I'd vaguely heard things about a film called Cloud Atlas, something big in scale, and seen a very brief clip with the Bird Of Prey-style ship flying up over the bridge, as shown on the DVD cover. I hadn't even seen the trailer (in hindsight, I think that worked out for the best). Thank goodness I went out on a limb and watched it.
Cloud Atlas follows The Matrix and Inception as a film that redefines everything a film can be. The first time around I loved it. The second time, more. I certainly recommend watching it at least twice; not only will it make more sense, but you will also put together connections you have previously missed, based on things you know will happen later.
You remember how Inception pulled off that clever trick of three chases happening at once, but since the characters were inside nestled dreams, the same characters were experiencing all three chases (rather than just cutting between three unrelated chases)? That gave the film a level of tension and excitement I'd never seen before, as well as having different situations happening at once and all influencing the same group of characters. That's about the closest thing I can compare Cloud Atlas to, except increased by an order of magnitude. A narrative where characters react to the deeds of others across different time periods, at the same time. By each crime, and every kindness, we birth our future.
I have since read the book, which is brilliant. The book is about ideas, while the film is about emotions. Going against all my usual standpoints, I prefer the film.
If you haven't seen it, now might be a good time to stop reading this review. The less you know, the better it will be. If you have seen it, please do read on.
The individual stories are nicely varied, and while some are more interesting than others, they all have their own charm and hold their screentime well. The Pacific Journal Of Adam Ewing I found the least engaging for most of the film, as the character was so repressed, but towards the end this provided the emotional wallop. Sloosha's Crossin' I also sometimes found slow, but its dialogue was utterly infectious, and it now feels an important piece as the heart of the film. Half Lives was nicely done and worked well. The Ghastly Ordeal Of Timothy Cavendish was great fun, it was funny throughout and so satisfying at the end. The Orison Of Sonmi 451 is the most obvious central story for the traditional sci-fi fan, and it has great joy picking on the usual dystopia tropes. It looks absolutely spellbinding, and while the makeup is occasionally a bit iffy, Doona Bae is brilliant. It's also a great deal more upbeat than the book, which somehow still works (though going against traditional dystopian Cyberpunk rules). And then there's Letters From Zedelghem, which, as a composer, was by far my favourite. Robert Frobisher was a truly brilliant character, and the dynamic between he and Vyvyan Ayrs was sublime. Frobisher's dream sequence, stunning in the book and perfectly realised for the film, might just be the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. I'm welling up now just thinking about it.
The tagline for the film was 'Everything Is Connected.' While I dismissed this as the usual Hollywood must-have-a-marketting-slogan gimmick (which it is), it also proves surprisingly true in the film. Watching the understanding dawning on the Archivist's face about Sonmi-451's idea of the afterlife, based on the depth of her love for Hae-Joo Chang, having felt it himself several hundred years earlier as Rufus Sixsmith, is an experience I never thought I'd have. The euphoria that then follows as they cut to the same people embracing in 1849 is overwhelming every time. The finale, cutting between the two time periods as the characters consider the consequences of the decisions they are about to make...
Also, the soundtrack is one of the best I've ever heard. You can often tell that the editing and direction was done around the music, not the other way around.
My girlfriend said the film was amazing, but also that she could never watch it again, as she found it so depressing. I found the opposite; I thought it profoundly optimistic, that every time Hugo Weaving revels in the world being weighted in his favour and how any action to correct such an imbalance would change nothing, he is proven wrong again and again. To me, that was the ultimate hope spot, despite the sacrifices required along the way.
I think you should buy it.