David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas, once deemed “unfilmable”, has been ambitiously translated onto the screen by the directing trio of Run Lola Run director Tom Tykwer and the Wachowskis. Leave it to the Wachowskis, the visionary directors of The Matrix and V For Vendetta, to take on the adaptation of a structurally complex novel and transform it into a film that’s visceral in its filmmaking approach and mesmerizingly beautiful. The film manages to be as complex as its original source, but feels more lively and epic.
Like the original novel, the film contains six interconnected stories that explore various locations, time, connection, and human emotion. To briefly explain to you the expansiveness of the narrative, the film begins in the 19th century and concludes in a distant and bleak post-apocalyptic future. While not purposefully giving anything away, I’ll briefly overview each of these six stories so you can get a better grasp on what exactly is going on in the film. The first story titled “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing” begins on a ship where Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) receives “unfair treatment” by his doctor (Tom Hanks). “Letters From Zedelghem” chronicles the bitterness between a young up-and-coming composer (Ben Wishaw) and an aging musician (Jim Broadbent) in the 1930s. “Half Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery” takes place in the 1970s and follows an investigative journalist (Halle Berry) who tries to uncover a mystery surrounding a nuclear reactor.
“The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish” is a contemporary tale that takes place in London. The story centers on a book publisher (Jim Broadbent) who finds himself trapped in a nursing home against his will. “An Orison of Sonmi-451” jumps forward to the year 2044 where a fabricant (Doona Bae), a cloned slave, is freed from the tightly controlled futuristic society in which she inhabits. The sixth and final story titled “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” takes place in a post apocalyptic society, presumably sometime in the 22nd century, and centers on a villager (Tom Hanks) who leads a woman (Halle Berry) to safety from cannibals.
Don’t worry, I didn’t reveal too much because this film deserves your full attention to each and every one of these stories. Allow yourselves to be immersed into each of these six cinematic worlds. While some stories are better than others, each has their own uniqueness. It helps that the stories aren’t presented in series but are rather interwoven with one another. The complexity that has assumingly turned some critics and audiences away from the film derives from these six interconnected stories and thematic content that each present. Clearly, this structure isn’t for everyone but those who are willing to pay close attention will discover each story to be slightly strange but also slightly beautiful. It’s remarkable that these six stories don’t have anything in common with one another by characters, theme, plot, or genre, but yet manage to tell a singular story on a much grander scale. Another aspect of the film that’s remarkable is the performances. Usually an actor portrays just one character in a film. In Cloud Atlas, each actor portrays six diverse characters. It’s something I’ve never seen done before in a film.
Cloud Atlas is one of the most visually stunning films I’ve seen in quite sometime. The effects, the art direction, and the stellar cinematography by John Toll and Frank Griebe bring these worlds to life in such an arresting way. The most visually stunning sequence is “An Orison of Sonmi-451”. The cinematography during this particular sequence is very reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s 1982 sci-fi classic Blade Runner. As good as the visual effects are, some of the make-up effects leave much to be desired. While some of the make up effects work, such as turning rom-com regular Hugh Grant into a cannibalistic warrior, some didn’t quite work as well. For an example, some of the actors had to portray Asian actors and the final results of the make-up effects seemed extremely unnatural. Regardless, Cloud Atlas is visually stunning and it’s a shame that I didn’t get the chance to see this film on the largest screen possible during its theatrical run last fall.
Video (1080p High-Definition): Warner Bros. high-definition 1080p transfer is nearly flawless. The high-definition imagery allows viewers to immerse themselves into the beautiful imagery of cinematographers John Toll and Frank Griebe. There are various locations throughout the film and each of these locations is presented in enriching detail and clarity. The film’s stunning visual effects are cleanly presented with only a thin and barely noticeable layer of grain. The warm colors are saturated and tones are well balanced. With such a fantastic high-definition transfer, it’s fairly easy to immerse yourselves into the fabricated and imaginative world of the film.
Audio (5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio): The film has an above average 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that is sure to keep viewers engrossed with the film. Since Cloud Atlas has a character driven narrative, there is a strong emphasis on dialogue. Thankfully, the dialogue is crystal clear. There isn’t an abundance of artistry with the audio track, but it’s fine enough to engage the viewer.
The special features provided on the Blu-ray of Cloud Atlas are presented in high-definition.
- A Film Like No Other
- Everything Is Connected
- The Impossible Adaptation
- The Essence of Acting
- Spaceships, Slaves, and Sextets
- The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas
- Eternal Recurrence: Love, Life, and Longing in Cloud Atlas
- DVD Copy
- Ultraviolet Digital Copy
The special features on the Cloud Atlas Blu-ray aren’t extensive by any stretch of the imagination, which is surprising considering the film’s extensive and complex narrative structure. The Blu-ray unfortunately lacks an audio commentary track, which would’ve been extremely interesting. The “A Film Like No Other” is a (very) short feature that showcases the cast and crew exploring the challenges of the tight production and the plot of the film. In “The Impossible Adaptation”, The Wachowskis, Tom Tykwer, and David Mitchell discuss the complex plot of the film and the difficulties of translating the novel onto the screen. “Everything is Connected” and “Spaceships, Slaves, and Sextets” discusses how each of the individual stories intertwines. Overall, the special features aren’t outstanding but they certainly aren’t terrible either.
Cloud Atlas is unlike any film I’ve seen before. Its complex narrative is bound to leave some scratching their heads and that’s perfectly okay. In fact, the film is extremely confusing upon first viewing when focusing strictly on trying to peel away too many layers at once. Those who try to peel away too many layers at once may feel a slight disconnect to the experience of the film. Save the theme hunting for the second or third viewing because multiple viewings is a requirement to fully digest the film that Tykwer and the Wachowskis have crafted. Clocking in close to three hours, it’s easy to turn your head away from this film. I mean come on, who has time nowadays for a three-hour movie? Regardless, Cloud Atlas a visually masterful film that requires multiple viewings to peel away each layer. The film could’ve easily been a catastrophic disaster but instead was an ambitious and profound effort on an epic cinematic scale.
Click here to purchase Cloud Atlas on Blu-ray/DVD/Ultraviolet Digital Copy
The Blu-ray was released on May 14th, 2013.