Cloud Atlas, an epic, head-spinning film collage – written and directed by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer and Andy Wachowski – is based on David Mitchell’s novel which is widely deemed unfilmable. The film’s multiple plots are set across six different eras; they explore how the actions of individual lives impact one another in the past, present and future. Unlike the book’s pyramidal story structure, the film’s story sections are intertwined by skillful editing.
The excellent ensemble cast includes Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, and Hugh Grant – all playing multiple parts in the film’s eras. David Mitchell makes a cameo appearance as a double agent in the futuristic Korea section.
The origins of the film go back to the set of V for Vendetta (2006) when Lana Wachowski notices the film’s star, Natalie Portman, feverishly reading a copy of David Mitchell’s novel. Lana Wachowski is also taken with the novel, and tries to adapt it for film with her younger brother Andy. Tom Tykwer, who the Wachowskis lovingly refer to as “our long-lost brother,” helps tackle the novel. When David Mitchell meets with the trio and reads what they’ve made out of his novel he is excited by the script.
Cloud Atlas is produced by Grant Hill, Stefan Arndt, the Wachowskis, and Tom Tykwer. During four years of development, the project meets difficulties securing financial support and is almost abandoned several times. Tom Hanks’ enthusiasm for the project is is essential in keeping the project on track.The film is eventually produced with a $102 million budget provided by independent sources, making it one of the most expensive independent films of all time. Much of the film is shot at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany. Other locations include Edinburgh and Glasgow, and the Mediterranean island of Majorca, Spain.
Tykwer and the Wachowskis film parallel to each other using separate camera crews, having planned every segment of the film together in pre-production, and working closely together through post-production. The Wachowskis mostly direct the 19th-century story and the two set in the future, whereas Tykwer directs the stories set in the 1930s, the 1970s, and 2012.
The film contains approximately two hours of original music, composed by director Tom Tykwer and his longtime collaborators, Reinhold Heil and Johnny Klimek. The soundtrack receives universal critical acclaim, with Jon Broxton of Movie Music UK writing, “Scores like Cloud Atlas, which have an important and identifiable structure that relates directly to concepts in the film, intelligent and sophisticated application of thematic elements, and no small amount of beauty, harmony and excitement in the music itself, reaffirm your faith in what film music can be when it’s done right.”
Cloud Atlas premieres on 8 September 2012 at the 37th Toronto International Film Festival, followed by its international release. The film experiences a “dreadful” opening in the US but eventually grosses about $130,5 million worldwide (against a budget of $102 million).
It polarizes critics, who debate its length and editing of the interwoven stories, but praise other aspects such as its cinematography, score, visual style, ensemble cast, and originality.
Roger Ebert calls it “one of the most ambitious films ever made”, awarding it four out of four stars. “Even as I was watching Cloud Atlas the first time, I knew I would need to see it again. Now that I’ve seen it the second time, I know I’d like to see it a third time (…) I think you will want to see this daring and visionary film (…) I was never, ever bored by Cloud Atlas. On my second viewing, I gave up any attempt to work out the logical connections between the segments, stories and characters.”
Cloud Atlas is nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and receives five nominations at the Saturn Awards including Best Science Fiction Film – winning for Best Editing and Best Make-up.