The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Big, Bold and Beautiful – or Bloated, Bumptious and Boring? – picking a side on Cloud Atlas

with 36 comments

cloud atlas

I knew as I watched the trailer that Cloud Atlas would be anything but ordinary. It could be a big, glorious adventure in time and space. Or it could be an equally embarrassing failure.

As they say: the higher you aim the harder you fall.

Cloud Atlas has divided the audience since it came out. Depending on who you ask, it’s either a triumph or a disaster, but rarely anything between.

When I first heard there were three directors of this movie, I scratched my head. It’s with directors as with drummers: you don’t normally have more than one in your band. Two is a rarity and three unthinkable, unless you’re a member of some obscure Japanese drumming group. So why, just why would you assign three of them?

Well, after watching Cloud Atlas I can see why. It’s not one film, it’s seven: six shorts and the invisible magical frame that keeps it together. During its almost three hours long running time it moves effortless in time and space, to the past and the future, crossing genres, crossing conventions, crossing genders, crossing the normal rules of narrative in a movie. Unless you’d eaten one of the pills in Limitless, it seems like an overwhelming task and just too much for one person to deal with.

If you ask me to pick a side, I’m on the side of the fans. This is very big, very bold and very beautiful. I’ve seen it compared to Terrence Malick, an association which I think isn’t completely out of place. There’s a sense of cosmic mystery; no one is pointing on your nose what the meaning of all this is and how everything is connected, apart from that it’s the same actors in different make-ups. But as opposed to for instance The Tree of Life, the storytelling within each segment is clearer, which made it easier for me to become involved and engaged. Not once did I feel close to falling asleep. It was a big visual, audible and intellectual adventure and I didn’t want to miss out a second of it.

It makes me a little sad to see that even if it opened only recently in Sweden, it’s not in top 10, and I’ve got the feeling that it’s not likely to rise. Perhaps it takes that you’re a bit nerdy like me to fully appreciate it. And what can you say about the fact that it didn’t receive a single award at the Oscars? I don’t ever use the word “snub”, but to me it’s a mystery.

Cloud Atlas (Tom Tykwer, Andy and Lana Wachowski, 2012) My rating: 5/5

Written by Jessica

March 6, 2013 at 7:40 am

Posted in Cloud Atlas

36 Responses

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  1. I don’t think it was a perfect film but I enjoyed the hell out of it. All of its ambition and flaws. I like films that are willing to take big risks. I really hope it will find an audience because it’s really a pretty good movie.


    March 6, 2013 at 7:42 am

    • It’s true that it isn’t perfect. I wasn’t completely enthralled with the comedy part of it. But this was just minor spots, not enough to take away from it that I fell in love with it. Sadly it doesn’t appear as if it will get a big audience.


      March 6, 2013 at 9:25 am

  2. It was one of the most enjoyable films this year. I watched it even twice and I’m definitely on fan side.

    • I’d like to watch it again! Preferrably on a big screen though I guess I need to hurry up than since it doesn’t appear to be doing that well.


      March 6, 2013 at 9:26 am

  3. I’m definitely on the fan side. It was even my favorite film of last year. Glad it’s finally opened near you and that you enjoyed it too!


    March 6, 2013 at 8:53 am

    • For me cloud Atlas will be a 2013 movie. I’ll be surprised if it doesn’t make it into top 10.


      March 6, 2013 at 9:27 am

  4. You’re title says it all Jessica “Big, Bold and Beautiful or Bloated, Bumptious and Boring”. This really is a polarising film. Like you, I’m on the side of the former. It was an outstanding cinematic experience that was really challenging and respectful to the audience. Nice comparison with the themes of Malick. I totally agree and any film that ponders these questions of existence is always a winner for me. It doesn’t harm it chances when it’s done with such visual flair either. Why was this snubbed at the Oscars? I think it’s one of the Academy’s biggest mistakes.

    Mark Walker

    March 6, 2013 at 9:51 am

    • For some reason it appears to have done worse in US than in Europe among the critics. At least from what I’ve seen. And I guess it’s hard to become a winner under those circumstances. I just can’t understand it. But I suppose I’m a little biased, being such a science fiction fan and all.


