Poll: What Did You Think of ‘Cloud Atlas’?

I may be taking a chance by running a poll about ‘Cloud Atlas’ today. As I write this post on Saturday morning, before any box office numbers have been released, I’m not sure how popular or widely-seen the movie will be. Analysts have predicted a soft opening, and I suspect that they’re right. Nevertheless, this is one of the most ambitious and interesting films of the year, whether you wind up loving it or hating it. If you saw it, what did you think? If you didn’t see it, tell us why not.

[A quick warning: This post may contain some minor plot spoilers, but nothing that should hamper anyone’s enjoyment of the movie, and nothing you couldn’t piece together from watching the trailers anyway.]

This one’s a stumper. I’m not sure what exactly I expected ‘Cloud Atlas’ to be. I went into the movie assuming that it would be either really great or really terrible, with little middle ground in between. I came out of it feeling that it has both parts that are really great and parts that are really terrible, but altogether isn’t either. Ultimately, I think that it pulls together, and my final impression is more favorable than not. It’s not a masterpiece, but I’d be willing to see this again.

‘Cloud Atlas’ interweaves six radically different storylines across six timeframes: In 1850, a young American merchant has a difficult sea voyage home from New Zealand; in 1931, a poor musician takes a job as assistant to an over-the-hill composer; in 1975, a journalist investigates shady happenings at a nuclear power plant; in 2012, an elderly publisher gets mixed up with gangsters and hides out at a “hotel” that he soon learns is really a nut house; in the dystopian 22nd Century, a genetically-engineered clone servant leads a slave uprising; and finally, in the distant post-apocalyptic future, a primitive tribesman is visited by a member of a more technologically advanced civilization.

Three of the storylines were directed by the Wachowski siblings, and three by Tom Tykwer. All of the storylines feature recurring actors (including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugh Grant, Jim Sturgess and Hugo Weaving) in different roles, usually in elaborate (often unconvincing) makeup prosthetics.

Aside from the cross-cutting between wildly different stories and genres, this isn’t nearly as much of a “WTF?” movie as I’d assumed. In fact, most of the storytelling is surprisingly straightforward and conventional. Both of the sci-fi segments were clearly directed by the Wachowskis, and both suffer from moments of ridiculous cheesiness. (Most of the action in “Neo-Seoul” is very videogame-y.)

The makeup is frequently distracting, to the point that I spent more time trying to figure out which actors played which roles than I did paying attention to some of the storylines. Both Hanks and Berry seem miscast in most of their stories. (Berry is only prominent in two of them.) Almost everyone in the cast swaps race and/or gender at some point. If the idea of Hanks in blackface, or Berry playing both a white Jewish woman and an elderly Asian man sounds borderline offensive, by far the worst offense involves Hugo Weaving in drag. That’s not nearly as funny as Tom Tykwer apparently believed.

All of the storylines have at least tangential connections to each other, though some seem more consequential than others. I’m not entirely sure what the point is of a couple of the stories. With all that said, the thematic cross-cutting is sometimes amazingly effective (as I understand it, the original novel had a very different structure), and the nearly three-hour length never drags.

‘Cloud Atlas’ isn’t a perfect film. I don’t think that any of its messages (one person can make a difference, love transcends time, etc.) are nearly as profound as the filmmakers (or the novelist) believe. However, it’s very emotionally engaging, and I think worth seeing.

One thing I found interesting: Most of the stories involve characters who try to better the world, yet the further we progress chronologically into the future, the more it seems that their efforts all fail. The 19th Century character becomes an Abolitionist, but slavery returns a couple centuries later. The reporter stops an intentional nuclear meltdown, but most of the world is eventually destroyed in an apocalypse anyway. History keeps repeating itself, and nothing anyone does seems to have a lasting effect on that. If this was an intentional theme of the novel, I feel that it could have been developed a little more clearly in the movie.

Where do you fall on ‘Cloud Atlas’?

What Did You Think of 'Cloud Atlas'?

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26 comments

  1. Barsoom Bob

    I enjoyed it. It is kind of pop philosphy in the overall themes, which are kind of woozy, but the emotional weight in each story is pretty engaging, some more succesfgul than the others. The editing saves the day. You don’t feel abandoned with each time shift, they seem to compliment each other and instead of stopping and starting they flow together beautifully by the end and keep building momentum. I was surprised when my wife told me it was almost a three hour movie, it did not feel like it was that long.

    The stunt with the make up reminded me of this old movie “The List of Adrian Messenger”. It was a B+W mystery with George C Scott as the detective. After solving the mystery, during the final credits all these different characters reveal themselves. Oh, that was Robert Mitchum, that was Frank Sinatra etc.
    There is a reason for it here in Cloud Atlas, to kind of show our lives and loves echo thru time, but it was fun to watch the final credits and see some of the reveals that you did not pick up on during the movie. Would the movie have been better if they didn’t indulge this trickery and used different actors and tied them together with just the comet birth mark? I honestly don’t know.

  2. I’m one of the many that chose to skip this. I will catch it when it hits home video.

    A little off topic, but how much money have the Wachowskis cost Warners in the past couple of years?

    I suppose with foreign receipts and home video SPEED RACER broke even, but that doesn’t look to be the case with CLOUD ATLAS unless it really takes off overseas (because it will be lucky to make it to $25 million here in the States).

