A few days before seeing Cloud Atlas, I read an article from Entertainment Weekly writer Owen Gleiberman declaring the film a “cornily enthralling sci-fi kaleidoscope.” At first, I thought this statement was just a flowery bit of critic talk, one of those adjective-heavy sayings that somehow sounded the right bit of crazy to make sense in a magazine. I turned to a film buddy and gawked at the absurdity of such a deep-fried assertion.
But after seeing the film, the latest by the Wachowski siblings (The Matrix) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run), I finally understood Mr. Gleiberman. I felt a bit like a cartoony jogger smashed by an oversized Steinway slipped from a third story window. It made sense to me how a film could be light and heavy, contrast the goofiness of extreme makeup art with a serious feast of philosophy, and hold onto its chunky story for nearly three hours. While my head is not literally squashed by a big piano, it certainly had to take on some weighty stuff during this film.
David Mitchell’s 2004 novel of the same name was adapted to the big-screen in one of the largest independent productions ever staged. With a budget of over $100 million, the film features tons of beautiful imagery aided by digital enhancement and effects weaving in hearty variety to your eyes quenched when flipping from any of the six interconnected vignettes.
Atlas connects its six stories eclectically ranging from the journal entries of a sickly lawyer in the 1850’s Pacific and a post-apocalyptic Hawaii, like a parable told at bedtime. Fairy tales often take on big themes along with the right amount of adolescent naivety to, well, appeal to kids: knowing that there are consequences to our actions, sharing with others, the concept of fairness, altruism, and, of course, respecting your Mommy. Atlas is no different, although I don’t recommend bringing your toddler to see it.
The film thinly veils it’s introspection by whipping it up with a fair amount of sometimes unintentional humor. Atlas has an ensemble cast that includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and Jim Sturgess. All of these actors play multiple roles between the different stories, which are built on themes of connectedness and serendipity. Sometimes this mixing and matching of actors can get a little confusing, especially at the beginning of the film. Hopefully most audiences will ease into the quick changes between the stories and get over the laughability factor found in the make-up art. Tom Hanks is seen as a goateed thug in one scene, a tattooed sheepherder in another, and a big-toothed 19th century doctor in the next. The vast differences of these personas can be shocking and a bit goofy.
If you’ve seen The Matrix, you’ll get a kick out of the dystopian future in this film where we see a corrupt totalitarian government with a twisted ruling corporatism. The filmmakers make a direct reference to sci-fi cult movie Soylent Green in Atlas and we no doubt can trace visual seeds back to classics like Stanley Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner.
Atlas has a careful mix of late-night philosophical looming and laser blasting sci-fi. Sometimes a bit too fantastical, the film undoubtedly has its flaws. For a three-hour visual feast, could it really go so wrong? Verdict: 8/10