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[personal profile] jencat
See, it's barely even worth writing about Cloud Atlas, if only because the only thing you can say relates to how it made you feel. And it either makes you feel, or it makes you feel like you can't believe you just wasted the last three hours sitting though such a monumental dose of batshit crazy. I will say I've happily sat through it twice and wasn't bored for a minute. In a three+ hour film, that's kind of incredible. It's also a film that I can't actually recommend to a single person I know in good conscience, because seriously, who else has my kind of tolerance for massive amounts of doomed romance (and this adaptation is crazy about the romances), shedloads of gore and Matrix-level action SF. The Cavendish and Luisa Rey parts are pretty easy to sell, but the rest of it... True-true, as the Hawaii sequence would have it. I kind of want to see it again.

I am finally back in awe of the Wachowskis, and I really haven't said that since, er, the original Matrix. I also haven't sat through a Tom Twyker film since The Princess and the Warrior, but the minute you watch Cloud Atlas, it all suddenly makes sense: what an utterly freaking perfect team for the job. It's absurd trying to rehash it - mostly it's the book plots evened out and smoothed down and - dare I say it - improved in a couple of cases. I certainly wasn't nearly as moved by the Cavendish & Frobisher segments in their original version, but they were half the heart of the story here. Cavendish was suddenly hilarious, and the Frobisher section was suddenly heartrending, and beautiful.

As for Soonmi - it's suddenly up there as the perfect combination of doomed romance and blindingly good SF action. With Jim Sturgess as an almost-convincing action star (that.. I did not see coming. He's not exactly Keanu, but he's not half-bad under all the prosthetics. In fact, all he has to do is mostly look all noble and tortured every time Soonmi has a revelation and it pretty much wins me over). I remember loving the Neo Seoul sequence before, because the book version is basically a homage to The Handmaid's Tale, but with clones and consumerism instead of fundamentalism - but like the Atwood, it's riddled with unreliable narration and a nasty aftertaste of a conspiracy that makes Soonmi even more tragic. I did love the costumes and the ceremonies - all red and white gowns, very Handmaid's Tale after all. Twisting it into a simpler action romance (squishing all Soonmi's education into a montage that takes place over an inderminately shorter time with a couple of quick & violent escapes rather than have her hide out in a university for a while, followed by a slow, tense roadtrip) is actually inspired. It's still tragic within its own narrative, but the entire point of the stories is that weaving all the strands together negates the tragedy, as it never really ends (and it's the 'love survives' theme that has the resonance).

Adding in the cliches oddly gives it more resonance in the simplicity - realistically there's not a lot of room for complex narrative in the half hour each segment gets. Also, it's now utterly adorable and heartbreaking - I'd say it's fluffier, but hell, everybody still dies, so not so much. It's vastly more romantic and touching - with the emphasis that it's necessarily a different type of story now rather than labelling either one better or worse. For all the gore and trauma that's still involved, the film isn't interested in being as dark and sharp-edged as the book. It's much more emotionally invested in the kindnesses than than the crimes, as it were.

The make-up... Well. It doesn't look realistic, I get that. Doona Bae doesn't look white in the Pacific sequence any more than Jim Sturgess looks Korean in the Neo-Seoul sequence, but it's probably more significant that the intention obviously isn't to be offensive or insensitive. If it ends up being interpreted as insensitive despite that... well, fair enough. I could see a lot more of a problem in casting mostly Chinese actresses in the Memoirs of a Geisha adaptation, because that wasn't taking into account any context at all (aside from that there were more Chinese actresses famous in the Western market than there are Japanese, but, meh.).

One pleasant surprise was that I had no idea it was going to be such ridiculous fun. Part of it is the sheer absurdity of it - lots of that is the casting and the prosthetics and the playing Guess Who under all the make-up.  Part of it is the absolute delight in playing genres that comes across (which was what David Mitchell did so well in the book), and yet some of it is the obvious result of the cast having a total blast playing make-believe far more so than you'd usually be allowed to get away with.  And part of that is the shortness of each section - you can get away with Tom Hanks being a supremely dreadful Irish gangster author because he only gets about three minutes of screen time to f-up the accent, most of which you spend cackling in disbelief. Ditto Hugh Grant under a fantastic range of ugly latex - elderly Hugh! Tattooed Cannibal Hugh!

Halle Berry, surprisingly enough, is fantastic as Luisa Rey - the sensibility of that whole segment is so carefully done to catch the cliche of 70s San Francisco and of the conspiracy thriller and she gels the whole thing together.  The emotional edge is pretty much borrowed from the Frobisher segment - which makes sense because the birthmark belongs to Frobisher, and to Luisa (and to Adam, and Cavendish, and Somni, and Zachry - where it was Meronym in the book). So Frobisher's music and his lover meant something to her; just as Adam's journal meant something to Frobisher, and Cavendish's story to Somni (and Somni herself to everyone in the entire bloody world apparently, let alone Zachry).  But then you also have Frobisher's music resonating with Ben Whishaw's character in the Rey segment - even if he obviously isn't Frobisher again this time.

The matching up itself (be it connecting souls or romantic pairings) isn't quite as in-your-face as it could be, because it takes so bloody long for your brain to actually identify everyone involved, but part of the fun is puzzling it all out (yes, you can go and bloody look it up on Wiki, but that's just cheating).  Obviously, you have the actors matching up for Ha-Joon & Somni, and Adam & Tilda - plus Halle and Tom seem to be destined to be, whether it's a lingering glance in the Cavendish segment, Isaac choosing to help Luisa or Zachry and Meronym (who weren't doomed at all, yay!). Zachry is also a lot older than in the book, and Meronym a lot younger. As soon as you start looking for connections that aren't even there  - Jim Sturgess and Doona Bae also seem to crop up as a couple in Sexsmith's photo in the Rey segment, which was quite cute. Although I then got confused by the lengths they went to to fit that in, and thought she was playing his wife in the Hawaii sequence as well, except that was Zhou Xun. Then my brain melted.


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Jennifer Howell

July 2015

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