Enthusiastic as I was for the film release of Cloud Atlas, I harbored some disquiet over the adaptation of a profound, but “unfilmable” (in the author’s words, though pleased he was, unlike many other such undertakings, with the Wachowski project) novel. And reading David Mitchell’s stamp of approval settled the matter not, as it seemed to me he was so enamored that mega celebrity movie stars were literally speaking out sentences originating from his pen.
For those unfamiliar with this phenomenal work, it is actually six stories set in separate time settings, linked together by characters and/or references to previous ones. Jarring, each of the first five tellings, end abruptly (the first story in the middle of sentence; at first, leading me to believe Amazon shipped me a misprint). After the middle story (#6), the story chains back through in reverse order, ending the book by resolving the first story. Each story is written in a different literary mode: i.e., journal entries, letters, interview transcript; each replete with its own language and style signature that made it rough treading for me the first dozen pages or so in each of the sub-stories. Alas, it is a remarkable tale, with the theme of agape (and eros too) love intertwined with human predilection for predacity.
But onto the movie presentation and my reflections after viewing. First, it is a riveting three hour sequence, perking with action and attention. Although I have some quibbles with plot twist changes (none too major; mostly just Wachowski creative license in “filling in the blanks” but there are a lot of dropped characters and introduction of romantic relationships not present in the book — also, one of the roles Tom Hanks plays is significantly older than the character in the novel), I pronounce the adaptation mostly a success. Especially the framework of the narrative — shifting into a more concurrent rendering over the sequential story sequence. Indeed, the film captures the ethos and spirit of Mitchell’s work. The cinematography art and costumes, and the puzzling out of recognizing the various prominent actors serving in multiple roles, are worth the cost of a ticket alone.
There has been a great bit of consternation over yellowfacing. Normally, I would be in alignment with the criticism, but given the fact that (a) the film is arguably in the realm of science fiction and (b) all the major actors are role-shifting (not just the Asian characters), those charges are muted for me. I realize that for some, this is not a justifiable defense, and I am sympathetic with their sentiment.
Mainly, I wondered how those who have not read the book would think of the film. In my party, those who did not, enjoyed it just as much, though I was peppered with questions, especially in the parts where quirky language (particularly in the “after the fall” scene dialogue) made it difficult to understand what was spoken. And from perusing the Twitter stream, it seems general reaction is mostly positive.
On the other hand, critic appraisals have been mixed (though Roger Ebert is completely enamored). Some of the panning, I can understand, but many of the critical reviews expose pure silliness or just a wanton hankering to impulsively chop it down without ever giving it a chance, or attempting to see it from the eyes of another. Especially the reviews that reference the source material when it is plainly evident that the reviewer knows zero about the book, other than a few recycled cliches.
Finally, a physical theater note — seeing this at an AMC theater was a confirmation, again, on how superior the movie going experience is at rival Harkins Theaters. The popcorn was stale, the sound quality seemed to off, and most irksome, the curtain on the screen was not completely unfurled, and it blocked 3-4 feet on each end from view. To AMC credit, after we expressed our disenchantment with these occurrences, they did bestow upon us some free movie passes. Also, for a Friday night, prime time for movie attenders, this multi-screen theater appeared ridiculously empty.
It was an excellent movie, and I wish to see it again (and again).