Monday night the operators of this Book Catapult had the unique opportunity of attending an advance screening of the Cloud Atlas movie, rock-bloc style: the film in its entirety, back-to-back, all 172 glorious minutes of it, courtesy of Andy Friedenberg and his Cinema Society of San Diego. After each of the two screenings we gave our thoughts to the audience and fielded questions from a few hundred passionate movie lovers as the resident “Cloud Atlas Book Experts.” Andy was a great host and we felt honored being able to attend. The Cinema Society seems like a great group of people and they have fantastic line-ups of thought-provoking films every season. They are currently in their 29th season in San Diego and a full schedule, plus membership info is available on their website, www.cinemasociety.com.
In the coming days and weeks I’m sure we’ll have a lot more to say about the film, especially its relationship to the book, but for now, here are our initial reactions:
Seth: First of all, don’t watch any movie, really, back to back, twice in a row. No matter how good it is, you will feel like your brain has been melon-balled out of your head. But I have to say, this film was pretty goddamned incredible and just about as faithful to the book as it possibly could have been.
I really don’t want to ruin anything for you, so I won’t go into too much detail here, just a few tidbits:
|She’s fuggin’ your b’liefs’n’all up’n’down’n’in’n’out!|
The music, the editing, the special effects, and the makeup (OMG, the makeup) are rock-solid, freakin’ outstanding. As Scott will attest, all strong Oscar contenders, no doubt. Tom Hanks is truly great – especially, in my opinion, as Zachry in the “Sloosha’s Crossin'” section. If you’ve read the novel (as I’m sure you all dutifully have) you know of the crazy pidgin English spoken in that section – all preserved and embraced in the film version, much to my surprise and glee. Hanks speaks the language as if it’s A) a real language and B) as if it’s his native one. Awesome. (Not to mention his Duster Hoggins. Hi-larious.) Hugo Weaving is outstanding in his multiple roles, the best being Zachry’s devil, Old Georgie. Spine-tinglingly perfect. James D’Arcy is a magnificent double Rufus Sixsmith and James Broadbent is pitch-perfect as Cavendish. I know, I know, you all want to know about Halle Berry. Well, she didn’t really ruin anything, I’ll tell you that much. Her Luisa Rey is played just right – like out of a wooden, clichéd pulp mystery novel. (Is that actually acting?) Scott will tell you about the scene-stealing Hugh Grant.
One of the worries I had (isn’t it nice to have worries in life like this?) was of new characters created for the film that would allow for some sort of star-crossed-lover-theme to play out for Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. This is not the case, folks, so have no fear. The characters played by Berry that you can see in the trailer – the woman in the red dress that catches Duster Hoggins’ eye and the Moriori tattoo-face lady who looks up at Adam Ewing – are seen in their entirety in the trailer and appear for no longer than they do there. Whew.
|Vyvyan Ayrs + Robert Frobisher|
There are a few creative plot edits that the filmmakers went with that I felt hurt the end result, although this may be the resulting opinion of three read-throughs and a healthy obsession on my part. Mainly these are to do with the reworking of much of Robert Frobisher’s obsessive, predatory nature (and the object of that obsession) which creates more questions than answers and a change of the last line in the Timothy Cavendish section (which was spot-on all the way to that point, by the way) leaving a nice, neat, and highly improbable ending for old Tim. Other than that, I approve, wholeheartedly.
I also think that this is as good a time as any to tell you that the Book Catapult has put together our very own screening of the Cloud Atlas film, with a few bells and whistles. We were originally hoping to have a live Skype conversation with David Mitchell, but, being as he lives on the other side of the planet, we had to record it in advance and will be showing it at the event. Not too shabby, nonetheless. Scott and I will also be leading a book/film discussion after the screening – sort of a literary salon-type of deal. Tickets are a mere $12.50 – here’s the rest of the info you’ll need. I hope you’ll join us.
|Cavendish, I presume?|
Scott: Andy Freidenburg described the movie as a ‘Mind-Blower’ and I would have to agree. The three minute or so opening montage – which featured quick cuts back and forth between all six ‘threads’, voice-over from several characters, and the sweeping crescendo from the Cloud Atlas Sextet – would have been one of the most compelling movie trailers since ‘Stargate’ (Now that was a great trailer for a terrible movie!) if they had chosen to simply use it, as is, un-cut. I had chills and my first thoughts were how in hell will anyone who hasn’t read the book be able to keep up? The movie then settles into a slightly more conventional flow, giving us maybe 3-5 minutes of the openings of each of the six narrative threads, but we never stay in one thread for very long – I would venture that we are never left in the same thread for more than seven or eight minutes at any point in the entire three hour experience, before we cut back to another thread. This, coupled with the score, gives the film a relentless feeling of movement and the viewer – this viewer at least – is never really given a space to decompress in the film. Just when one thread is resolved, another thread unwinds, building back to a crescendo. I would recommend taking some sort of growth hormone before you enter the theater because I’m pretty certain, after watching the film twice in a seven hour span, my adrenal gland was completely empty. And yet, when it was all over, I had two feelings: I wanted to go for a run and I didn’t want to ever turn on a TV again. This is the kind of film your mind will race through again and again as you try to sleep – especially if you watch it twice. In one sitting. I think the last time I watched the same movie back to back was when I worked in a video store in college and watched Lethal Weapon 1 and Lethal Weapon 2 back to back. Not literally the same movie, but functionally the same and just about the closest analogy I could come up with.
Finally, as a former video clerk, I feel I am qualified to offer my Oscar Predictions for this film. I should note that as of yet I am NOT a voting member of the Academy. It seems reasonable to predict that this film will be this year’s Inception – a smart stylish hybrid of Art House and Blockbuster. With that in mind I think it will squeak by with one of the expanded Best Picture nominations, but how will the Academy handle the split directorial duties? Can they give a collaborative nomination? More likely, they will reward the three directors with a Best Adapted Screenplay nomination. I think they should get a nomination for just trying to adapt Cloud Atlas, so I think this has a good shot. Surely the film will also be nominated for Best Original Score (The music was fabulous, and, according to several Halle Berry characters, ‘beautiful’.) and any and all of the technical awards, such as editing, sound, visual effects. My back of the envelope numbers have 11 nominations, which seems crazy but reflects how impressed I was with this film.
|Lloyd Hooks, professional S.O.B.|
Now, of my 11 predicted nominations, I think there are two absolute steel pipe locks: Best Editing and Best Makeup. This may have been one of the best edited films I have ever seen and the challenges of coherently presenting six movies cut into each other made the task ‘Mind-Blowing’ to say the least, yet it felt effortless, threads echoing and playing off other threads throughout. And, of course, the makeup. Much has been made of the numerous roles – regardless of gender, race, age, etc – played by the ensemble. The fact that it doesn’t completely sink the film or constantly distract is a testament to the makeup team and I have to think they will take home the Oscar. A highlight for me, makeup and casting-wise, was the performance of Hugh Grant. Did I just say that? Hugo Weaving was fabulous as well as a range of bad guys, especially as a Nurse Ratchet-meets-Mrs. Doubtfire Nurse Noakes, and as the devil himself, Ol’ Georgie – absolutely chilling in a role that easily could have seemed farcical in lesser hands. But, in a shocker, I would like to be the first to publicly (other than his PR team maybe) nominate HUGH GRANT for BEST SUPPORTING ACTOR. Did I just say that? He was great, no other way to spin it, whether harassing Luisa Rey as CEO slime ball Lloyd Hooks, licking blood from a knife as a Kona cannibal, or, in the role that nearly stole the movie for me, as the brother of Timothy Cavendish. Hugh Grant people. I’m not making this up.