Trying to live up to the hype after making the big budget epic Matrix sure seems to have been taxing for Lana and Andy Wachowski. Not even their own Matrix sequels managed to live up to audience expectations, but that shouldn’t be too big a surprise; we all know how the law of diminishing returns works. But besides their very first film (Bound) and that first Matrix, it seems as if they’d both decided to take their own blue pills. But on the flipside, it looks as if director Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) may have ben feeding them some red pills to get them back on track after the dreadful Speed Racer.
Bringing author David Mitchell’s novel Cloud Atlas to the big screen could not have been an easy task. Six interlocking stories taking place in 1849, 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144, and even further into a post-apocalyptic future, featuring dozens of characters, any adaptation could have easily blundered. Picking a main plot thread would be pointless; the themes of the film are what are really important here. And speaking of threads, each storyline is reflective of the last, even if they don’t seem to be told in any particular order. But as Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) assures us early on, there is a method to the madness. It’s just too bad that the film is as vapid as it is pretty. Ironically, it’s the Cavendish story that works the best and it’s really pretty minor in the grand scheme of things.
In the meantime, the film is easier to follow than you’d ever believe, but the Wachowskis and Tykwer (who all co-wrote along with directing) have short shifted any kind of emotional structure. Reading the Wikipedia page for the novel makes for a more interesting read and I think had the original structure been followed they could have succeeded in this department for sure. As it stands, we’re left watching what mostly plays out as a string of interconnected skits with the cast (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Brody Nicholas Lee, and Broadbent) popping up as different variations of themselves spanning across all the time periods mentioned before.
Yes, the film may be pretty to look at, and surprisingly only cost a rumored $100 million, but do we really care about any of what’s going on just because we aren’t completely confused? Cloud Atlas has huge ambitions, but it is never going to connect with audiences the way Warner Bros wants. I do have to admit that having seen the film makes me more interested in reading the novel, it’s just too bad that it took a 172-minute sizzle reel to do so. Storywise, the film is far greater than another sci-fi themed big budget epic that took in over $2 billion worldwide, but where they both have scope, only one leaves you thinking. Sci-fi seems to be finally smartening up, that is if Cloud Atlas, Looper, Prometheus, and even Safety Not Guaranteed are of any indication. It’s been a good year for the genre, and while I may not have loved Cloud Atlas as a whole, it’s definitely greater than the sum of its parts.
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