Cloud Atlas (Blu-ray Review)

Cloud AtlasEver see something so confusing that looks so mind-bending that you just had to see it with your own eyes despite what your better judgment and gut told you?  Well, that’s exactly how I felt about Cloud Atlas and its many bizarre, but very bold and ambitious trailers out there.  Much like the story within Life of Pi and the pursuit of whether there’s a God or not, going into Cloud Atlas I had hoped all my questions and curiosity on the subject matter of what’s beyond this life would be answered.  After all, that’s what the movie was about, or is it?  Wait!  Hold on.  Are you telling me you don’t know what Cloud Atlas is about or what to expect?  How could you?  Well anyway, welcome to the club.  That’s what we’re here to talk about today and if I go off on a tangent please forgive me as I just got done watching a time/globe spanning near 3-hour amazing, high concept journey so I’m a little taken aback right now to say the least.  Come on. We have a long and winding path to embark upon here in this review.  We best be moving along with little to no haste.

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Quite honestly, I can’t believe what I have just seen.  It has left me flabbergasted to say the least and I’m not sure quite where to begin other than the obvious structure I usually adhere to within my reviews.  It kind of feels like I should take a day to let it all seep in and digest the content I just got done viewing, and if time permits, perhaps another viewing this week to “really” sit back and take it all in.   However I proceed, please make a note that this is not one of those film you simply watch once and forget about.  This one beckons you, haunts your world and begs to be watched again.   And trust me, these symptoms I just mentioned happen immediately after your first viewing so be prepared.   Don’t plan on watching this in installment and/or chunks.  Carve out three hours from your busy schedule and devote yourself to this one.  It’s calling you.   You hear it?   The wind of change is upon us.  Now’s the time to rise up and act upon it.  Confusing, huh?  Baby, you ain’t seen nothing yet.   I promise.

So lets get the formalities out of the way real quick so I can truly blow your mind.   What say you?  Let’s see, where do we start?  Going in, other than seeing the trailer and hearing the positive praise for the film, I knew little to nothing about it.   I turns out that Cloud Atlas is a best selling novel by David Mitchell.  Where have I been?  It was adapted and directed by acclaimed filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski.   I’m sure to at least three-fourths of the reading audience here, those names look pretty familiar to you.   And if they don’t, they’d bloody well should!

So this is where it’s going to start to get a little confusing.  I’m going to introduce to you the cast of Cloud Atlas, but bear with me here.   Each member of the ensemble cast appears in multiple roles (sometimes male and female) as the story transcends through time, but not exactly in a linear fashion.   Confused again?   Good!  You should be.  Academy Award winners Tom Hanks and Halle Berry lead a stellar international cast consisting of Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant.   Can you say wow?!   Of course you can!

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So Warner Bros. lists the official synopsis of Cloud Atlas as the following.  “From the acclaimed filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski, the powerful and inspiring epic drama Cloud Atlas explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present and the future.  Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero, and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire revolution in the distant future.”  I included this here in the review because I am not ashamed to admit that writing this review is a very daunting task.  The movie’s a hard act to follow.  More appropriately, it’s very intimidating to follow up with a thorough and properly justified review after viewing something so complicated, bold and ambitious as Cloud Atlas is.  So you have my word that I’ll do my very best, but bear with me please in case I stumble.  After all, I’m only human and as far as I know there’s only one of me.

So as I mentioned before and as I will again and again, Cloud Atlas is a tale of 6 multiple plotlines set across 6 different eras with the same actors also portraying multiple characters.  Do you think an ambitious plot like this would have trouble securing financial support?  You betcha.  From what I heard it took nearly four years to raise the $102 million dollar budget effectively making the film one of the most expensive independent films of all times.  But I gotta say, if I had to visualize $102 million dollars, this movie looks like every penny of it.  It’s breathtakingly bold and beautiful in every which way.  And honestly, when I heard about this film, I thought how stupid.  I had zero interest in seeing the same actors play multiple different characters.  I thought to myself that’s never going to work.  These are the times in life when I love to be wrong because it worked orgasmically.  Never once, even when men were portraying women, did I flinch, grow frustrated or lose that most important aspect of movie watching…the suspension of disbelief.

Now the story…well that’s a whole other subject.  Thankfully, the multiple storylines were interesting enough to the point where I got involved in all of them and instead of breaking this movie into separate viewing segments like I thought I was going to have to, I sat wide eyed throughout the film’s 2 hour and 51 minute runtime without a single visit from the Sandman.  You may laugh, but for me that’s saying a lot.  I’m not sure I could accomplish that with let’s say a Lord of the Rings feature or something along those lines.  Anyway, you get the point.  The running time, for me, wasn’t an issue.  You just have to be patient.  Don’t force yourself to like it.  Just get lost in the story and it will find you.  Trust me.

