Cloud Atlas is one of the films I’ve been most looking forward to watching this year. It’s proving to be a long and frustrating wait though- an independent production, it was released back in October in the States with a UK release not due until late February this year. Back last summer, marvelling at the long and intriguing theatrical trailer for the film, that February date was a kick in the solar plexus. Its like a sad return to the bad old days of waiting six months for Star Wars to cross the Atlantic- its funny how used to global releases we have become. So anyway, a longer wait than usual- funny thing is, the delay has now even turned against the film’s (few) fans State-side It’s originally planned February DVD/Blu-ray release has been pushed back to June, presumably to protect the theatrical returns of the film globally and to tie-in to a global home video release. So fans of the film over there (few as they are, as the film faired very poorly, something like $27 million all told ) are gnashing their teeth at having to wait a further several months for their Blu-ray. Well join the club guys, we even haven’t had it at the multiplex yet.
One of the things that caught my attention about the film is it’s soundtrack. Written by Tom Tykwer, Johnny Klimek and Reinhold Heil, they are hardly big-name/well-known composers, but I remembered them from their excellent score for Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, a film Tom Tykwer directed (that I would hope will be on Blu-ray one day, as its a great movie). That score, one of the most noteworthy of the past ten years, was an integral part of that film, no doubt due to the directors involvement in scoring it and word had it that the same could be said for Cloud Atlas, which featured Tykwer sharing directing duties with the Wachowski, er, siblings. Well, I’m a sucker for any film where the music is a big character in a film- its part of the ‘pure cinema’ experience and something rare these days in films where the current trend is for music to be part of the background and hardly noticed. Curiosity peaked, I couldn’t wait for the film to get out over here so ordered the soundtrack on import.
Of course the difficulty for the composers for the Cloud Atlas score is surely the vast spread of time and geographical locations represented in the film. How do they somehow unify all those separate elements, characters and timelines? Well, they do it with two central pieces of score.
The film’s two core themes, “Cloud Atlas Sextet” and the “Atlas March” prove to be central to the film’s narrative arc- in the film, the Sextet is written by a composer during the 1930s segment, but the music contained within this Sextet (an intentionally classical-sounding piece) is reprised in the film as it spans the several generations. I’m not sure how it is done in the film itself, as it apparently spans thousands of years and lives separated by time and space and yet somehow still connected, something like past and future lives of the same soul? (characters are being played by the same actor altered by prosthetics and make-up)- sounds pretty complicated, but hopefully it makes more sense in the film. On the album, which I presume is in chronological order, elements of the Sextet surface in various guises played by different instruments, depicting different characters and time periods.The second core theme, the Atlas March, is a more conventional piece, delicate and fragile, almost a melancholic love theme that weaves in and out of the score much like the Sextet until reaching a triumphant reprise at the films (and albums) conclusion.
The whole score is richly orchestrated, gloriously symphonic with some choral and electronic textures added to it. I presume some of the electronics are for the futuristic passages of the film but I guess I could be wrong. There is one piece of music, Death Is Only A Door, with chorus and strings, which is incredibly haunting and I cannot possibly imagine what is going on during the film in that sequence- I just can’t wait to find out. It will be very interesting to see how the score works in the film- it plays well enough as an album but I can see how it might make or break a film with such an apparently convoluted narrative as Cloud Atlas has. The film had mixed reviews State-side and has been rebuffed/unnoticed during the awards season, but I can see it being a contender for film of the year for me already. It just looks so daring and interesting and unusual, like a breath of fresh air. Certainly, the score is quite remarkable and I doubt I’ll hear anything as bold and refreshing as this all year. Will the film live up to the music? Will just have to wait and see. Not long to go…