Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB.5. Germany/USA/Hong Kong/Singapore, 2012. Cloud Atlas Productions, X-Filme Creative Pool, Anarchos Pictures, A Company Filmproduktionsgesellschaft, ARD Degeto Film, Ascension Pictures, Dreams of Dragon Picture, Five Drops, Media Asia Group. Written for the screen by Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Lilly Wachowski, based on the novel by David Mitchell. Cinematography by Frank Griebe, John Toll. Produced by Stefan Arndt, Alex Boden, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Lana Wachowski, Lilly Wachowski. Music by Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer. Production Design by Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch. Costume Design by Kym Barrett, Pierre-Yves Gayraud. Film Editing by Alexander Berner, Claus Wehlisch. Golden Globe Awards 2012. Toronto International Film Festival 2012. Washington Film Critics Awards 2012.
A scientist in the late nineteenth century is beset by illness while on an ocean voyage; a composer in England in the 1930s becomes assistant to a cantankerous legend in his field; a reporter in 1970s America investigates the shady dealings of a nuclear power corporation; a struggling publisher in 2012 England is unwittingly put into a nursing home by his vengeful brother; a romance sparks between an enslaved restaurant hostess and a freedom fighter in 22nd century Asia; and human survival is a rough struggle for a peaceful village on a post-apocalyptic earth. These are the tales that this adaptation of David Mitchell’s novel sorts through as it explores the connections and contradictions of human history, with Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer dividing up the directorial duties (after years of script development) to come up with a science-fiction epic that seeks to have a giant heart at its centre. The result is shockingly underwhelming, with connections that are clever at best but never poignant, while the technique of using the impressive cast multiple times in various stories is really just a trick-pony ruse that fails to resonate. Talented is not the same as versatile, and while actors like Hugh Grant and Tom Hanks are terrific performers, neither of them can really effectively portray anyone other than their own famous on-screen personas (Hanks dressed like a bucolic shepherd and speaking like Jar-Jar Binks is particularly awkward). In fact, all of the performances come off as Halloween costumes (with bad makeup offering no assistance, Jim Sturgess as an Asian man just looks like he’s wearing a mask), with the exception of the more fluid work by Hugo Weaving standing out (including one section as a Nurse Ratched-like nursing home bulldog). The structure is impressively comprehensive and well-organized, but the contemporary and antique stories are boring and the futuristic ones are frustratingly difficult to understand (particularly because they, too, are also boring).