Film Review: Cloud Atlas (Preamble)

No… this isn’t the review. That will be later.

As often as possible, I prefer to read a book before I watch its movie. However, I don’t avoid watching a movie because I haven’t read the book (the most recent example of this being Ender’s Game). Even when I’ve read and seen both, I still try to separate the book and the film in my mind – a lesson I learnt from The Shining. I adored the book, and was unable to see that the movie is brilliant in itself. The Shining is a case were you need to pretend that the film and the book have nothing to do with each other – not a difficult stretch.

Despite this, I can’t help connecting a book with its film, and judging which one I think is better. This is usually difficult, and people usually prefer the book. I have… mixed feelings about this.

People get very attached to their idea of what the characters and scenes in a book will look like when they hit the screen. And then people get angry, and that makes sense. Reading a book is a more personal experience than watching a film. But I feel uncomfortable when people write a film off when it’s not exactly what they were imagining.

For example, people select their dream casts, and are reluctant to (or downright refuse to) accept that the people who cast the actor might just know what they’re doing. Think of Tom Cruise in Interview with the Vampire. Based just on the book, I’d never have picked him for Lestat. But, watching the film, he’s somehow… perfect. No, he’s not tall enough, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

Sometimes plot points are impossible to translate on screen, and might be better expressed in a manner that is different from the book. Sometimes it’s better, and sometimes it’s worse.

Yes. I did say that sometimes it’s better. Even Chuck Palahniuk admits that the film of Fight Club is better than the book. (I would make a point here about Lord of the Rings, but I might get stabbed.)

After this lengthy discussion, let me admit that I watched Cloud Atlas for two reasons:

1. Ben Whishaw is very pretty.
2. I wanted to find out if the book makes more sense after I’ve seen the movie.

The case for point one is obvious.

Also, the scenery is very nice.
Also, the scenery is very nice.

The case for point two is… movies like Trainspotting make a lot more sense than their books, because the stylistic elements that make it brilliant and unique are also confusing In a case like Trainspotting, the fragmented narrative and the dense, difficult Scottish accent that the book is written in make it damn difficult to follow. I have a similar relationship with Charles Dickens. His writing bores me to tears, but I actually enjoy films made of his novels. It’s what TV Tropes calls Adaptation Distillation.

Hopefully, the seemingly disconnected plots of Cloud Atlas will make more sense if I see how the characters are meant to be connected. Therefore, I watched Cloud Atlas last night. I’m going to put the review, and my thoughts, in a separate post.


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