the fact that it remains entertaining despite delving into some complex themes and the appeal of a movie adaptation is obvious. But the film itself is a massive gamble – playing with an R-rating, a budget of $100 million dollars and a premise which likely didn’t go over that well at pitch meetings.
All reservations aside, the movie fan in me looks at the trailer above and still feels hope – there’s a sense of a narrative through line that’s more intimate and personal than the book, more focussed on the abuses, and wonders, man is capable of doing to man. If these filmmakers can pull it off, the film could be a triumph. If they don’t, expect an ambitious mess.Cloud Atlas is premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival in September before hitting screens in the States on the 26th of October and in the UK and Ireland in March 2013.