Sunday, August 19, 2012

Cloud Atlas: The Trailer

Big thanks to Pat for pointing me to the incredible five-minute trailer for Cloud Atlas. Yup, that's right: it's a movie, and its release is imminent! (The trailer's available in HD, and if your connection supports it I suggest bumping it up to 720p, which looks particularly gorgeous.) The official movie site also has a short clip of the three (!) directors talking about the project.

The movie has quite a pedigree. It comes with some A-list Hollywood talent, including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, and more. It was directed by Tom Tykwer (who made the amazing Run Lola Run) and the Wachowskis (who I guess are now the Wachowski Siblings?). It was entirely funded by German sources, and mostly shot in Berlin, but should get wide distribution in the States through Warner Brothers. Between the director's commentary and a short interview with Mitchell I just read, I'm getting a better feel for just how a theatrical adaptation could possibly work. I'll be honest: when I first heard there was going to be a movie, my immediate reaction was, "This book is impossible to adapt into a movie!"

After watching the trailer, I generated a few opinions! These are slightly spoilery for both the movie and the book, so let's discuss under


I'll start out with what I don't like: the one part of the (long!) trailer that I have an immediate negative reaction to is the scene where Jim Broadbent's Ayrs talks about recognizing the music from a dream, and describing Sonmi-451's plight in the future. Ugh. I don't want to say anything too dramatic, like "that completely destroys the integrity of the story," but.... well, it takes one of the things I loved most about Mitchell's work and utterly breaks it. As amazing as Cloud Atlas is, there's really nothing supernatural about it. Stories only link backwards in time, to events that were written in the past. There's perhaps some literary foreshadowing between stories, but nothing directly predicted or observed forward in time. Having a character peer forward in time makes the whole tale fantastic, unreal, and thus not applicable to our lives.

Other than that,
I really liked what I saw, and even the things that I initially disapproved of I later came around to. For example, I was pretty bummed when I first watched the trailer when a voice said, "I just met her, and I've fallen in love with Luisa Rey." A big part of why Luisa's story is so enjoyable is because she isn't a love interest: she's a strong, smart, determined, independent and very single woman who gets things done with only occasional help from others. But, the second time I watched the trailer, I realized that the voiceover was coming from a man sitting on a plane, so then I was like, "Aww, yeah! That's AWESOME!" I know exactly how that scene will play out in the theater, and it will be great.

There was almost no dialog at all from the Hawaii scenes of the movie, so I'm left wondering whether they'll attempt to replicate Mitchell's language here. I think the Nea So Corps part would be pretty reasonable dialog as-is; the spelling changes won't be audible on-screen, the vocabulary fits within the kind of changes we expect a sci-fi movie to have, and the grammatic structure is pretty much the same as what we have today. It'll be very brave of them to have Zachry speak in his "real" tongue, but I'll understand if they think they need to tone it down. (The only line I heard from Tom Hanks in here was "If you fall, I'll catch you," which seems to be standard English, but is also purely monosyllabic and thus might qualify as future-speak.)

I still can't tell who Hugo Weaving or Hugh Grant are playing, even after watching the trailer twice. I guess I'm bad at spotting actors.

I'm very curious to see just how they structure the movie. When I'd first heard that they were making a movie, I'd assumed that they'd keep the book's structure, so we'd almost be watching a series of short films. They could do that, and I think it would be pretty effective and might make the story a bit easier to follow. But, after watching the trailer, I'm now wondering if they'll try and intercut the stories together. That would be much harder and more ambitious, but could lead to some really cool synergies and resonances across stories. I think Mitchell's right when he talks about how the movie needs to be more than just an "audiobook with visuals," and there's no reason that the directors need to keep the book's structure in their own vision. (Thinking about this reminded me of my experience watching the movie version of The Two Towers. At the time, I was actually disappointed that Jackson had intercut the three stories in the movie: Aragorn/Legolas/Gimli, Merry/Pippin, and Frodo/Sam. My biggest regret was that this removes the wonderful surprise in the book where Aragorn discovers the hobbits at Isengard; I remember being so shocked and delighted when I'd read this as a kid. Similarly, intercutting the stories of Return of the King removes the dramatic import of the red herring presented when the Mouth of Sauron displays Frodo's mithril shirt. In hindsight, though, I recognize that Jackson absolutely made the right decisions here. Movies just don't work the same way that books do, and it would have been painful to divide each movie in half.)

I was initially bummed that I'd missed out on the reincarnation aspect of the story. "Way to go, Chris! Yet another thing you completely missed when you read the book!" Reading Mitchell's comments made me feel much better, though... it sounds like it's more of an implicit, subtle suggestion in the book that the filmmakers decided to turn into a larger theme in the movie. Which makes total sense, and is a great argument for the multiple casting they do. Still, I'll need to keep my eyes open for that whenever I re-read the book; the only stuff I remember is Zachry's specific comments about his tribe's beliefs in reincarnation, and I don't remember any other linkages in the middle sections of the book. (Middle chronologically. Not literally. This book is complicated!)

Everything in the trailer looks really, really good. The shots of the ship in the sea look great. The sci-fi special effects are really impressive; I'd been worried that a German company wouldn't have the kind of deep pockets that Americans have for effects budgets, but it looks like they pulled it off. The make-up is obviously a huge part of a movie with multiple casting. And all the interiors seem really intricate and authentic and well-crafted.

I'm curious if we'll learn exactly how the directors collaborated on this. Personally, I think it would be great if each director had total control over two of the time periods. That way you'd get a unique visual stamp on each of the stories. I doubt that that Wachowskis split up, though, so either it was 3/3 or they directly collaborated.

Speaking of which, I am impressed that they kept all six stories in here, and specifically that they didn't cut the Timothy Cavendish parts, which are probably the least exciting (though still good) sections of the novel.

Oh, yeah, one other thing I'm a little bummed about: it looks like they might have filmed a scene where Sonmi-451 escapes from captivity. I think that for her story to work effectively, particularly in relation to Zachry's story, she needs to suffer the book's outcome. I'm just reacting to a two-second clip of someone pulling a pistol, though, so I'll cheerfully reserve judgment until I see the movie.


I feel inordinately proud of myself for recognizing every single scene in that entire preview. Well, proud, and optimistic. It looks like they're putting their own stamp on the story while simultaneously remaining mostly faithful to the original story: they're keeping all the major stuff in there, and not introducing new characters or plots. It still could suck, but I like 90% of what I've seen so far, and have high hopes for the film.


  1. Check page 80 of your copy of Cloud Atlas. Ayrs recounts the dream about the nightmarish cafe where the waitresses all have the same face.

  2. Holy cow, you're right! Page 79 in my edition here. I've only read the novel once and hadn't made that connection. I stand cheerfully corrected.

    Man, now I want to re-read it and see what other links I might have missed...