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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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Tsangari: With my next film, White Knuckles, it comes with a budget — it’s going to be a huge new world for me. As always when I enter into a new thing, don’t you wonder how it’s going to be and how much of yourself you are going to have to sacrifice? The ballet of all of this. I’m already imaging the choreography — not of the camera, but the choreography of actually bringing it to life. It is as fascinating as the shooting itself. I find the producing as exciting as the directing. The one informs the other. There is this producer-director hat that I constantly wear. I’ve been thinking about these early auteurs, like Howard Hawks and John Ford and Preston Sturges—all of these guys basically were hired by the studio, and I doubt they had final cut, and somehow they had films that now we can say they had their signatures.  There are different ways of being creative within the parameters and limitations of production. The only thing you cannot negotiate is stupidity.
Filmmaker: And unfortunately, there is an abundance of that in the world.
Tsangari: This is the only big risk: stupidity. Everything else is completely worked out in the end.
~ Chevalier‘s Rachel Athina Tsangari

“The middle-range movies that I was doing have largely either stopped being made, or they’ve moved to television, now that television is a go-to medium for directors who can’t get work in theatricals, because there are so few theatricals being made. But also with the new miniseries concept, you can tell a long story in detail without having to cram it all into 90 minutes. You don’t have to cut the characters and take out the secondary people. You can actually put them all on a big canvas. And it is a big canvas, because people have bigger screens now, so there’s no aesthetic difference between the way you shoot a movie and the way you shoot a TV show.

“Which is all for the good. But what’s happened in the interim is that theatrical movies being a spectacle business are now either giant blockbuster movies that run three hours—even superhero movies run three hours, they used to run like 58 minutes!—and the others, which are dysfunctional family independent movies or the slob comedy or the kiddie movie, and those are all low-budget. So the middle ground of movies that were about things, they’re just gone. Or else they’re on HBO. Like the Bryan Cranston LBJ movie, which years ago would’ve been made for theaters.

“You’ve got people like Paul Schrader and Walter Hill who can’t get their movies theatrically distributed because there’s no market for it. So they end up going to VOD, and VOD is a model from which no one makes any money, because most of the time, as soon as they get on the site, they’re pirated. So the whole model of the system right now is completely broken. And whether or not anybody’s going to try to fix, or if it even can be fixed, I don’t know. But it’s certainly not the same business that I got into in the ’70s.”
~ Joe Dante

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