Preview: Cloud Atlas

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWnAqFyaQ5s

I’ve had a month off. Not entirely intentionally, but I’ve been pretty busy and all the ideas I’ve had to blog about have stayed as ideas for the time being. Fortunately, that means I have a load of things to tell you about. Stay tuned.

Two of my favourite contemporary novels are being made into films- one I’m extremely excited about, the other I’m overwhelmingly anxious for. The first is David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, being adapted by Tom Twyker and the Wachowskis.

Written in 2004 by David Mitchell, believe me when I say this is one of the most ambitious novels written in recent memory. Structured like Matryushka Russian Dolls, with six separate stories embodying six separate styles interweaving six protagonists, at least twice as many central characters across six periods past, present and future, the rise and fall (and rise again) of civilisation is written into an extraordinary piece of work that is enchanting, powerful and wickedly difficult to read.

Not the usual fare for a movie. Commercial cinema is a game of expectations and attention spans, and there is a formula that many, many production executives are afraid to stray from when financing films. So backing the Wachowskis, whose motion picture mantra is “to screw with audiences’ expectations ”, is a risky move indeed.

So why am I so darn excited about Cloud Atlas?

* Cloud Atlas is a Russian Doll of a book, and The Wachowskis love working with this.
Andy Wachowski described his passion for “serial cinema”, in the manner of Tolkein and the comic book style that he and his sister (Lana, who is transgender, officially changed from Larry after their 2008 film Speed Racer) cut their creative teeth on.
This is very good news for Cloud Atlas, which is essentially 6 short stories that evolve into each other, interspersed and influencing the emotional and narrative arcs of the novel. David Mitchell precisely cuts each story in half, and fills it with the next; highly demanding for the reader, but ultimately very rewarding as a whole. It will be interesting to see if the Wachowskis adhere to that.

* Adaptions of Novels require enormous editorial discipline, and the filmmakers appear to have nailed the essentials.
Film is a restrictive medium, and can’t afford the sprawl of a novel. Action, plot threads, characters and thematic subtleties all have to be refined to the purest form of the idea, and this is where a great number of book-to-film adaptations get lost (See my Life of Pi preview, coming soon). The directors appear to have understood the essential, central device of the book, the interconnectedness of seemingly disparate characters, somehow united despite being completely removed from each other in time, space, gender and race. From the incredibly generous trailer (5 and a half minutes, reflecting the 164 minute run time and the vast panoply of the cast), it looks safe to say that using the ensemble cast for several roles each is a stroke of brilliance that hits the narrative nail on the head. Lets just hope that they use this in the right way.

* Oh, and it looks GORGEOUS.
An absolutely sumptuous vision of an incredible range of environments, very subtly centred around Hawaii (which we see in Cloud Atlas at the points of Civilisation’s exponential rise and fall), taking in California, England, Korea, Belgium and the Pacific Ocean, each with its own distinctive look and, I hope, cinematography. If it were me, I’d hire six different production designers and six different DoPs, but its looking good so far for Cloud Atlas’ visual scope.

* Its a partially German film.
This may not mean much to many people, but Cloud Atlas is being financed and produced through German film companies and hopes to be the “first German Blockbuster”, according to its producers. Much of it is being filmed in Berlin, which has very little presence in the film industry. Think about the number of times New York, LA, London, Paris and so on have been used as film locations. They offer a very particular stylistic timbre that is reflected in the feel of the film. A Berlin film will have its own new look and feel. Very Exciting.

* The cast are far from typecast
And they are all very, very talented. Tom Hanks seems set to anchor much of the story, but his roles (for he plays several) are not the ones I originally envisaged for him. He is playing far out of his character comfort zone, with characters, in the novel, who are small cogs witness to incredible events. Just look at the photos. These are just a sample of what Cloud Atlas is all about.
Halle Berry appears near the centre of the story, tasked with playing everything from a California reporter to a white aristocrat to a futuristic demi-goddess. Quite how she achieves this I’m not sure.
Hugh Grant makes an appearance as the impressively tanned CEO whom Berry is set to clash with. His part is small but looks to make for some very interesting scenes.
Hugo Weaving is back on top Wachowski form, and he appears to be playing a mix of villains, including, it’s purported, the devil. Anybody who isn’t convinced should try and look directly at him for more than a few seconds. If that man’s middle name isn’t Beelzebub I’ll eat my shoe.
Doona Bae is set to play Somni~451, the figure on whom the plot twists. She is an unknown to me, so I will watching her story (an incredibly sophisticated and dark projection of commercial dystopia) with great interest.
Jim Broadbent marries a cantankerous composer and a comic turn as a beleaguered publisher set for some marvellous chemistry with Ben Whishaw.
Whishaw, one of my favourite actors of the moment following his sublime turn in Richard II on the BBC, plays my favourite character: the young, acerbic musical genius whose letters and “Cloud Atlas Sextet” underpin the nature of the movie. “ as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future.”

Take a look at http://collider.com/cloud-atlas-movie-images/186139/ to see more of these. They’re pretty incredible.

This is one of the most ambitious film projects I’ve ever seen. Lets just say, I’m looking forward to this. October 26th is the release date. Expect a thorough review.

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