Yes. This is the real review.
For all my preamble, and thoughts on the comparison between books and their film adaptations, read here.
To understand the connections between the characters, might I recommend this article, which features this handy diagram:
So… the big question… does the movie of Cloud Atlas make the book make more sense?
Some of the connections didn’t make any sense in the book, or were too confusing, or too hidden by the differences between the characters in their individual stories. For example – Jim Broadbent plays Vyvyan Ayres. He also plays Timothy Cavendish, and Captain Molyneux. When reading, these weren’t characters that I would have connected. In retrospect, however, it makes sense. Molyneux and Ayres are both cruel to the people under their authority (the sailors, and Robert Frobisher) seemingly because they have the power to do so. They feel that their actions are justified, the they’re both changeable and manipulative. While not as vile as either Moylyneux, or as self important as Ayres, Cavendish is still self-important and pompous.
Connections I’d never considered at all are those between the characters played by Hugh Grant, and the characters played by Hugo Weaving. Grant’s characters are weasely and slimy, but not entirely despicable. They’re more self-serving than anything. Weaving’s characters, however, are villains. But even so, they shift. Adam Ewing’s father-in-law isn’t necessarily bad – he just espouses bad ideas. Similarly, Boardmen Melphi in Sonmi’s story isn’t a villain necessarily – he just needs the system he supports to stand. Nurse Noakes, on the other hand, is a sadist written in the form of Nurse Ratchet from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. In his final form – as Old Georgie, after the fall – he becomes the personification of evil – the grotesque, unseen voice whispering in Zachry’s ear.
There was one that baffled me. With the others, the moment I saw how the characters were connected, it all made sense. Tom Hanks’s characters however… that required some thought. He appears as Zachry, unquestionably good, though plagued by Old Georgie, and as Isaac Sachs, who tries to help Luisa Rey. In contrast, he also plays the unscrupulous hotel owner who blackmails Robert Frobisher; Dermot Hoggins, the writer who publicly murders a critic who gave him a bad review; and (most confusingly) Dr Goose, who spends the length of the film murdering Adam Ewing.
Okay. I guess if I think about it, it makes sense. Isaac Sachs does the right thing after meeting Luisa Rey. Zachry is a coward, but he overcomes his cowardice, and ignores Old Georgie (most of the time). At best guess, his character is one who must overcome his more criminal instincts. As Zachry, his instincts toward doing wrong are externalized as Old Georgie, but as Dr Goose, they’re internalized. In every incarnation where he connects with Luisa Rey (in whatever form), he tends toward good. In those without her, he tends toward bad.
The film is beautifully shot. The stories cut from one to the other just often enough that you’re not bored, but not so often that you’re confused. They generally do a fantastic job of cutting from one version of a character to another.
Certain elements are jarring. The make up in the Neo-Seoul section was quite jarring. Part of me thought that they should have hired Korean actors for the parts instead… but that would really have confused the film. Other jarring elements include certain of the accents. Is Adam Ewing American or not? How about Hugh Grant’s character in Luisa Rey’s story? Or Tom Hanks trying to sound English in Timothy Cavendish’s story? Cringe.
But overall, I actually found the film to be a decent mix of serious and light hearted (moving from Sonmi’s story to Timothy Cavendish’s was brilliant – the same themes echoed, but in such different forms), and the tone of each of the sections was different enough to suit each genre, but similar enough that they all seemed to belong to the same film. The casting was excellent (cringe-worthy moments aside). At almost three hours long, it is a long film. But I can’t imagine that there is any way in which to deal with all the stories as well as they did.
As for whether it lives up to the expectations we’re set by the book, I’d have to say that it’s an improvement. There were certain storylines that were excised that I felt improved the plot. For example, the entire plot where Robert Frobisher falls for Ayres’s daughter was removed. Thank goodness for that. The same can be said of a great deal of the plot concerning Adam Ewing – a dramatic improvement, in my opinion.
There were parts of Sonmi’s story that I missed, though. However, the necessary details of the plot still found their way in, so I’m not heartbroken.
Is it better than the book? I… I would go against my usual nature here, and say yes. The book is beautifully written, but it really drags in places (read my review here, if you care to), and it isn’t as clearly connected as the film.
I’m not sure I’d recommend the book. But I would seriously and absolutely recommend the film. It’s unique, beautiful, and a complicated story well presented.