Review Detail

Cloud Atlas: Everything Is Connected
July 03, 2014    
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Since this is a recut of the movie, mostly changing its structure, I'll start by reviewing the movie. When Cloud Atlas came out in 2012, it was dividing. Ebert called it a "daring and visionary film", giving it a perfect score. Kermode called it an "honorable failure" (though he has been kinder to it on a second watch). Some put it on the list of the best films of the year, some on list of the worst.

Me? I first watched Cloud Atlas on a plane. I had no idea what the movie was about, who it was by, or that there was a book, and I was looking for something that I wouldn't feel too bad about watching on such a small screen, something light and unimportant (ha). I remembered Lindsay Ellis calling it one of her favorite movies of the year, so I watched it. Needless to say, it exceeded my expectations, I thoroughly enjoyed it, and I was still thinking about it when I got off the plane. I was shocked I hadn't heard of it, that I had heard no critic talking about it, and that I hadn't seen it in cinemas. I had seen the trailer, but I don't remember seeing a single review in the major papers of my country. I didn't hear about it when it was released, so I didn't watch it. The more I thought about it, the more details I didn't understand. The very small details that demanded interpretation. And as time has gone by, I have read, studied and written about the novel, I have rewatched the film, and seen several critical positions towards both of them (I recommend Kyle Kallgren). Now I realize some of the details I didn't quite get were simply small details that didn't work, symbols that stopped working. In other words, the film's flaws. It is flawed. Very. Not details you don't understand, but things you do understand... and realize they don't work.

Main point so far: the movie is flawed. But it is also ambitious, it has some great cinematography, a gorgeous soundtrack, and it tries to tell several stories in a way we rarely see. Now, it's not that there are no movies like Cloud Atlas (actually, there are a lot, beginning with Griffith's Intolerance), but they are not made often. And this one is well made. Yes, Cloud Atlas has problems, but I do not believe its problems outweight its potential, or its good qualities.

Okay, now for the edit: The book is written as a nesting doll structure, the movie is a mosaic. That is the first major change in the original movie. The other big change is having the same actors in all the stories, and implies that they are souls reincarnating. While the book does imply that the character with a birthmark is the same soul, the movies makes it more likely that the actors represent each soul in its travelling. And yet, they keep the birthmark. You could then try to interpret it as the birthmark still meaning reincarnation and each actor representing an aspect of humanity, saying that Hugo Weaving always represents an oppressing, greedy organization, but it does not work in cases like Tom Hanks. No, the movie's implication is that the actors are the souls. Unless there is a better interpretation (that I feel would be overly complicated), the comet is one of those flaws I mentioned.

And these changes are the one this fanedit is concerned with. This fan edit tries to make the movie more like the book, putting it in the nesting doll structure order. The short version: it is really well made. It cannot be perfect, because the movie was designed as a mosaic. So you can often see or hear the cuts in the edit: sometimes there is fade to black, sometimes a song is used to connect two scenes. But that is to be expected, and it just serves to better show how it was done. A few times, when it changes from story to story it will seem a bit abrupt, but that also happens in the original movie, and in the book, and at times that is the effect they are all going for.

Now, it is not entirely cut up, nor can it be. It does keep some sequences from the original movie in which the stories were juxtaposed to great effect. The best example is the final speech from Hugo Weaving over the image of Somni 451's final moments. It is a deliberate attempt to show the connection, and it is kept here. It would be impossible to edit it diferently, adding another audio to that image or adding another image to that audio.

The result? The editing becomes a bit more obvious, but not to the point of disengagement. The stories are told more linearly, and perhaps it will be easier to connect to each one individually. But I never had that problem with the original movie. I was never disengaged from one of the stories because of the mosaic structure. Some people were, and maybe this edit could fix that for them. But I didn't have that problem. In fact, in the mosaic structure, where we would return to each story again and again with little time in between, I felt it was easier to return to them than here, where a whole movie's running time has passed between each part of the Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing. To clarify, I didn't have trouble returning to that story after all the others were told, but telling it bits by bits in the original movie did seem easier to me.

I feel like a mosaic structure is more better for a film's running time than the nesting doll structure that the book uses... but only slightly. Watching this edit, in the nesting doll structure was also a good experience. It didn't change much for the better, but it was in no way a "worse experience" than watching the mosaic structure. It was just different. Do I think the nesting doll structure works best for a movie's running time than for a book you read chapter by chapter? Only a little bit. But, again, there is no major change. I do wonder if the nesting doll structure wouldn't work better if Cloud Atlas was a miniseries, and you watched it episode by episode.

This is an edit that had to be made and had to be analyzed. I believe the result is an experience very similar to the movie, it shows us another way the movie could have been made, and it might be better for people that felt disconnected from the stories. But since I didn't feel disconnected from it to begin with, it's not a very different experience for me.

Something that does bother me is the ending title, showing the birthmark carriers and declaring "the journey of one soul through six lives". The sixtuple casting and the birthmark just don't work together. The original movie implies the actors represent the souls. This edit finishes by declaring the birthmark carriers are the one soul, like in the book. You can't have both. But that problem was already in the original movie, this just makes it more evident.

All in all, it's an interesting edit to see and compare to the movie. Very well done.

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