In quoting the legendary Motown singing group The Temptations they insisted ‘…I’m doing fine on Cloud Nine…’ but it is too bad that the cinematic reactions may be mixed when wondering if moviegoers will be feeling the same vibes towards the sprawling yet inexplicably disjointed sci-fi spectacle ‘Cloud Atlas’. Woefully bloated, excessively jumbled and furiously unfocused, ‘Cloud Atlas’ is a deliriously lavish but lackluster production that meanders despite its ambitious, majestic scope.
Clearly, ‘Cloud Atlas’ had the making of a wondrous event-drawing fantasy flourishing with all the crave-worthy components: an A-list casting with a slew of Oscar-winning participants, exquisite set pieces, aura of an escapist yarn enhanced by imaginative visuals and a challenging mind-bending concept. More important, the film is based upon the extensive and dazzling 2004 David Mitchell novel. So why does ‘Cloud Atlas’ come off as a sporadically serviceable and long-winded popcorn pleaser that feels tiresome in its opulent grandeur?
Surely Mitchell’s vibrant tome should have made the movie adaptation feel like an epic with proportional empowerment and zest. Instead, the fuzzy messaging contained in ‘Cloud Atlas’ routinely gets lost within this rousing but reductive broad exposition that aesthetically stimulates. In some ways, audiences might appreciate the revolving themes and playful switching of roles and identities in the name of how humanistic consequences are shaped and formed over an incredible stretch of time. This is certainly a lot to swallow in an over-indulgent whimsical venture searching for its soulful pulse so sluggishly.
Co-directors/producers Tom Tykwer (‘Run, Lola, Run’, ‘Perfume’) and cinema siblings Lana and Andy Wachowski (‘The Matrix’ movie series) attach a complicated jigsaw puzzle together in a collection of eye-opening vignettes where mystical personalities, dated time periods, isolated occurrences and freakish villains (read: shifty leprechauns) all bounce around and are linked by a common platform of surrealism. However, Tykwer and the Wachowskis are never quite capable of mending their meditative mashed potato of a movie into the lyrical tapestry of connectivity and curiosity that they are trying to illustrate so philosophically.
For those familiar with Mitchell’s book interlinking six separate stories covering five centuries from the past to the future, ‘Cloud Atlas’ explores the realm of erratic zones following heralded protagonists (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, etc) as they fit into the skin of various characterizations dictated by the era of their awestruck existences.
The showcasing of multiple bad accents, distinctive gaudy hairpieces and costumes, race and gender trading and historical posturing as compelling and contemplative remains to be seen as far as carrying a creative and contemplative aspect. The references to reincarnation and redemption thrive sparingly as the timeline unravels from its nostalgic 19th century nuances to a post-apocalyptic futuristic scene.
The leaping from one’s sensibility creating a chain reaction for another’s outcome resonates as a high-minded, thought-provoking gimmick. Slave trading is profiled in the Pacific Islands in 1849 with Sturgess’s slave trader at the helm. In 1936, we are introduced to a conflicted composer’s assistant Whishaw in Cambridge, England. We are taken into a 1973 San Francisco, where a crusading investigative reporter Berry uncovers the latest newsworthy crisis. London-based publisher Broadbent is being victimized by his opportunistic sibling regarding his mental and physical faculties. A ‘new’ Seoul in 2144 highlights the self-discovery of Bae’s disenfranchised waitress. New Age Hawaiian tribesman Hanks showing Berry’s researcher the gateway to mankind’s foundation while seeking his own courageousness.
If anything, ‘Cloud Atlas’ is a conglomeration of antidotal cinema-related blueprints that one will recognize immediately. Unfortunately for these transitioning segments that are randomly staged, the viewers may find more meaning in recognizing what part of ‘Cloud Atlas’ they can identify (‘Amistad’ for the slave trading storyline for instance) than the actual plot resembling something as reflective and originally conceived. The motivation for blending these lost souls across time through angst, inspiration, passion, pain, tension and imagination feels relentlessly strained and incomplete.
Somehow the Wachowskis and Tykwer ham-fist these overlong choppy scenes into a pile of pseudo-sentimental cautionary tales that limps along regardless of the lyrical leanings of man’s salvation. ‘Cloud Atlas’ yearns to be spry and spiritual in its massive treatment of the sketchy absorbing material that aims for a cogent consciousness. The noted who’s who of players mean well as they are saddled in this slab of fantasy fertilizer but the pious performances are scattershot and do not seem to gel with the cosmic compass of the movie’s dramatic doldrums.
No doubt that the Wachowski/Tykwer collaborative confection is assembled in a picturesque package and will probably capture the tangy essence of its showy landscape. It is a shame that the forecast for this Cloud-y dramatisation could not have coherently pieced together its pocket of inherent dullness among the intermittent sci-fi splash-and-dash.
Cloud Atlas (Warner Bros.Pictures)
2 hrs. 43 mins.
Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugo Weaving, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Doona Bae, Ben Whisaw, James D’Arcy
Directed by: Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski, and Tom Tykwer
MPAA Rating: R
Genre: Science Fiction/ Fantasy & Adventure/Drama
Critic’s rating: ** stars (out of 4 stars)