Cloud Atlas (2012)

Cloud Atlas (2012) movie poster

directors Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski
viewed: 09/08/2013

I’ve often noted that lowered expectations can be good for certain films.

I’ve heard that the book, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, is a very good read.  But seeing the trailers for Cloud Atlas the movie from Andy & Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, I wasn’t imagining anything particularly good.  Halle Berry with weird electrodes on her head, Tom Hanks in various costumes, leaping Japanese woman in some fantasy world.  Some sense of uber/meta-narrative sprawl, time-spanning multi-narrative from the team behind Speed Racer (2008) looked to promise nothing good.

The movie got mixed reviews.  Some described the imaginings that I had projected on the film from the trailer.  Some raved about the multiple narratives, multiple character performances, interweaving stories across millennia.  And that is what DVD is good for.  Commitment is less.  Cost is less.  Willing to give things a shot.  But even with the DVD at home from Netflix, I wondered to myself why I’d rented it if I anticipated it sucking so much.

There are points of annoyance in this film.  You can see that the actors LOVED getting to play such different roles with such ranging and extreme make-up and costume.  And that the make-up and costume people LOVED getting to put them together.  There is almost something inherently annoying in that.  And dodgy in some cases of make-up (Asian-izing actors for one sequence in particular).  And patois (Tom Hanks’ “language” as the primitive is like goofy bad Cajun.)

But there is a lot that does work here as well.

I can’t compare it to the book, since I haven’t read it.  I can only imagine that if the book is as good as I’ve heard that it’s still better than the movie.  But the movie is really successful in ways that it seemed unrealistic to believe.

The Wachowskis, if you think about it, really have very little of greatness to their credit.  The first The Matrix (1999) film (which I haven’t seen in ages) was a watershed in science fiction and action design.  And their prior film, Bound (1996), I recall being good too.  But then came The Matrix Reloaded (2003), The Matrix Revolutions (2003) and later Speed Racer.  Varying levels of bad.

But here they teamed up with Tom Twyker who burst onto the scene with Run, Lola, Run (1998), which he followed up with The Princess and the Warrior (2000), and has made a number of respectable films since.  Nothing super notable, nothing tragically terrible.

For Cloud Atlas, they seem to have split up the time frames that the film covers.  So, it’s not entirely easy to assign success or blame to the film’s qualities.  I’ll just say that the film is not great and probably fails at its ambitious best but is really a pretty interesting and decent film.  I was surprised that I liked it at all, much less fairly well.  And I say that not trying to sound as condescending as it probably does.

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