A few years back we all had our storytelling senses struck by Inception. Not necessarily a revolution in the structure of the medium, but simply the most clever narrative hook you could think of: Using science to take us through parallel stories of the same characters simultaneously. Clever as it was though, the story itself was still bound by that specific science… Cloud Atlas is bound only by space and time.
This film is the Watchowski’s spiritual successor (or at least as I see it) to The Matrix. If you happen to get a little lost along the way, you may start to feel this surprise intuition as well. Much too heady for the general audience, I hope and expect greater success for this on home release, where word of mouth can continue to propel a film that might forever stand out from the masses, in similar respects to The Matrix, but more so in terms of story rather than in technology.
The Matrix fared better at the box office because of it’s pill-to-fight ratio; enough groundbreaking action sequences utilizing new VFX techniques balanced evenly with so many of those “take the red pill or the blue pill” conversations. If nothing else, it could have been a film that cult sci-fi and action fans uniquely would never forget. But people embraced it together, granting such huge success and leading to the inevitable trilogy.
Cloud Atlas has an awful lot of proverbial pill-talk; it goes pretty far out there with little time to process it all… so it’s ironic that when the film intermittently does slow down to catch it’s breath, it can fall a little flat. Because there’s so much more fun to be had travelling throughout the various stories, depiction of the actual individuals lives’ and conflicts within can’t always compete with the grander concept… as if you know Neo is a part of the matrix but his big dilemma inside of it was saving the whales, an issue that pales in comparison. (However, it is all interwoven masterfully.)
That may be an unfairly vague criticism to share with readers who still don’t have the slightest idea as to what Cloud Atlas is about, but revealing such a fundamental detail here would take away some of the fun and surprise that can come from your first viewing. It’s hard to avoid spoilers for movies nowadays, as even trailers typically reveal too much. This kind of film particularly will benefit from the blank slate approach. I don’t recall ever seeing any trailers or reading a single synopsis and am now quite happy for that.
VERDICT: Loved it, the kind of flick I would enjoy seeing repeatedly. The Matrix was my first DVD and it never collected dust, one that continues influencing me to this day. Add a large helping of fantasy instead of gunpowder and you have the Cloud Atlas formula. So thank you sir, I’ll have another.