Six stories spanning almost 500 years, interwoven to create one compelling meditation on the nature of human existence, is both Cloud Atlas' ambition and accomplishment. It debuts next week on Blu-ray with a high definition presentation worthy of its cinematic spectacle, though an oddly limited set of bonus material suggests there might have been a more substantial release planned for store shelves.
Studio: Warner Brothers
Distributed By: N/A
Video Resolution and Encode: 1080P/AVC
Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
Audio: English 5.1 DTS-HDMA, Spanish 5.1 DD, French 5.1 DD
Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
Run Time: 2 Hr. 52 Min.
Package Includes: Blu-ray, DVD, UltraViolet
Disc Type: BD50 (dual layer)
Release Date: 05/14/2013
A word of warning: For a good third of Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tow Twyker’s co-directorial effort Cloud Atlas, you’ll be wondering what the heck is going on. Adapted from David Mitchell’s award-winning novel of the same name, the film doesn’t try to duplicate the book’s unique structure, which interlocks six stories from different time periods into one narrative, but it undertakes a juggling act of concurrent storytelling just the same.
The Production Rating: 4.5/5
Spanning almost 500 years, the film's multiple tales range from the 1850s, when an earnest young lawyer named Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) sees the cruelty of the slave trade first hand, to the 24th Century, where a humble goat herder named Zachry (Tom Hanks) struggles to keep himself and his family alive in a post-apocalyptic island civilization. The points in between – 1930s England with aspiring composer Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw), 1970s San Francisco with investigative journalist Luisa Rey (Halle Berry), present day London with vanity press publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent), and 22nd Century Neo-Seoul, Korea with genetically engineered slave Sonmi~451 (Doona Bae) – fill in some blanks, but in an impressionistic, tone poem kind of way. Take a step back, and look at things from an angle and you’ll see shapes and patterns that unify each of the stories and characters, but look too hard for concrete connections, and you’re bound to be frustrated.
Which brings us to the secondary zone of confusion: Members of the cast show up as different characters in each of the stories, playing roles both major and minor. As the most visual tie between the narratives, the repeat appearances – with the performers sometimes buried under layers of old age and/or ethnic makeup – makes it tempting to base one’s understanding of the film on that alone. But while a character in one story has an obvious reflection in another (e.g. Hanks’ 1970s nuclear plant scientist Isaac Sachs to the goat herder Zachry), sometimes the performer’s other roles amount to little more than cameos (Hanks also makes appearances as a slimy hotel manager and a cockney street thug). However, focus on the more prominent parts an actor plays, and don’t try to link every appearance together, and the point will be clear. Though the heavy makeup can be particularly distracting, especially when the result is an obvious facial prosthetic or wig, it’s a reasonable way to illustrate the persistence of souls, the various paths they can take from age to age, and the sense of déjà vu that comes when past lives connect and reconnect. What also looked kind of hokey in previews benefits from the feature’s nearly three hour run time, as the novelty of reappearing actors eventually gives way to the more compelling tenets of the film.
Notwithstanding their more confusing elements, viewers should find the six stories and the recurring themes around love and freedom rather well defined, if not seamlessly integrated through some skillful editing. Though some have criticized the individual plots as hackneyed, it’s the repetition of what occurs that’s significant. From the 19th Century slave trade to the collapse of civilization 500 years later, the film depicts a cycle of pain and oppression, both institutional and interpersonal, with no real change. An opportunity for a clean slate is offered as a remedy, but ultimately the film shows human bonds as the only real antidote to the unshakeable human condition. Coming at the end of something as complex as Cloud Atlas’s interwoven storytelling, this well tread notion manages to avoid cliché through sheer simplicity. And while the audience will be drawn in by the film’s myriad technical and visual elements, given the directors’ established skill at creating cinematic spectacle, it’s ultimately the more subtle and even unspoken messages that will resonate and inspire repeated viewing.
Correctly framed at 2.40:1 and presented in 1080p with the AVC codec, the transfer features exceptional black levels, an uncompromised range of contrast, and impeccable color depth. Along with sometimes startling clarity and detail, viewers will be particularly moved by a white pebble beach set against a cobalt blue ocean; the skyline of an advanced, neon metropolis; and the lush, island forests of an untamed civilization. Given the variety of the settings and time periods, there’s plenty of material to showcase, and the transfer presents each with amazing quality.
Video Rating: 5/5 3D Rating: NA
Dialogue in the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track is consistently crisp, clear and intelligible, even with some actors having heavier accents. Surround channels offer more in the way of ambient effects than dynamic, directional ones, but sound properly balanced and immersive in each of the time periods. LFE doesn’t troll especially deep, but a few key action sequences engage the subwoofer more heavily and there’s a consistent depth and fullness throughout.
Audio Rating: 4.5/5
Though there’s almost an hour of behind the scenes featurettes – a few of which are interesting, but most kind of perfunctory given their brevity – the bonus material seems oddly truncated. Normally Warner Brothers’ “Focus Points” videos go hand-in-hand with a picture-in-picture commentary feature, but there’s no such item here. If the film had performed better at the box office, I would take this as a sign there’s a collector’s edition forthcoming. But given the reality, it seems more like bigger plans for the Blu-ray special features were ultimately scrapped. However, this is nothing more than conjecture on my part.
Special Features Rating: 3/5
- A Film Like No Other (7:15, HD): An overview of the film’s concepts and production challenges.
- Everything is Connected (8:00, HD): Insights into the stories and their common themes.
- The Impossible Adaptation (9:07, HD): Thoughts on the source material and the adaptation process with author David Mitchell and the filmmakers.
- The Essence of Acting (7:20, HD): The experience of playing multiple characters.
- Spaceships, Slaves and Sextets (8:08, HD): The connection between the stories.
- The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas (7:14, HD): A look at the film’s science fiction concepts and production design.
- Eternal Recurrence: Love, Life and Longing in Cloud Atlas (7:39, HD): A look at the film’s relationships and personal connections.
Warner Home Video delivers an impeccable high definition experience for the Wachowski and Twyker co-directorial effort Cloud Atlas, a film that is initially befuddling, but ultimately resonant in both its scope and message. The bonus material pulls back the curtain on the making of the film, to an extent, but given the nature of the production, there's certainly more that could have been shared. Nevertheless, the feature and its presentation make the Blu-ray worth at least a rental, if not an outright purchase, even though its story may remain a mystery for some.
Overall Rating: 4/5
Reviewed By: Cameron Yee
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