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I think the main takeaway here is yes, you are going to want to watch this over to see and connect ALL the dots you may have missed the first time around.  This film is very dialog heavy so you really need to take it all in and possibly even require a day or two to absorb and digest everything you have seen before revisiting it again.  But I guarantee it, if you liked it, then you’ll want to watch it again.  Others…well…there will be no replay value for them.  So I took all of this into consideration when settling upon my final film score.  I liked it…yes.  But how often will I watch it?  Well I know it won’t get nearly as many repeat visits say like Django Unchained or Silver Linings Playbook has for me in the past several weeks.  So I had to kind of draw a fine line between how much I liked it and how much replay value it will have in my life.  I am definitely looking forward to watching it again very soon, but other than that…it’s not going to be in constant rotation.  But what I do want to focus on is the screenplay.  God, I want to get my hands on that manuscript and take in/study the sheer brilliance of it all.

So remember when I said there were 6 distinctive time periods.  Well I lied.  In actuality there are a total of 7.  And being the nice guy I am I thought I would spell it all out for everyone in case you want to go into this feature prepared for what’s to come.  If not, feel free to scroll down below to the Blu-ray disc vitals and all the extras you’ll find on this set.  Think of these as like Cloud Atlas Cliff Notes for your soul in chronological order by dates.  And don’t worry…I’m not spoiling anything below.

  • 1849 – South Pacific Ocean – This is the tale of an American lawyer and what he eventually becomes.
  • 1936 – England and Scotland – This is a story of two lovers separated by distance and the making of beautiful music.
  • 1973 – San Francisco, CA – A journalist will stop at nothing to expose the truth.
  • 2012 – United Kingdom – This one is probably the most humorist with a former publicist, nursing home escapee.  Haha.  Vroom he goes!
  • 2144 – Neo Seoul, North Korea – Ah.  Here’s where it gets really complicated.  What is really going on in this Matrix-like world?  Is there a new Messiah on the verge of making n astonishing discovery/proclamation?
  • 106 Winters After The Fall – The Big Island – And probably the most puzzling piece to me, what the heck is happening here?  Humanity has fallen.  Where did it go?  Who do you trust?  I wish I had a beach ball named Wilson.  LOL.  Don’t worry, you’ll get it!
  • 3 Decades Later – The Big Island – Think of this section as bookends to the film and I shall say no more except…you’re welcome.

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Warner Bros. brings Cloud Atlas to the Blu-ray format with an Earth shattering 1080p MPEG-4 AVC video codec perfectly framed in a 2.40:1 widescreen aspect ratio presentation.  And when I say Earth shattering, I mean Earth shattering.  There’s nothing wrong here.  This is reference.  The source material is pristine and it shows in this gorgeous Blu-ray transfer that perfectly compliments the harmonious and ever-changing storyline, not to mention geographic locations.  What a way to show off the breathtaking cinematography on display here!  The picture, under a very thin layer of cinematic grain, illustriously shines with rich black levels, warm , vivid and natural colors alike and a grandiose ordeal of three-dimensional quality bake in.  Also, in your face is the film’s utter sharpness and inconceivable clarity.  From the razor sharp grains on the sunny, sandy beaches against the bright blue ocean waves to the pores and creases in the makeup of the tribal cannibals, things are marvelously impeccable like a chiseled rock formation.  My attention span never strayed as I was mesmerized throughout in the sheer radiance of this Blu-ray’s video quality through both the past and distant future landscapes alike.

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Although your surround sound system won’t get a full, robust and completely exhaustive workout with this title, there’s no denying the charisma and depth Warner Bros. breathes into the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track they provide here.  Since this isn’t exactly billed as a booming action piece, you can’t expect the world here.  Okay you can, but you shouldn’t.  Instead we are treated to an atmospheric presentation that brilliantly captures and recreates the soundscape.  The rears kick in when needed for echo of dialog in a certain character’s head, panning moments and action scenes.  However for the most part, this is a highly frontend dialog driven beast given the character study nature of the film.  I don’t think you’ll argue with me that hearing dialog in this film is of utmost importance to understanding every event that’s unfolding rapidly and sporadically out of order here and thankfully Warner Bros. does not let us down in that department.  Every spoken word and whisper is faithfully reproduced in this soundtrack.  Dialog remains clear and intelligible throughout and the times when the rears do kick in, you’re already completely immersed in the narrative so you never knew what was missing.  It’s not perfect, but I feel it’s a beautiful representation of the huge journey you are about to embark on upon viewing this feature.  Other audio formats on the Blu-ray disc include French and Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks.  Subtitles are available in English, Spanish and French languages.

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I know, I know.  It’s kind of disappointing for such an epic release like this to see such few in the way of extras in this supplemental package.  This one begs for an audio commentary if for nothing else to help viewers connect any of the dots they may have missed.  What?!  No directors’ commentary?  Sadly, no.  But you got to take the good with the bad, right?  I mean look above.  We have a stellar film that will keep you thinking for days on end that demands a re-watch, reference video and a very capable surround track.  Let’s just be happy with what we have and embrace the 7 little featurettes below that are called Focus Points on the Blu-ray disc.  Can’t we all get along?  And look on the bright side, instead of Warner Bros. opting for a second Blu-ray disc for a wealth of extras they generously have provided a DVD copy of the film for your minivan enjoyment.  Isn’t that thoughtful of them?  Haha.  Here’s all you will find here.  Eat them up!