    No, it DOESN’T appear to be that bad of a movie, but I question studioheads who actually thought American audiences would flock to something so esoteric.

    Any bets on whether they’ll be allowed to direct for Warners again? My guess is no. Unless they pitch “MATRIX REBORN”. 🙂

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      Warner only distributes Cloud Atlas in the U.S. They didn’t actually pay for it. The money came from European and Asian sources, and I expect that the movie will do better in those territories than here.

      As much as fans gripe about the Matrix sequels, both were big money makers for Warner. Yes, Speed Racer was (deservedly, IMO) a big flop, and Ninja Assassin (which the Wachowskis produced) was a dud too, but V for Vendetta was a solid hit. I doubt there’s much bad blood between the twins and Warner.

  3. I’m skipping this. Normally I might be interested by the general idea, but with the Wachowski’s involved I’ll wait till rental or even TV. I was never impressed with the Matrix films, even the first one, and I find the Wachowski’s very much style over substance. Some directors/producers can make that work, but their stuff always comes over as very pretentious while actually being quite vapid.

    Mindless fun that knows it’s mindless fun can be great. Mindless fun that’s pretending to be deep and meaningful isn’t.

    Clearly I’m pre-judging, and who knows, I may see the film one day and be blown away, but not today. 😉

  4. EM

    Not having seen the film and being in no hurry to do so, I’m chiming in only to respond to Josh’s comment about Hugo Weaving: Hey, I enjoyed his turn in The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert

  5. William Henley

    I hadn’t even heard of this before yesterday, and to my surprise, as I was going through my collection of e-books, realized I had it on my Kindle. I would read it next, but I have REALLY been wanting to read Dune, and I finally got the e-book to that. However, Cloud Atlas is one book, so I may go ahead and read that before I dive into the Dune universe.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      You really only need to read the first Dune book. The sequels go progressively downhill afterwards. And don’t even touch the bastardized ones written by Frank Herbert’s son.

      • Barsoom Bob

        I kind of think the first three books are important and keep building. They track the consequences of having won the revolution and unleashing a jihad on both a personal level to Paul and on their societies. My favorite scene of all three books is at the conclusion of Children of Dune when Alia’s psyche just fragments in full view of everybody in the throne room.

        • William Henley

          I just read too slow. I am almost done with 2061, then have 3001, THEN I will read Cloud Atlas (so will probably get to that in a month) followed by Dune. And I do have all the books by Frank and Bryan, just need to read them. Then on to Ringworld. Then the John Carter books. Then Spider World. Then I got a few other series to read. I got enough books at the moment to last me about two years, and that is just my Sci-Fi books. I have been dying to get back into The Vampire Chronicles – I made it to about halfway through Queen of the Damned (the third book) before life struch and I read nothing for a while. I really want to go back and read the first two books again before tackling Queen of the Damned again, then there are the other, what, six books, in the Vampire Chronicles I want to read. I got them all – thanks to Half-Price Books, I just need to READ them.

          • EM

            The 2001 series: now, that’s a finer example of steadily diminishing returns. Too bad you read so slow: you’ve got nearly a thousand years’ worth ahead of you!

          • William Henley

            :-p I think my reading speed is controled by how I learned to read and speak. I had a horrible speech impediment as a child, so in kindergarten, they taught us phonetics, both for purposes of reading and to help us with our speech. As such, while I can read just about anything, I tend to read at the same speed that I speak.

      • EM

        As I recall, Dune Messiah felt cheap, like it wasn’t even by the same author. Children of Dune was an improvement. God Emperor of Dune rocked. After that…yecch. But if you read only Dune…that’s fine. It’s like reading several books, anyway (indeed, it tells you that along the way).

        • Barsoom Bob

          Dune Messiah was lighter weight, about half the size of all the other books, both physically and story wise. But it too had a pretty memorable sequence with Paul having his eyes burned out by the stoneburner yet using his prescient vision to direct his troops to safety.

          I also agree about God Emperor of Dune. I liked to see someone make a movie out of that one. Too bad that won’t happen.

          • William Henley

            Dune Messiah and Children of Dune made for great moives. Probably the best made for television movies SciFi – eh, I mean SyFy, ever made. So I am familer with the story at least.

  6. Barsoom Bob

    That IS pretty big news. Do think they will ask Andrew Stanton to direct the new sequels ? LOL

    Who knows , might yield greatness. Batman and Bond have been resurrected from Desolation Row very successfully. Let’s hope Disney doesn’t become the EA of movie studios.

  7. Luek

    I agree, Brad Bird + Star Wars = 5 billion, especially with Giacchino doing the score (lets face it, his the Williams of this generation)

    Andrew Stanton + Star Wars = -300 million I think he’s been brainwashed by Lasseter a little too much hence why John Carter was quite sterile and a little to formulaic for a movie of that genre… but then again Jon Favreu did do Cowboys and Aliens

    • Ian Whitcombe

      You really don’t have any problems with the fact that Giacchino would be doing the music for both the current Star Wars *and* Star Trek films?

    • flskydiver

      Star Wars without John Williams?!

      Show some respect! John Williams’ scores were the only things that didn’t suck about the prequels, and you can’t really blame him if he wasn’t being inspired by the project. ‘Duel of the Fates’ is one of his strongest works ever, and for a legend with a body of work like him, that’s really saying something.