Posts Tagged ‘adaptation’

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This short story is literally MacBeth set on Mars. It’s based on my screenplay.

2137

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Steven Spielberg’s Amblin, Syfy

…set in a world without poverty, war or disease. Humans are given mind-altering drugs, free sex and rampant consumerism are the order of the day, and people no longer reproduce but are genetically engineered in “hatcheries.” Those who won’t conform are forced onto “reservations,” until one of the “savages” challenges the system, threatening the entire social order.

Cloud-Atlas-Whos-Who

I mean,

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I avoided this based on initial negative reviews.  Some cinematographers, however, praised it to the moon.  Myopia?  Does image trump the story and execution?  Or is there something here worth exploring?

Later I found that it was directed by Tom Tykwer, and I simply had to see it for myself.  Tykwer has been legendarily great with Run Lola Run, The Princess and the Warrior and Perfume.

After the opening two minutes however, I had to pause it and write this:

If the first minutes of Cloud Atlas were posted online I would not have bothered (the opposite of Serenity, btw, where that did happen, and I did run out to see it as a result).  It’s a disjointed and overly confusing beginning with simply too many characters, times and stories all irrelevant to one another.  This is like a mishmash of incomprehensible proportions, right off the bat.  The intense focus and single minded drive of a film like Run Lola Run is traded for apparently compressing half a dozen different book chapters into mere seconds of jigsaw cinema.  How can anyone be brought into the story, when they can’t even comprehend which story or time period they are supposed to be entering?  This is a major flaw and miscue in the storytelling that no one would expect from Tykwer.  The Cloud Atlas novel has been described as “unfilmable” which may not be true – but then again, not like this.  Establish something, for fuck’s sake, before you jump all over the universe.

By 20 or 30 minutes in, it’s obvious that these stories really don’t belong in the same film at all.  Some later tenuous nanofibres pretending to connect them are simply not going to do it.  These stories simply don’t intertwine, and their relation to each other isn’t really going to pay off satisfactorily (assuming any such relationship eventually is revealed).  Some of the actors jump from life to life and time to time, but so what?  This calls attention to the weakness of the connections more than it makes them.  It seems to say that we have Tom Hanks, and he costs X dollars, so let’s make sure he’s in 1760 and 1920 and 1973 and 2294 or whatever.  The specifics are as unimportant as the existence of the various unrelated snippets.  Any of the individual stories may have worked on their own terms, but what the hell are they all doing in the same movie?  It’s like the author/screenwriter jumped from cable tv channel to channel and wished and prayed that he could somehow tie all the video clips together by throwing the same actors in each channel’s story.  It really does play that disjointed.

A similar film which springs to mind immediately, due to its similar malady, is Magnolia.  Described by my wife as, “the emperor has no clothes,” the problem with Magnolia is that it’s not really a movie, it’s just cut that length.  Magnolia knitted together a bunch of unrelated snippets, probably from a bunch of shorter works, none of them suitable for a feature-length story.  This creative (pretentious) dering-do fell flat on its face in some quarters.  There’s suspension of disbelief, and then there’s the suspension of eye-rolling and the desire to hurl your Slushee at the screen.  I think of Cloud Atlas in that category, that genre of chopped together short stories that really don’t have any connection to one another, but if we preen and pretend we’re artists above all that maybe they’ll give us an Oscar™.

Conversely, Robert Altman’s Short Cuts worked for some reason.  Don’t even ask me why.  I guess the idea was broadcast right in the title, up front and blatant.  Everything happened in the same general locale (Los Angeles) in the same time period.  What’s more I expected them to link the stories together, with characters from one milieu crossing into other circles during the progression of the film.  Short Cuts pulled off what it set out to do without jumping three centuries backward or forward.  Perhaps Tykwer meditated more on Aronofsky’s The Fountain, another multiple period story, and another one that worked because it wasn’t so disjointed that there was no hope of tying them together in the end.  Perhaps The Fountain is the model, the one that went out farthest on a limb without that limb breaking.  In The Fountain storytelling may have achieved new possibilities that people hadn’t believed possible before, including Tykwer.

But here?  In Cloud Atlas it can’t tie these characters, plotlines or events together in any way shape or form for the first half of the picture.  I can’t even count the number of different lives we’re supposed to be remembering.  The audience, who needs you to throw them some kind of bone, just can’t hang on in such a desolate environment.  Personally, he lost me before the title screen came up.  Tykwer’s just outsmarting the audience and outsmarting himself.  And I still believe he’s one of the greats, but he needs better, more filmable material.

So after endless jumping through time, one guy is poisoning another guy; why?  Who knows.  Maybe about a girl and jealousy.  One guy is leading a super techno race chick to a mountaintop through cannibal country and fighting the urge to kill her.  One guy is on a ship with a stowawayy slave.  One synthetic android Chinese chick has escaped future sex-slave In ‘N Out Burger to join the revolution. One super gay music composer shot some dude who wants him captured, although he’s writing the great timeless Cloud Opera symphony, from the first guy’s dream, and oh yeah he already kills himself in a bathtub in the opening minute – huh?  The film is a giant huh, with some loosely strung together themes about freedom and people dominating others.  But, it’s Tron / Speed Racer one moment, and on a sailing ship in the 18th century the next.  It’s got everything and kitchen sinks from the past, future and beyond.  I forgot to mention the Big Oil wants to blow up a nuclear reactor assassin subplot.  Yeah, it’s that movie, that you were clamoring for Hollywood to finally make, right?

Okay, I’m feeling sarcastic.  But, who in the fuck thought stringing all these stories together in one movie was a good idea?

After an hour some of the themes start to look similar.  But the worlds look nothing like one another.  The plots of each story are also wildly disparate.  Time separates them, but there are so many characters in so many times and worlds that it’s hard to figure out who may have a tenuous future connection to whom, based upon some of the clues that may be clues, or they may be background because there’s so much going on in so many subplots, who the hell can remember?

I actually like some of the themes and ideas the film tries to bring out.  My problem is with the execution, and the shoehorning of all these plots.  They just don’t fit together.

There’s another plot with an old wacky publisher guy chased by thugs who is locked in an old folks home by his pissed-off brother.  But, who can keep track of this overturned pot of spaghetti?  The jagged cutting, often to clips lasting no more than a few seconds from any one story, is reminiscent of a child playing with the TV remote.  This makes it all but impossible to care, or invest emotionally in any of the characters or horrors portrayed, leaving them as nothing more than curiosities in a passing kind of noise that echoes from many different lives.

That’s Cloud Atlas.

Movie, the Movie made more sense.

 

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Baz Luhrmann, ‘Great Gatsby’ Director, Explains The 3D, The Hip Hop, The Sanitarium And More