‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012): a science fiction ‘Middlemarch’!

28 Feb

Cloud Atlas-PosterSix different stories, set across hundreds of years and featuring a massive cast of A-list stars spread over three hours is an inarguably lofty and ambitious concept by anybody’s standards. However, if anyone is up to the task it’s Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run, Paris, je t’aime) and the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix movies, V for Vendetta), the trio handling both the production and direction duties with Cloud Atlas. What could have quite easily been a disaster turns out to be a sprawling, imaginative and very entertaining science fiction epic that will leave you pondering in the aisles.

Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Doona Bae and many more star in the luminous Cloud Atlas, a grandiose space drama concerned with the transience of love. The film is a quilt interwoven with a sextet of narratives, each wildly dissimilar in terms of plot but possessing a common theme: interconnectivity. Without giving anything away, stories range from the trials and tribulations of a gay couple forced apart by society, to anthropomorphic deus ex machina concerns in a futuristic Neo-Seoul, to a comedy about a bumbling elderly man to a cop drama-style nuclear power conspiracy set in the 70’s. This isn’t even all of them: Cloud Atlas is an enormous movie.

Most of the aforementioned actors and actresses are in each story, and often with incredibly varied roles, as gender and race are switched around like pieces on a chessboard (Halle Berry is an Asian man at one point, a white Jewish lady at another). The movie is so stuffed with actors and actresses that you’ll find yourself exclaiming “Oh look, there’s Susan Sarandon. Is that James D’Arcy? Woah, it’s Jim Sturgess! Is that Hugo Weaving or Kathy Bates?” and the like rather frequently (disclaimer: Bates is not in Cloud Atlas, though Weaving does his most convincing impression). Faces are painted but still recycled, yet not to the point of annoyance and/or confusion. It must be noted that Sarandon is the most effective reverse-drag (king?) I’ve ever seen. Also, you’ll no doubt be pleased to hear that Hugh Grant remains the most contemptible human being ever spawned.

Riding on the notion that love is timeless, transcendental and barrier-defying, the heady and quite spacey concept may seem like the pseudo-intellectual folly of a high twenty-something philosophy student, it all builds up to an intensely satisfying emotional conclusion that truly pays off. This relies heavily on each sub-story working, and though they may vary intensely in terms of dramatic style (the gay couple’s story is eloquently heart-wrenching, while futuristic Seoul features hilariously bad special effects that would make Battlestar Galactica blush), there isn’t a weak one among them. However, a ethereal, post-apocalyptic landscape features both embarrassingly hilarious silly accents and some rather overt Tolkien creature-design pilferage. Basically, there are Orcs.

Broadbent and Whishaw are both excellent in this.

Broadbent and Whishaw are both excellent in this.

The various different stories aren’t played one after another like vignettes; rather, the focus shifts from subplot to subplot, often very jarringly and without warning. Over the course of the movie’s 172-minute duration everything from romantic tragedies to elaborate Prison Break-style escapades take place, via blackmailing composers and laughable prosthetics. One could argue that most of the six stories couldn’t be their own movie; this is a bit of a non-argument, however, as each one compliments the other and contributes to the film’s overall quality. It would be removing a gear from a machine and complaining that it’s not a machine in its own right: nonsensical, and missing the point.

People may baulk at the run-time, but I must confess that at no point was I bored. The film throws you in at the deep end at the very beginning, and you, the viewer, are forced to catch up and piece together what little information you’re initially given to figure out what the hell’s going on. A rather self-deprecating note is given near the start which ironically bemoans the triviality and cliché of flashbacks in fiction; this scene is, rather pleasingly, one of many flashbacks, dreams or memories found in the movie. Comical effects notwithstanding, there are no real major flaws with this film, though I have no doubt many will find the concept of transcontinental and, eventually, inter-planetary love a bit too much. This is not a ‘simple’ movie; it requires a degree of effort on the viewer’s part.

Cloud Atlas is a surprisingly awesome film. The best live action movie that either Berry or Hanks have done in years, it features legions of reputable actors and actresses excelling at their craft. The stories are great and individually fascinating, yet combine to form a rather spectacular cosmic tale. Go watch it now, preferably on the big screen!

Simon says: even the meaning behind the film’s name is explained masterfully. I love this movie!

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One Response to “‘Cloud Atlas’ (2012): a science fiction ‘Middlemarch’!”

  1. bankholidaytuesday March 1, 2013 at 12:01 am #

    The bit where they reveal where the title comes from blew my mind. Legit.

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