Review of Cloud Atlas


Movie Review: "Cloud Atlas"

-- Rating: R (violence, language, drug use, nudity, and some sexuality)
Length: 172 minutes
Release Date: October 26, 2012
Directed by: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, and Lana Wachowski
Genre: Sci-Fi, Mystery, and Drama

"Cloud Atlas" is a sweeping, complex film based on the 2004 novel of the same name by David Mitchell. It comprises a set of tales that take place across time and in many countries across the world. The characters change with each time and place, but the actors do not, each portraying different people of varying races and genders. The film questions whether or not humans are destined to always meet the same souls through multiple reincarnations. The film bears similarities to an episode from the "The X-Files" that dealt with a similar theme (The Field Where I Died).

Because of the size of this project, three directors were assigned to the film. Andy and Lana Wachowski are no strangers to ambitious, cutting edge science fiction movies, as they were responsible for the ground breaking "Matrix" trilogy. They join Tom Tykwer of "Run Lola Run" in helming this unique film.

A key component of this film is the acting. The story could not be conveyed effectively without strong and defined performances from the cast. The actors often slip into existences where their characters are of another race or gender. Therefore, makeup also helps to bring many of the characters to life. The corporeal transformations illustrate the film's notion that bodies are mere vessels for souls that journey through time.

Tom Hanks and Halle Berry have the most varied roles, each convincingly portraying a number of very different characters. Hanks' characters include a robot maker, a scientist, a reporter, and a very unlikable publisher. Some compelling performances also come from the lesser-known actors in the cast. For instance, the music composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Wishaw) is emotionally intense, his soulfulness coming across strongly in a short amount of screen time. Hugh Grant's characters are rather more one dimensional; however, he effectively differentiates them, which is not an easy task.

Music and sound effects can elevate a film from satisfactory to special. This is particularly the case here, as the music in "Cloud Atlas" serves a narrative purpose in the original book. "The Cloud Atlas Sextet" musical score is used to bind the separate stories together, and its unique composition must be understood in order to feel the full effect of the music in the film.

In this film, a lot of thought has been put into building the worlds as described by the book. The author went through great lengths to give each world its own life, especially in the future tales. The film uses special lingo; for instance, media devices are all named "Sonys." Neat, futuristic gadgets, such as death rays and hovercrafts, abound and are used to add flair to action scenes. The film is stunningly beautiful and worth watching in this regard alone. Two cinematographers worked on the movie, and this can be seen in the overall texture, lighting, and scope.

This is a film in which the viewer's enjoyment is augmented by having first read the book; however, the editing phase has created a movie that anyone can understand, even as the story shifts to new times and places. This is extremely important, as science fiction often employs rapid changes involving time, and sometimes viewers can become easily confused. One example is the science-fiction drama "Fringe," where casual viewers often cite difficulty in keeping up with the changing universes and timelines.

For many years, there have been books so large in scope that a movie adaptation seemed impossible. Some science fiction epics have failed to meet their true potential, such as Frank Herbert's "Dune." Other stories have become great successes, such as Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy, but even so, some literary purists have not been satisfied. "Cloud Atlas," however, honors its source material successfully, and hopefully this will encourage more visionary projects in the future.

Rated: 5 of 5 stars.