Saturday, October 27, 2012

Cloud Atlas ★★

It's All Relative 

Written by Matt Giles
Edited by Erin Accomando

Some of the best science fiction is not without its flaws. Star Trek had its fair share of bad episodes ("Spock's Brain", anyone?) and bad movies (Star Trek V: The Final Frontier), as did The X-Files, Battlestar Galactica, and yes, Lost. Despite these missed opportunities, we remember these shows fondly (some more than others) and embrace the ideas and unique style that each of these shows added to the genre. The same cannot be said for Cloud Atlas, the epic science fiction odyssey rife with ideas and riddled with missed opportunities.

To understand the film, it's best to understand how it views time. It is not linear, as we all believe, but rather, vertical, or as I like to see it, circular. In other words, events that happened in our past and future are occurring parallel to what is happening now. The directors of the film, Lana & Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, weave six stories together all at once to show us that all of these separate events are happening simultaneously, with each of the characters' choices impacting their past and future. The key players in each of these stories are the ones who have a birthmark resembling a comet, as they are the ones whose actions will dictate whether the next one hundred years will be peaceful or erupt in chaos.

The actors playing different characters in each story include Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant, all of whom do great work despite the execution on the part of the directors. The makeup and some of the accents (especially in futuristic story that features Hanks and Berry prominently) are too distracting, so much so that you begin to wonder if The Wachowskis and Tykwer didn't have enough faith in the abilities of the actors. I get it, reincarnation means sometimes the same soul inhabits a body looking entirely different than the prior body, but honestly, a cast like this deserves better.

For a film as grand as Cloud Atlas, the directors seem hard-pressed to find content that adequately fills the time. For much its three-hours the directors stretch each story (which could have been about ten to twenty minutes a piece) at the expense of the film. The cutting from one story to the next becomes jarring, taking the viewer out of the experience. It doesn't work, nor does the film need to be as long as it is. 

If you want a great movie that deals with life, death, time, space, and reincarnation, see 2001: A Space Odyssey. If you want a more Earthbound version of those ideas, see The Tree of Life. If you want a film that has many actors you love doing their best to elevate material unworthy of their talents, Cloud Atlas fits that description. But if you desire truly great science fiction, crack open a beer and watch some old Star Trek episodes. Even the bad ones are better than Cloud Atlas

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