Cloud Atlas (Blu-ray/DVD + UltraViolet Digital Copy Combo Pack) (2013)

Actors: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski
Producers: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Grant Hill, Stefan Arndt
Format: AC-3, Dolby, NTSC, Subtitled, Widescreen
Language: English (Dolby Digital 5.1), English (DTS 5.1), French (Dolby Digital 4.0), Spanish (Dolby Digital 5.1)
Subtitles: Spanish, French, English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.77:1
Number of discs: 2
Rated: R (Restricted)
Studio: Warner Home Video
DVD Release Date: May 14, 2013
Digital Copy Expiration Date: May 14, 2015




That Cloud Atlas is a love-it or hate-it film is beyond all possible doubt.

The Sci-Fi Movie Page’s Daniel Kimmel pronounced it the best movie of the year, and his is not an opinion I dismiss lightly. Personally, I stood on the opposite side of the equation, naming it the year’s worst.

Daniel saw a profound meditation on the nature of life, existence and the human soul. I saw a merciless assault of bad wigs and goofy make-up in the service of pretentious drivel. Daniel witness science fiction filmmaking at its most powerful. I saw a trio of auteurs dragging the genre into the Ninth Circle of Hell and making sure we came along for the ride. Daniel saw beauty. I saw horror. Both, as always, are in the eye of the beholder, and no doubt many readers will greet the film’s arrival on Blu-ray with great joy. I’m not saying you’re wrong to feel this way. But now, having viewed the film for a second – and please dear God make it the last – time, I can now safely tell you that you’re on your own.

The story comes from a supposedly unfilmable novel that connects six different incidents in six historical periods through shared souls. We witness the unlikely friendship of a notary and a slave aboard an 1850s ship, a gay composer in the 1930s fighting to preserve his masterpiece, a crusading 1970s journalist uncovering systemic corruption, a 21st century book editor trapped against his will in a nursing home, an enslaved clone quietly sparking a revolution in futuristic Seoul, and a post-apocalyptic Hawaiian aiding a scientist in a wondrous discovery. Yes, really.

The narratives themselves are less important than the fact that they’re all connected in supposedly profound ways. Said profundity arrives by casting the same actors in multiple roles, slathering them in some of the most frighteningly unconvincing make-up known to man, and setting them loose to gnaw on the scenery like starving beavers.

Their ranks include Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Sturgess, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, and Hugh Grant; with the exception of Ben Whishaw’s sensitive composer, not a single one of them survives intact. They adopt alternate accents and ridiculous vocal tones in an attempt to disguise themselves. The faux intellectualism is unaware of its own ridiculousness (Get it? Each actor plays the same soul), and reduces the supposedly riveting drama to a farcical game of Where’s Waldo. We spend more time trying to spot the actors beneath pounds of latex than we do caring about the story, and because yellowface and other racial caricatures are in effect, the result is inadvertently insulting at times.

Not that the narrative itself does any better.

Directors Tom Tykwer and Lana & Andy Wachowski yank us back and forth between each time period with all the grace and subtlety of a pick axe to the skull. We’re supposed to infer connections between the stories in the cross-cutting. Instead, we develop a blinding headache as the relentless tone-deaf direction smashes every theme and idea into mush.

It’s not supposed to be that way, of course. There’s supposed to be something here that naysayers just don’t get, and clearly there are smart people out there who connect to whatever it’s trying to impart. I’m sorry to say that I can’t see it . . . and believe me I’ve been looking.

The film hints at mysteries it doesn’t want to expose, for doing so would tear away its last fig leaf and reveal it for the shocking fraud that it is. It tries so hard to impress us with its brilliance that it fails on the most basic levels of cinema. Only a truly great auteur could make something this bad; only a genius could aim so high and fall so far after missing the mark so completely. Cloud Atlas has three times as many as most films, making the ambition three times as devastating. We get a front-row seat to the whole thing. Lucky us.

THE DISC: As is typical with this kind of production, the disc offers impeccable audio and visual quality. The look is crisp and clean, with warm tones and comparatively little pixilation. The audio quality stands the test as well, with the quieter moments as sharp as the scenes of thunderous action. The disc slips a bit on the extra features: seven shorts, each no more than nine minutes long, covering the various challenges of the production and the filmmakers’ approach to the difficult novel. They’re not bad, but they lack the comprehensiveness that the film’s admirers might expect from it.

WORTH IT? If you’ve seen it and love it, it’s all yours. Everyone else might do better with slow, Novocain-free root canal instead.

RECOMMENDATION: Misfires don’t come any bigger than this one, creating a horrendous mess worthy of the MST3K gang.

- Rob Vaux



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