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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt Pratt@moviecitynews.com

DVD Geek: Cloud Atlas

Every once in a while, somebody makes a really great movie that doesn’t become popular right away, but gradually becomes more popular than most of the other movies of its time.  Blade Runner comes to mind as an obvious example, and then there was the granddaddy of them all, Intolerance.  Well, Cloud Atlas will surely find its way into that group in a few years.  The film is just flat out too sophisticated for mass audiences to tolerate—heck, a lot of it is in two different forms of ‘future English,’ neither of which is translated—but if there is any justice in the halls of moviedom, popularity and obsession for Cloud Atlas will gradually spread across generations and across the globe now that Warner Home Video has issued the 2012 production on a Blu-ray + DVD + Ultraviolet Combo Pack.

Directed by the Wachowski siblings Lana and Andy, and by Tom Tykwer, the film, like Intolerance, is broken into different stories set in different eras, with dazzling editing that jumps from story to story like fingers sweeping down the keys of a piano.  The prominent cast members have multiple roles, figuring centrally in some stories and peripherally in others.  Tom Hanks is top billed, and his performances are no stunt—he’s really, really good in each of his highly varied manifestations.  Halle Berry, James Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae also have central roles, with Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun and Hugh Grant appearing multiple times, as well.  The stories carry a common theme of freedom, with the ironic corollary that in order to be free, each individual is dependent upon others to achieve or sustain that freedom, and they are given a spiritual link through the shared cast, and through repeated quirks—some of the characters have the same distinctive birthmark, or pass objects and ideas along down the years.  One story is deliberately comedic, and two of them have elaborate special effects, including one that is, in a good way, a cross between Blade Runner and Soylent Green.  Running a grand 172 minutes, the film is dazzling and intelligent, and is never tedious or introspective.  It will take multiple viewings before people begin to recognize how elaborate its breakdown of religion is—how events that happen hundreds of years earlier change in the telling across the centuries while retaining the essence of their truth as an unmutable core—and just how plain satisfying its storytelling is as it whips you along from one situation to the next.  It is a thrilling movie, and is easily the best theatrical feature to come out of 2012, not only for its unrestrained entertainment, but for the boundaries it breaks as it advances the art of filmmaking.

The picture is letterboxed with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1.  The image quality is finely detailed, and the temptation to freeze frame after frame is difficult to resist.  The DTS sound has a full dimensionality and engaging directional effects.  There are French and Spanish audio tracks in 5.1 Dolby Digital, English, French and Spanish subtitles, and 55 minutes of excellent promotional featurettes that jump between clips from the film, a few behind-the-scenes shots and a group interview with the directors and novelist David Mitchell, in which they share many valuable insights about the movie and reveal details that would otherwise be missed, even after a dozen viewings.  The DVD included in the set has 5.1-Dolby sound that is not as enveloping or enrapturing as the BD’s DTS track.  The other language options are the same as the BD, and there is one of the featurettes, running a total of 7 minutes.

One Response to “DVD Geek: Cloud Atlas”

  1. Eric M. Van says:

    Glad to see a review that gets it (and makes the same Blade Runner comp that I’ve been making — I saw both films the day they opened).

    I suspect that it will, however, remain a film that many viewers will find challenging, for the simple reason that many brains are not wired to consume six intercut stories while retaining the emotional charge of each, while effortlessly making the connections among them. I’ve actually verified that hypothesis with a personality survey I constructed and linked to at IMDB. Meyers-Briggs “Intuitive” types (whose brains default to perceiving connections among information, according to me a lowest-level cognitive trait) rated the movie significantly higher, and this was also true for a question about attentional lability (being prone to stop what you’re doing in the middle and start doing something else that seemed more interesting) that combined two additional traits from my own personality theory. (Details about all of this should be at my blog Real Soon Now.)

    Nevertheless, for certain brains it’s some kind of masterpiece. I’ve seen it twice in the theater and once at home, and the friends I showed it to can’t wait to see it again. It’s gotten richer and more emotionally satisfying each time. The conclusion of the interview between the Archivist and Sonmi is among my handful of favorite movie moments ever.

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The Ultimate DVD Geek

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You worked as second AD on Jerry Lewis’ The Day the Clown Cried,  about a clown entertaining Jewish children in a WW II concentration camp. 
Yes, and I never saw the film. I was just the second assistant and it was an incredible fairytale for me, to work with Jerry Lewis. Jerry Lewis, along with Louis de Funes—who, by the way, had a very similar career to Jerry Lewis. He was a huge comic in France, but never, ever until now, 20 years after his death, recognized as a great actor. But they both made me laugh as a child. Jerry Lewis did everything: he did stand-up. He could act. He could sing and dance. He’s a photographer. He’s a director. And his films, when you look at them, are extremely daring and inventive. So he was someone that I wanted to emulate, in a way. The cinematographer of the film, Edmond Richard, who had shot a film I worked on directed by Rene Clement, called Hope to Die, with Jean-Louis Trintignant, Aldo Ray and Robert Ryan. It was like I had been invited to the court of Queen Elizabeth. It felt like a real achievement. I tried to work as hard as possible, and be very speedy. Like the weather, you don’t wait for somebody to ask. The moment the director says “I would like to have a…” you know what needs and get it for him. The greatest moment on that set for me was, one day Jerry Lewis got really upset with his crew, and went off on them, saying “You’re all too lazy. You don’t work hard enough. There’s only one guy who understands!” And he pointed to me. I only worked on the film for 15 days, at the circus in Paris. I never heard a thing about it after. I knew it was bogged down in lawsuits after it was finished, but it was an important moment in my professional life. I worked with a lot of amazing people before I directed my first film. I was an assistant director for twelve years. It was a great training ground, watching those masters work. I have many great memories. I started making films very late, you know.”
~ Jean-Jacques Beineix

“A shot is a story. A shot on its own should be a piece of a story. Which is why I talk a lot about watching films, even the films we’re working on, with the sound off. Just to analyze how the film works, because a film should work for an audience without any sound. The biggest problem I see is that someone may have a superficial understanding of what a shot is propositionally, but they don’t have an understanding of how all of these shots are part of a family that needs to connect, and so you’ll get something that’s like a sentence arranged poorly with six nouns in a row. That surprises me, because I think that’s something that can be learned. Some things can’t be, but that can. It’s a grammar. In a classroom I could walk somebody through the difference between a sequence in which the filmmaker has a deep understanding of how images connect, and someone who doesn’t. It’s not really an intellectual process. Some people are just born with it and are just sort of savants at that deep mathematical understanding of shot construction.  I’m better than I used to be, but there are some people I’m just never going to catch. Spielberg. His staging ability. I’m never going to catch him. But when you’re trying to figure out how to get better—I’m not competitive in the sense of looking around at other filmmakers and comparing myself to them. What I do have to think about in trying to navigate myself through a career is: what can I get better at, and what do I have that I can enhance that somebody else doesn’t have?”
~ Steven Soderbergh