      March 6, 2013 at 10:42 am

      • Yeah, I noticed that the US didn’t take to it at all. I’m probably biased as well. The material and the genre are right up my street. I absolutely loved it. It’s criticism has been vastly unfair. Glad to see you give it top marks Jessica.

        Mark Walker

        March 6, 2013 at 10:58 am

  5. Great review, Jessica. I actually fall in the middle regarding this one. Didn’t hate it, didn’t love it. For me, it was terrible and amazing simultaneously. I actually didn’t mind the long running time, I wasn’t bored, but neither was I completely entertained. A mixed bag, in my opinion, although I think I prefered Tykwer’s work.


    March 6, 2013 at 10:24 am

    • Thanks Fernando! So there ARE people who are neither one, nor the other, but in the middle. That ruins my theory. 😉 Thanks for your kind words and stopping bye!


      March 6, 2013 at 10:43 am

  6. I fall on the side of the fans, too. I didn’t think it was perfect but it was certainly epic. It looked amazing and kept me 100% engaged throughout, which isn’t always easy for a three hour film. However, I just had a feeling that there was perhaps too much going on and the scale of the story was just too big for the film. I felt it was almost impossible to fully keep track of everything. Maybe that’s my problem more than the film’s, though.

    • I know! Those three hours passed ever so quickly. I didn’t watch my watch once. These days I see so many “small”, intimate movies in indie style – which I also love – which might be one of the reasons why I loved this one so much. It was epic in scale and yet not a blockbuster type of movie. Very refreshing!


      March 6, 2013 at 11:01 am

  7. Great review! I’m yet to watch this film – I loved the book, and do remember thinking it was unfilmable, so I’m glad to hear it is not a disaster. Nice comparison with Malick, and The Tree of Life. I do think that I will enjoy it overall, fingers crossed it’ll do the book justice!


    March 6, 2013 at 11:08 am

    • I will definitely seek out the book, which I haven’t read yet. I’ve read another novel by the same author, Black Swan Green, which I loved. I can imagine this one is quite an experience too.


      March 6, 2013 at 11:11 am

      • I’ve not read Black Swan Green, i’ll have to read it. Cloud Atlas is an excellent book though, you must let me know what you think in comparison to the film when you’ve read it (and i’ve watched it)!


        March 6, 2013 at 11:19 am

        • I definitely need to check it out. Thanks for inspiring me to do so!


          March 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm

  8. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. I went on with negative expectations from the trailer and ended up seeing it twice in the theater (the only 2012 film). I think that part of the negative reaction is attributable to the fact that it IS a rather bold film not like anything else (but ambituous films like ‘Brazil’ also split audiences upon initial release) and part is attributable to this aversion among many critics to anything “middlebrow” – as if to tell filmmakers, “you can make a high art film like ‘Tree of Life’ and a popcorn movie like ‘The Avengers’, but you can’t do anything that lies in between.”


    March 6, 2013 at 1:48 pm

    • I think you might be onto something there. The territory inbetween appears to be a cursed ground. Perfect for me though! My playground!


      March 6, 2013 at 3:47 pm

      • Yeah, we all want that perfect balance of intellectual stimulation and the entertainment, and the filmmakers here do attempt to create a film that tries to be all things for all audiences. ‘Cloud Atlas’ was an “A” film for me (#2 of the 74 films released in 2012 that I saw), and the only thing that kept it from being an “A+” film was the narration. I would have preferred that they left it to the viewer to see the connections rather than have Tom Hanks spell it out within this specific Taoist framework. I prefer to see the film as a contemplation on the cyclical nature of storytelling itself – how narratives are remembered, forgotten, and repeated, and how the power of certain types of stories surge and wane and resurge. However, as much as people complain about the narration (which is heavily used in the trailer), the film has very little of it.


        March 6, 2013 at 5:55 pm

        • That’s beautifully put. There’s definitely a storytelling theme in it, in this way connecting to Life of Pi. But less obvious. I didn’t think a lot about the narration stuff. As a matter of fact: when he returned I had completely forgotten about the opening narration.


