One of my favorite books of the last few years was Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. Another one was David Mitchell's The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which I actually liked better, but that's a different cage match.
So when it was announced that they would make a movie of Cloud Atlas, the friend that so feverishly pressed Cloud Atlas into my hands and I made a date to go see it. I understood why Hollywood would want to get it's hands on this book - each story is steeped in an exciting visual world; A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified “dinery server” on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization.
Who wouldn't want to take a crack at those worlds, the fact that each story has it's own climax that manages to encompass the very best of some kind of genre be it murder mystery, espionage, dark comedy prison break, futuristic sci-fi - makes it even more visually appealing. This book manages to incorporate every single genre in huge muscular and bold storytelling, while at the same time being deft and delicate. There are hints at reincarnation and all the stories are linked by the written or recorded history of the story before it.
It's not as mind-boggling as it seems. It's very cool and beautifully written.
So, I loved the book. I LOATHED the movie.
Eileen read the book and LIKED the movie. So, we're taking it to the cage match.
Here are the things I liked about the movie:
1. Tom Hanks. Honestly, it's hard not to like him. Particularly since he seemed like he was having so much fun.
2. The reincarnation bit was made more clear by the fact that many characters surface and play different parts in all the stories. Makes an appealing case for the idea that there are people we are bound to, no matter what.
3.The visual storytelling of some of these worlds was really satisfying. The sci-fi shoot outs and the 1970's espionage - all very cool.
4. Hugo Weaving is a great bad guy in any time or place...
5. The vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors was BRILLIANT!! It was filmed exactly as it was written and hats off to Hollywood for leaving it alone.
Things I hated:
1. The reincarnation bit got super heavy-handed with a set of star-crossed lovers that really didn't hold up for me. I think if I hadn't read the book, it might have really worked, but having read the book, it stretched things too far.
2. The stories take place in lots of different times and places - one of the big ones is future Korea and with all of the characters playing parts in all the stories they made a choice to make every one look Korean. And then they took the one Korean actress who played many roles and tried to make her look Caucasian in another story. It wasn't just distracting - it was ridiculous and offensive. It seemed like blackface to me, it was so bad. Be bold enough to let the actors just be the actors instead of giving them terrible makeup. This really really bothered me because it just tore me totally out of the story.
3. In standard Hollywood fashion they had to tie up a lot of the loose ends that the book leaves enticingly loose. They had to give Tom Hanks and Halle Berry an ASININE happy ending with them as grandparents. Tom Hanks even urges a kid to "Help old Grampy Up." So so so so so hamhanded. There was also another bookending on another story with the sailor in 1850 coming home to his wife (the Korean actress with terrible makeup) and then defying his father in law regarding a plantation contract. Both of those things were so jarring in their simplicity - it felt like some studio head popped their head in and said "make it happy folks!"
So - I say read the book. Skip the movie. Eileen?