Cloud Atlas (2012)

cloudatlasbluWhat a bold, mesmerising, thrilling, frustrating, baffling film this is. Its so odd, so unusual and brave and crazy, smart and foolish, its hard to believe it even got made considering how ‘safe’ and charmless so many films are nowadays. Most likely the most ambitious movie I will see this year- I’m in awe of the sheer audacity of it. As a character says during the movie, …while my extensive experience as an editor has led me to a disdain for flashbacks and flash-forwards and all such tricksy gimmicks, I believe that if you, dear reader, can extend your patience for just a moment… you will find there is a method to this tale of madness.

It is certainly a polarising movie; a friend of mine saw it and absolutely hated it, and continually maintains it being the worst film he has seen at the cinema this year (but then again, he hasn’t seen Star Trek into Darkness).  My friend Andy does seem to be voicing the more popular opinion of film fans though, as Cloud Atlas fared rather badly at the cinema and I doubt it will recoup its budget even after home video releases (and I’ll have to admit I didn’t see the film at the cinema myself- I had to wait for the American Blu-ray release a few months back).

Home video does hold some interesting possibilities though. There are some fans of Cloud Atlas who state that in twenty years time the film will be as highly thought of and  ‘re-discovered’, as Blade Runner eventually was (‘our generation’s Blade Runner‘ as some put it); I’m not so sure about that. I enjoyed Cloud Atlas but its no Blade Runner.  I will agree though that plastering Tom Hanks and Halle Berry on the poster art likely had people expecting the wrong kind of movie in just the same way that Blade Runner‘s poster art had cinemagoers expecting a Harrison Ford action-adventure back in 1982. I can imagine how the punters reacted when Tom Hanks actually turned up in several roles and in the main one spoke a frustrating pigeon-English that left viewers flustered and unable to understand what he was even saying. But that is the main thing both films share- just how do you encapsulate films like these into a poster? How do explain what kind of movies they are when they are so unusual? The Cloud Atlas Blu-ray cover makes it look like some kind of futuristic adventure starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry when infact its actually an ensemble art-house movie with an obtuse plot spanning centuries. Its interesting that while the poster misses the mark the trailer really nailed it, but even then it had to be an extended trailer something like eight minutes long!

Watching at home does have advantages. Several times I would rewind the movie in order to catch exactly was being said in the far-future sequences (its very ‘honest/realistic’ but perhaps a bit too clever); and seeing the film a second time certainly irons out some of the plot and the connections across the centuries. I admit that while I enjoyed it on first viewing, it does become an even better movie a second time. But how many people will even give it that second chance? And that’s why its no Blade Runner and won’t share Blade Runners eventual reappraisal. I’d like to be proven wrong though. Certainly, watching it a second time I found myself becoming more emotionally involved and effected by the events of the last third. The film ‘worked’ better, and I really look forward to a third viewing.

You see, if you ‘get’ the film- if you don’t mind working at the plot and maybe rewinding some of the trickier dialogue (‘heresey!’ I can hear some cry at that) or switching on the subtitles (should you even have to press ‘rewind’ and ‘subtitles’ on your remote to ‘get’ a film though?), then the film is pretty damn good. The cast are marvellous, the direction (mostly) inspired, the music sublime. It is not perfect though- it has its flaws, but I’ll take those flaws if it means getting such a bold film as this. Indeed, when all is said and done, when we finally reach the end-of-year, I do think it will be one of my favourite films of this year.

So anyway, Cloud Atlas is at last released over here in the UK on DVD/Blu-ray next week, and I urge anyone brave enough to please give it a go. At the very least being your own projectionist gives you a better chance than cinemagoers had to unravel the genius from the, er,  madness.

Cloud Atlas OST

CLOUD ATLASCloud 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.

Cloud-Atlas-SoundtrackThe 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…