We're very lucky this year to get both Beasts of the Southern Wild and Cloud Atlas, because regardless of what you think of either of them, they're both clearly the most ambitious films you'll see in 2012. Plenty has already been written about Beasts, and now it's time to turn our attention in the direction of Cloud Atlas, an adaptation of David Mitchell's sprawling novel that dances across six loosely-connected short stories that begin in the year 1850 and end in a post-apocalyptic distant future. After a few images debuted earlier this week (along with word of its Toronto International Film Festival premiere), it's time for the first trailers, more images, a widget featuring parts of the score and your mind to be blown.
Look: Check out our gallery of new images from Cloud Atlas
It's a wicked beast to adapt into one movie, but writer-directors Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski and Lana Wachowski took on the task, with lots of creative freedom and help from a terrific cast lead by Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess, Hugo Weaving, Hugh Grant, Ben Whishaw and Doona Bae -- all of whom play multiple roles in the film. This first trailer, which runs over five minutes, does a terrific job of laying it all out there as it jumps from story to story, teasing the ways in which they connect, as well as the adventures we're about to go on.
First, check out the trailer (watch it in HD via Apple), then we'll help make sense of it below.
More: Halle Berry as a White Woman, Jim Sturgess as a Korean Man: The Many Faces of 'Cloud Atlas'
Cloud Atlas and Its Unique Structure
So, like we said before, the film (and book) covers six different stories, all of which intersect in physical and spiritual ways, with characters in the next story either reading or observing aspects of the previous story. The book starts each of the first five stories, then abruptly halts them on cliffhangers before telling the complete sixth story and then backtracking through the first five stories, completing them one by one.
Like us, many of the characters find their experience of another story interrupted, then concluded during the second half of the book. So, in a way, our experiences of the story are connected to those of the characters, which in turn ties us to each story too. Are we blowing your mind yet?
We're not sure the film will also take this approach, but from a cinematic standpoint it might be fun to attempt this structure on-screen, if only to keep the audience itching for a conclusion to the last story as they continually invest themselves in the next one.
We don't want to spoil any aspect of this book, so we'll just give you each story's setup in order to help bring more context to the trailer. We'll also avoid telling you how each of these stories connect to each other so that way you can discover it for yourselves while watching the film or reading the book.
1. The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing
The book begins by following the trials and tribulations of an American notary (Jim Sturgess) keeping a diary of his travels across the Pacific Ocean. Along the way he befriends a slave who enlightens his life in a number of fascinating ways.
2. Letters from Zedelghem
This one follows a poor, bipolar, bisexual, aspiring English musician named Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) who sort of cons his way into being hired as an apprentice to a once-great composer, Vyvyan Ayrs. The story is told through letters that Frobisher is writing to his friend (and former lover) Rufus Sixsmith.
3. Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery
The third story brings us to more modern times, circa 1975, and is a tightly packaged thriller that follows Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), a journalist whose investigation of corruption at a nuclear power plant twists and turns down a dangerous path.
4. The Ghastly Ordeal of Timothy Cavendish
One of our personal favorites of all six stories, this one tracks the bumbling adventures of Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), a vanity press publisher who, while trying to flee his creditors, winds up trapped in a nursing home with no way to escape.
5. An Orison of Sonmi-451
Here's where the Wachowskis get to work their magic. Our fifth story takes us to a dystopian near-future in Korea where genetically engineered clones occupy most of the labor force. This one follows one such clone, a female named Sonmi-451 (Doona Bae), whose tale is told through an interview she's being given prior to her execution for rebelling against her totalitarian society. Just why and how does she rebel? You'll find out ...
6. Sloosha's Crossin' an Ev'rythin After
The sixth and final story in Cloud Atlas is told all the way through from beginning to end, and it's set in a post-apocalyptic distant future where Hawaii is now. Those who live there have reverted back to a primitive lifestyle, breaking off into tribes. The story is told through the eyes of Zachry (Tom Hanks), whose encounter with a ship full of those left from the civilized world will forever change everything he's come to know and understand about his life.
Don't Be Afraid of the Language
Hopefully this gives you a bit more info to wrap your brain around. We also suggest giving the book a try. It's definitely a tough read, with three of the stories written in different variations of the English language. Sloosha's Crossin' is the most difficult, with that one utilizing some form of a thick Louisiana accent infused with island sensibilities. Here's an example:
“Herdin’ my goats up Elepaio track, I didn’t say nothin’ else. Past Cluny’s dwellin’ a bro o’ mine Gubboh Hogboy, shouted Howzit Zachary! for a discussin’ but when he seen Meronym he awked an’ jus’ said, Go careful Zachary."
The language will definitely distract you throughout the course of the first two stories, but stick with it and take on the challenge. Everything in this book has a purpose, and the language (which may or may not be utilized to its fullest potential in the film) is just another piece to this fascinating puzzle. And once you figure it out and connect with it, the book and its stories become more personal and, subsequently, more engrossing.
How Did This Film Get Made?
Here, we'll let the filmmakers tell you that themselves.
Go See This Movie!
Cloud Atlas hits theaters on October 26 after its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival in September.
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