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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 core fear is what can happen to you, personally. Your body. That’s what horror films deal with, precisely. We are a very thin skin wrapped around a pumping heart and guts. At any given moment it can come down to that, be it diseases, or somebody’s assault, or war, or a car wreck. You could be reduced to the simple laws of physics and your body’s vulnerability. The edged weapon is the penultimate weapon to disclose that reality to you.”
~ Wes Craven, 1996, promoting Scream

MAMET
Well, that, to me, is always the trick of dramaturgy; theoretically, perfectly, what one wants to do is put the protagonist and the audience in exactly the same position. The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.

INTERVIEWER
Does this explain why your plays have so little exposition?

MAMET
Yes. People only speak to get something. If I say, Let me tell you a few things about myself, already your defenses go up; you go, Look, I wonder what he wants from me, because no one ever speaks except to obtain an objective. That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective… The question is where does the dramatist have to lead you? Answer: the place where he or she thinks the audience needs to be led. But what does the character think? Does the character need to convey that information? If the answer is no, then you’d better cut it out, because you aren’t putting the audience in the same position with the protagonist. You’re saying, in effect, Let’s stop the play. That’s what the narration is doing—stopping the play… It’s action, as Aristotle said. That’s all that it is—exactly what the person does. It’s not what they “think,” because we don’t know what they think. It’s not what they say. It’s what they do, what they’re physically trying to accomplish on the stage. Which is exactly the same way we understand a person’s character in life—not by what they say, but by what they do. Say someone came up to you and said, I’m glad to be your neighbor because I’m a very honest man. That’s my character. I’m honest, I like to do things, I’m forthright, I like to be clear about everything, I like to be concise. Well, you really don’t know anything about that guy’s character. Or the person is onstage, and the playwright has him or her make those same claims in several subtle or not-so-subtle ways, the audience will say, Oh yes, I understand their character now; now I understand that they are a character. But in fact you don’t understand anything. You just understand that they’re jabbering to try to convince you of something.
~ David Mamet

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