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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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“We’ve talked about this before in the past, my obsession with the Shakespearean histories having the ideal combination of the sweet and the sour. In ‘Henry IV, Part II’ which we’ve discussed before, in the end of that story it’s very complex and haunting because Prince Hal becomes Henry the King, and he has transcended his hoodlum days and at the ceremony is Falstaff, his good friend with whom he has really fucked around and been a loser with, and Falstaff comes up to him and says, ‘Now that you’re king we can really party,’ and the king famously says, ‘I know thee not, old man.’ It becomes Henry IV’s anointment and Falstaff’s catastrophe. That’s life. I have experienced very little unfettered triumph. There are moments, such as when my children are born, but even that comes with new fears and anxieties. In a sense the better you can communicate that life is both at once, the more powerful over time something becomes. One strives for something where the threads are there because it lasts in way that is very palpable. The idea of a tragedy is powerful in literature and theater, but in cinema it doesn’t work, certainly not commercially, and less so critically. Why is that? I think it has to do with how movies are so close to us.”
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“Hollywood executives can rattle off the rules for getting a movie approved by Chinese censors: no sex (too unseemly); no ghosts (too spiritual). Among 10 prohibited plot elements are “disrupts the social order” and “jeopardizes social morality.” Time travel is frowned upon because of its premise that individuals can change history. U.S. filmmakers sometimes anticipate Chinese censors and alter movies before their release. The Oscar-winning alien-invasion drama “Arrival” was edited to make a Chinese general appear less antagonistic before the film’s debut in China this year. For “Passengers,” the space adventure starring Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence, a scene showing Mr. Pratt’s bare backside was removed, and a scene of Mr. Pratt chatting in Mandarin with a robot bartender was added.”
~ “Hollywood’s New Script”