          March 6, 2013 at 10:47 pm

  9. I have to say I am on the sour side For me it never felt as grand or as important as it tried to be. I found parts of it rather silly and some parts flat-out boring. But the big thing for a film like this is that you have to be interested in all of the parts to make it a fun and entertaining whole. There were several of the mini- stories that I just didn’t buy or didn’t care about. I ended up checking my watch wishing it would just end.

    You’re 100% correct though. There doesn’t seem to be a middle ground.


    March 6, 2013 at 2:32 pm

    • Phew! I was starting to wonder if there ever would turn up someone who didn’t like it at all, confirming my statement about the opinion being split about it. Thanks for doig that for me! I can definitely understand the criticism. My favorite critic Kermode called it an honorable failure. But for me it worked, thankfully.


      March 6, 2013 at 3:41 pm

      • Jessica I’m often times a stick in the mud! Glad it actually was useful here! LOL! 🙂


        March 6, 2013 at 3:43 pm

  10. I was on the side of the fans since parts of this movie are breath taking and profound. Yet I know of someone that believes this is the worst movie ever made (obviously he has never sat through the long viewing of Pauly Shore’s Bio-Dome; e real head-pounder brobably funded by Tylenol). I like the stretch in imagination that holds the story together. I wish more films had so much ambition. Nice review Jessica.

    Vicki Love

    March 6, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    • I’m with you in your wishes Vicki. Thanks for chiming in in the praise!


      March 6, 2013 at 3:48 pm

  11. First I was on the side of those who think this movie is over-complicated.
    but now, after few months after I’ve watched I’m slowly crawling to side of those who like it, those stories coming closer, forming a curious convex picture. I see that they have more in common that I’ve thought first.


    March 6, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    • I can imagine I’m going to love this movie even more as time goes by. It’s been a couple of weeks since I watched it and the images and patterns are still emerging and dancing in my mind. There is something in common in those stories but I can’t quite put my finger on it. It echoes a feeling – imagined or true – that sometimes comes over me. Somethig about belonging and being a part of mankind I think. A neverending story.


      March 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm

  12. I liked but didn’t quite love it. It was cool to see Tom Hanks play characters outside of his comfort zone, and I respect the grand ambition of the screenplay. But a lot of the effects and makeup did not impress me. If I had to pick my favorite aspect of this film, it would be the score. It was beautiful and should have been nominated for an Oscar.

    Bonjour Tristesse

    March 7, 2013 at 4:05 am

    • I’ve always liked Tom Hanks and it was great to see him challenged to do something unusual. And I agree: the score was just beautiful. As of the make-up, at least it didn’t bother me. It wasn’t like the Guy Pearce thing in Prometheus, which really threw me out of the movie


      March 7, 2013 at 7:32 am

  13. I’m pleasantly surprised. I went in expecting an incomprehensible movie a la primer from what I’ve read of it.

    But no, I could follow each story line and I enjoyed them all, no filler story lines like you have in so many other of those mixed story movies/books. I picked up some ways in which the lines overlap but there’s enough left to watch it a second time (or even better, pick up the book). And interestingly, I was also reminded of Terence Malick as I watched the beautiful scenery. The movie just looks great… and expensive.

    Well, I’m glad that they manage to find a multi million budget to make movies like these. Who in their right mind would spend 100 million dollars on a difficult SF opus these days? 🙂


    April 14, 2013 at 1:47 am

    • Yeah, as a sci-fi fan I was really pleased with this movie. Sci-fi is so much more than just war in a space setting. This captures some really good sides of the genre. And as opposed to in the case of Malick, I was completely engaged with all of it, while I had to struggle to stay awake through Tree of Life.


      April 14, 2013 at 9:37 pm

      • Haven’t seen it yet but I enjoyed Days of Heaven and still have to see Badlands which I picked up for €1 on a second hand market.


        April 14, 2013 at 11:44 pm

        • Days of Heaven is easily the best Malick I’ve seen so far. It’s not only beautifully made; it’s got really good storytelling as well.


          April 14, 2013 at 11:54 pm

  14. […] 6.  Cloud Atlas It breaks my heart to think about how badly this movie made in the box office so I avoid thinking about that part. I’ve seen this movie twice now, and it only gets better. This was a bold and beautiful movie. […]

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