  • A Film Like No Other (HD, 7:15) – The cast and crew talk about the uniqueness of this film in the science fiction community.  LOL.  I love how Tom Hanks said the script didn’t make sense to him after reading.  Hey!  At least he’s honest.  Haha.
  • Everything is Connected (HD, 8:00) – Here’s one that is probably blowing your mind after viewing this.  THis one looks at the many overlapping characters and how they are connected.  It’s almost like Cliff Notes, huh?  I suggest watching this one.
  • The Impossible Adaptation (HD, 9:07) – They said it was impossible to cohesively film David Mitchell’s novel, which I hear is a complete mess to begin with, but they were wrong.  I’m only going by what I heard.  As I stated above, I have never read the book.
  • The Essence of Acting (HD, 7:20) – Here the actors discuss the many different roles they undertook and how they kept them separate.  It’s really kind of interesting.
  • Spaceships, Slaves & Sextets (HD, 8:08) – The cast and crew discuss the broken plot of the six stories that are going on at once.  I can’t help, as an amateur screenwriter, being fascinated by this one.  How do they do it?!
  • The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas (HD, 7:14) – What’s more ambitious and bold than this story?  I know!  Not too much.  Well, that conversation can open a whole can of worms.  I don’t want to do that.  Instead you should watch this one as they talk about the sci-fi story-lines here and everything that goes hand-in-hand with them.
  • Eternal Recurrence: Love, Life and Longing in Cloud Atlas (HD, 7:39) – The cast and crew recount the stories of romance and fate within the film as it’s laid out over the years amongst the fractured plot.  Am I confusing you yet?  Haha.  This is one complicated film…IF you let it be.  Don’t be intimidated.  Go for it!
  • DVD (SD) – For your minivan enjoyment, here’s a DVD of the film included on a second disc.
  • UltraViolet Digital Copy – I am not a fan at all of UltraViolet and their technology, but in case you care there’s a digital code provide on a loose paper inside the Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack.  Give me an iTunes code any day, but what am I going to do with an UV one (insert sad face)?

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Are you still with me?  Grand!  I’m glad to see you survived this journey of a review with me.  It’s quite a cluster-f#$k, huh?  I mean, that’s what you get when you try to combine 6 full functional stories that all span different time periods, future and past, and geographies, terrestrial and extraterrestrial, and actors all playing different roles throughout, some even bending the gender rules/boundaries.  Wrong!  If you have faith.  If you believe in an idea that’s larger than yourself.  If you’re willing to take bold and ambitious risks in life, it can be done right and you can overcome the hypocrisy and overturn the naysayers’ ill-informed logic they try to force down your throat.  If you stick with it, Cloud Atlas will bring a smile to your face as you connect all the dots together and maybe even a few tears if you’re human.  You already know this is a Blu-ray worth purchasing so I’ll skip my usual sales pitch and leave you with a quote from one the film world truly misses.  Legendary film critic Roger Ebert calls Cloud Atlas “Daring.  Visionary.  One of the most ambitious films ever made.”  Do I even need to say more?  Oh yes I do!  It was WAY BETTER than Life of Pi and make sure you pre-order your Blu-ray/DVD Combo Pack today!

Cloud Atlas available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download 5/14

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6 Responses to “Cloud Atlas (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Gregg

    Looks like Groundhog Day meets The Fountain.

  2. Brian White

    So it sounds like you should like it then. I can guarantee you no out of place period music in this one 🙂

  3. Gregg

    Ha! Actually Groundhog Day was so-so for me and The Fountain gave me a headache.

  4. Brian White

    Great! So this may just be the film you are looking for to achieve both of those statuses. However, that’s unfair compare. The Fountain was unwatchable. I remember getting an hour in and shutting it off cursing at myself for breaking my 15 minute rule.

  5. Aaron Neuwirth

    There is nothing like (the brilliant) Groundhog’s Day in here. Can’t wait to pick this up though.

  6. EricW

    One of the best movies I’ve seen in a long time. I thereafter went and bought and read the book. The movie is quite faithful to the book, with mostly minor but a few significant changes. However, I liked most of the changes the Wachowskis made for the film, which tended to tie the characters in the multiple stories together more than the book does.

    The biggest crime this year is that the movie didn’t get nominated for a single Oscar. It would (and should) have won the Oscar for Best Film Editing hands down, and perhaps others as well. The way the stories cut from one to the next is brilliant.

    But be sure to watch it with the subtitles on, or you’ll misunderstand half of what is being said in the After the Fall story (Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After in the novel).