And so it seems that the time of "unfilmable books" turning into films continues. After the huge success of Life Of Pi we now have another piece of monumental movie making mountaineering to climb. This time however it was not the technology holding things back like Lee faced with bringing a Bengal tiger to life in the confined space of a drifting lifeboat, but of the multi-layered and many plot lines of the source novel itself.
The team that brought the now immortal line of "I know kung fu," were not the people that would easily spring to mind to be able to handle such a time-spanning and worldly-hopping experience such as those that unfold during the many centuries of Cloud Atlas but attempt it they did.
And succeed they have.
Along with Tom Tykwer - the man responsible behind the almost equally multi-layered plotting of Run, Lola Run, The Wachowski's and he have both adapted David Mitchell's novel for the screen and then, just to add to their plate, directed it too. This is by no means an easy task. There are 6 different stories that take place all in different time zones, different locations, different dialects and, spoiler alert, different planets entirely.
To do this, the trio have taken the source novel and its framing and, although nodding to whilst keeping true to it, have opted for a more novel but satisfying cinematic approach to the stories and their inter-connectedness. This doesn't mean that they have made it an easier experience for those who do not wish to or who are not used to having their films demand things from them such as attention, retention and suspension. Some may not like the idea of "souls" moving through time and continuing their journey towards their respective goals - continuously "meeting again and again in different lives and different ages,"- but to help the viewer make this connection, the trio have devised a plan.
And a rather cunning one it is at that! The central actors all play different parts in all of the six stories that weave across the silver screen, however, they are not the same characters. Some are not even the same gender. This gives way to a nice little side line during the films just-shy-of three hours running time - spot the Tom Hanks/Halle Berry/Jim Broadbent/Hugo Weaving/Jim Sturgess/Doona Bae/Ben Whishaw in all of the six stories. They are all there, even in the background, so if you feel the time-jumping, soul-swapping stances of the film itself are slipping away from you, you could always play the Where's The Actor until the end credits reveal them to you.
The actors themselves seem to have a great time, revelling in the different types of challenges that their characters face in the seemingly different styles of genre film-making presented - a futuristic The Handmaidens' Tale-esque world which is the closest to The Wachowski's The Matrix where all is not what it seems and revelations of The One who is to open every ones eyes to the truth; a 1970's conspiracy thriller of Watergate proportions; a 1930's tale of forbidden love and doomed souls due to society and its constraints - all these and the others are presented together yet very much apart.
The key to this is the editing of the film itself and of the six plots. A significant reveal or image on one story quickly cuts to another with that point carried over thus helping you to not only make the connection but to keep it and then keep track of it when the next jump takes place, whether it be on a ship in the 1800's or on a hover-bike in the far-flung future. This type of confidence in their work and in the capacity of the viewer to not only to connect but to enjoy is both brave and rewarding for all involved. The only big leap of faith that the trio have taken is with the dialogue - in particular the dialect that bookends the film. The story of a world where the earth is inhabited by the peaceful tribes of Tom Hanks and the cannibalistic tribes of Hugh Grant has its own futuristic language which is at times hard to follow and can create a distance between the viewer and events, but overall the message does break through that barrier and balance is easily restored.
A film that shows that when given the chance, The Wachowski's along with Tykwer can deliver a complex story and not let it get crushed under its own message - part two and three of The Matrix trilogy to be exact. All whilst utilising effects to help rather than hinder the overall experience, Cloud Atlas is a brave piece of movie-making and one that is well worth the time and effort that it asks of you.
UK release date: 22.02.13