Can genre-bust­ing Cloud At­las sur­vive move to big screen?

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By David Ger­main

LOS ANGELES — Su­san Saran­don re­ported for work on Cloud At­las mid­way through the shoot, in time to see a col­lec­tion of far-flung film scenes that the cast and crew were view­ing.

There were bits of a 19th-cen­tury sea voy­age, a 1930s pe­riod drama, a 1970s thriller, a con­tem­po­rary comic ad­ven­ture, a 22nd-cen­tury tale of re­bel­lion and a 24th-cen­tury postapoc­a­lyp­tic saga.

“I just thought, my God, this looks like the trailer for ev­ery film a stu­dio is do­ing for the en­tire sea­son,” Saran­don re­called.

Yet it was just one film: Cloud At­las, an epic of shift­ing gen­res and in­ter­sect­ing souls that fea­tures Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broad­bent, Hugh Grant, Hugo Weav­ing, Ben Whishaw, Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy, Doona Bae, Keith David, Saran­don and oth­ers in mul­ti­ple roles span­ning cen­turies.

That di­verse cast is a great sell­ing point for dis­trib­u­tor Warner Bros., which opens Cloud At­las in Win­nipeg next Fri­day. So, too, is the film­mak­ing team: Amer­i­can sib­lings Lana and Andy Wa­chowski, creators of The Ma­trix films, who wrote the screen­play and di­rected Cloud At­las with Ger­man film­maker Tom Tyk­wer ( Run Lola Run).

The fact that the film is adapted from a best­selling novel also should help its au­di­ence ap­peal. Yet con­sid­er­ing that Cloud At­las au­thor David Mitchell him­self once felt the novel was un­filmable, fans of the book may have se­ri­ous doubts about hand­ing over their cash and spend­ing nearly three hours in a the­atre to di­gest Hol­ly­wood’s ver­sion.

It’s such a tough sell that even the no­to­ri­ously me­dia-shy Wa­chowskis, who had a no-press clause on ear­lier films, are out there eagerly hawk­ing Cloud At­las.

“It’s dear to us, and that’s def­i­nitely part of it. Our part­ner­ship with Tom, our mar­riage with Tom, that’s def­i­nitely a part of it. Tom en­gages with the press and has shown us, taught us some tricks that have made it a lit­tle eas­ier for us to get back in­volved,” said Andy Wa­chowski in an in­ter­view along­side his sis­ter, who is trans­gen­der and changed her name from Larry to Lana, and their long­time pal Tyk­wer.

With mixed but gen­er­ally ap­pre­cia- tive early re­views — some crit­ics rev­el­ling in its au­dac­ity and even de­trac­tors ad­mir­ing its am­bi­tion — Cloud At­las al­ready is an artis­tic suc­cess sim­ply by ex­ist­ing, given its un­likely path to the screen.

The Wa­chowskis dis­cov­ered the book from Natalie Port­man, who was read­ing Cloud At­las on the set of their 2006 thriller V for Ven­detta. The sib­lings rec­om­mended the novel to Tyk­wer, and the three spent years over­com­ing cre­ative and com­mer­cial ob­sta­cles to adapt it for film.

The US$100 mil­lion bud­get was pieced to­gether from a va­ri­ety of in­ter­na­tional fi­nanciers and dis­trib­u­tors; Warner Bros. ac­quired U.S. rights but de­clined to fi­nance the film, de­spite the stu­dio’s suc­cess with the Wa­chowskis’ Ma­trix tril­ogy.

Then there were the chal­lenges of con­dens­ing dozens of key char­ac­ters in six sto­ries that span the globe and sprawl across 500 years as souls are rein­car­nated and progress through the ages.

“The book seemed al­most like a rev­o­lu­tion­ary act in and of it­self,” Lana Wa­chowski said. “David has said since that they did have trou­ble with, do you put it in sci­ence fic­tion, do you put it in drama? Where do you put it on the shelf in the book­store?”

The way they cracked the code was, in a word au­thor Mitchell tosses about re­peat­edly, in­ge­nious. The same ac­tors would play char­ac­ters in dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods, some­times switch­ing race and gen­der, as each soul moves up­ward, down­ward or side­ways on the karmic plane.

“The book is un­filmable, but they haven’t quite adapted the book,” Mitchell said. “They sort of disas­sem­bled the book and re­assem­bled it in the form of a filmable film by hav­ing ac­tors re­cur­ring, and im­ply­ing there­fore it’s the same soul on this sort of eth­i­cal jour­ney — or, no pun in­tended, a ma­trix of eth­i­cal jour­neys.”

So Hanks is a ra­pa­cious doc­tor in 1849, a mur­der­ous thug with artis­tic pre­ten­sions in 2012, a cow­ardly goatherd inch­ing to­ward en­light­en­ment in the 24th cen­tury. Berry is a white Jewish adul­ter­ess in the 1930s, a gutsy jour­nal­ist in the 1970s, an Asian med­i­cal man in the 22nd cen­tury and part of an elite race of sur­vivors in the 24th.

The film’s pro­logue is an as­sault of im­ages and char­ac­ters in­tro­duc­ing six dif­fer­ent time pe­ri­ods and sto­ries, with Cloud At­las then set­tling into a kalei­do­scope that shifts from era to era, de­con­struct­ing the chrono­log­i­cal struc­ture of the half-dozen nar­ra­tives in Mitchell’s novel.

“There are go­ing to be peo­ple out there who are go­ing to say, ‘Who do they think they are to make this movie like this?’ That’s been the case with ev­ery great film,” Hanks said.


Saran­don: ‘Looks like a trailer for ev­ery film a stu­dio is do­ing for the en­tire sea­son.’


Tom Hanks and Halle Berry in Cloud At­las.

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