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The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer give it their all, but this sci-fi epic is beyond bloated....
Warner / 172 Minutes / 2012 / Rated R / Street Date: May 14, 2013
As if Speed Racer wasn’t enough, the Wachowskis were able to convince Warner to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars to embark upon the mission of Cloud Atlas, an impossibly ambitious adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel that spans space, time, and all varieties of viewer patience. Any film that focuses on cyborgs and spacecraft will appeal to a certain sci-fi demographic, but Cloud Atlas is – ironically enough – all over the map, just as interested in secret early 20th century gay affairs as it is in robotic ethics.
It’s fascinating to watch simply because the Wachowskis (along with co-director Tom Tykwer) swing so wide they can’t possibly pull it off. Enlisting A-listers like Tom Hanks and Halle Berry to play multiple parts – some of which involve Cro-Magnon growling and grunting – and putting their effects team to work with gusto, Cloud Atlas quickly becomes fascinatingly big for its britches. This is kitchen-sink filmmaking at its most audacious: it can’t be argued that Cloud Atlas goes out of its way to do everything it can to connect with those tolerant enough to stomach it.
There are cavemen and Farrah Fawcett-Majors haircuts, futuristic automatons with delusions of grandeur, gruff musicians and the suicidal boys who love them, airplane explosions, ultra-vivid car crashes – again, Cloud Atlas has a lot of dramatic real estate to offer. Yet while its vastly ambitious intentions of representing the implicit entropy of the universe are uniquely inventive, the whole thing feels like an expensive, convoluted mess.
But sometimes grandiose missteps like Cloud Atlas end up being ingenious time wasters. On Blu-ray, experiencing the Wachowski/Tykwer vision frequently prompts viewers to ask themselves, ‘Who green-lit this?’ Any movie with Tom Hanks’ name above the title is bound to sell a ticket or two, but fantasizing about Warner brass seeing the final print of this kaleidoscopic rubbish is too delicious to resist. Let’s leave it at this: Cloud Atlas is a mess, but few movies from 2012 were this jaw-droppingly stupefying.