Cloud Atlas Blu-ray Review
When someone disagrees with you on a very intellectual or existential film, it’s easy to resort to telling them “you just didn’t get it”. Even though that’s sometimes true, it’s insulting to whoever you’re debating with because what you’re essentially saying is; “I’m smarter than you because I like this movie”. I find myself in this predicament with CLOUD ATLAS, much like I was with Terrence Malick’s THE TREE OF LIFE in 2011. They’re such great movies that I find myself searching for reasons why the general public hated them so much. But in the case of CLOUD ATLAS, I don’t think it’s a case of people not getting it, I think everyone, including the film’s fans, just have to accept that the film isn’t for everyone.
I normally try to give a rundown of the basic plot in my reviews, but that’s virtually impossible with CLOUD ATLAS, at least with a literal interpretation. The film revolves around two sets of connected “souls” throughout time. One set is represented by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, who start out very far apart, but through the search for truth and learning how to be better people, their souls eventually find each other closer to the end of time. The other set of souls is represented by Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae, who have the opposite course as Hanks and Berry. They start out early on by being together, then their journeys to do the right thing lead them further and further apart throughout time, despite their best efforts to hold onto each other.
I use the term “souls” because that’s the best way to describe what we’re watching. We follow the various characters over several time periods, including the 1800’s, 1970’s, 2010’s, distant future and then after earth. All the while, we’re picking up bits and pieces about each of the characters and learning how they’re connected and what’s driving them closer together or further apart. The various timelines are told in a linear fashion within themselves, but they’re intertwined together to show how the characters grow in each time period. If you focus on the “action” in the storylines or get hung up on the actors and their makeup, then you’ll miss the point of each segment. Even with the brilliant narration at various points in the film, you still have to pay attention to what’s being said and the decisions the characters are making because as the tagline promises, everything is connected.
Everyone will have their favorite characters, of course, but all of the actors do well with what they have. Tom Hanks is his usual brilliant self, Berry is efficient as the strong, determined woman and Jim Sturgess is surprisingly good as the hopeless romantic trying to make things right. But the real highlight came from Hugh Grant, who represented controlling, evil power across the time periods. Even though he was unrecognizable at times, he added a lot to his characters and his performance heightened the intensity. I was less thrilled with Ben Whishaw and Jim Broadbent’s storylines and felt that their intertwining with the rest of the characters was lacking, at least when compared to the four main characters.
So why did so many people hate the film? For starters, you have to buy into the whole souls colliding aspect of the story. If you don’t pick up on that or don’t buy into it, then you’re left with a very superficial film. It’s also easy to get distracted by the intertwining of the stories. It was done to show the character growth and keep the pacing of the film somewhat even, but it can be distracting if you’re not looking deep enough. At times, The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer were maybe too subtle in their attempts to connect people and not everyone appreciates subtlety in film. And sometimes a film can be too existential (TREE OF LIFE) to the point of losing audiences that are more interested in seeing action than interpreting visuals.
The biggest compliment I hear given to CLOUD ATLAS is that it was ambitious. That’s true, but I think I give credit to ambition less than others. The very idea of translating David Mitchell’s novel into a movie is ambitious, but ambition means nothing if you don’t succeed. The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer succeeded in what they set out to do, which is effectively tell a complicated, meaningful film and make the whole thing enjoyable at the same time.
CLOUD ATLAS was one of my favorite films of 2012, but when asked for a recommendation, I don’t think I would ever suggest CLOUD ATLAS. If you’re not prepared to concentrate on the film and read more into it than what is on the surface, I don’t think you’ll appreciate it. That said, if you want a movie that will impress you with its ambition and inspire you with its themes, then I highly recommend giving CLOUD ATLAS a chance.
Video: CLOUD ATLAS looks amazing on Blu-ray, with each setting coming through in beautiful detail. While most films stick to one color tone, CLOUD ATLAS has a wide range and they all look great on this transfer.
Audio: The great score in CLOUD ATLAS sounded immaculate and the surround sound came through perfectly.
Focus Points (54:46): This is comprised of seven featurettes, including A Film Like No Other, Everything Is Connected, The Impossible Adaptation, The Essence of Acting, Slaves & Sextets, The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas, Love Life and Longing in Cloud Atlas. Let’s be honest; if you’re a fan of the film, it just wouldn’t be possible to have an extensive enough documentary about the film. However, this is pretty decent. We get plenty of interviews and behind the scenes interviews, but I would have liked more explanation into the scenes and less recap of the film. We do get a brief clip of Tom Hanks talking about reading the script and not having any questions. Then the interviewer asked him if he understood it and he yelled “No!” That seems to be a general consensus amongst the cast.