The star-studded fantasy spectacle “Cloud Atlas,” which opens nationwide on Oct. 26, is one of the most ambitious page-to-screen adaptations to hit the screen in years.
Directed by Lara and Andy Wachowski (“The Matrix Trilogy,” “V for Vendetta”) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run,” and “Perfume: The Story of Murder”), the film intertwines six starkly different storylines from the past, present, and distant future. Based on the 500-plus page David Mitchell novel of the same name, “Cloud Atlas” illustrates how one individual soul grows and changes across various time periods and locations.
Following a 10-minute standing ovation at the Toronto International film festival last month, the film is fast becoming an awards season frontrunner.
Here are five things to know about the film.
1. Six Time Periods Are Explored
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“Cloud Atlas” opens in 1849 and follows characters in 1936, 1973, 2012, 2144, and 2346. Though the film follows six different stories that span five centuries and cover a variety of genres, the Wachowskis and Tykwer consider the film a single story.
“Our goal was to develop a meta-narrative to bind everything together into one flowing story with its own momentum,” Tykwer said in the film’s press notes.
“The key is to abandon the idea that it’s six stories. It’s one,” Andy has said. “Each of the pieces and time periods reflects upon the others throughout the movie. As all these souls evolve, you see the connections between them, and follow their chronologic progress.”
2. Actors Portray Numerous Different Roles
Each of the main actors in “Cloud Atlas” takes on multiple roles in the film. Many of them portray a variety of races and both male and female characters. Both Tom Hanks and Halle Berry play six roles while Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon and Hugh Grant portray four to six strikingly different characters.
According to NBC, Hanks and Berry wer undaunted by the prospect of playing multiple roles.
“We did play different roles, but those were all thoroughly prepped and researched,” said Hanks. “We had a lot of time to do it, and a lot was expected of all this. It sounds like this was very intimidating, almost impossible to keep track of process but Lana and Andy and Tom, they wrote this I think two years before they even talked to us about it, so they knew exactly what they were doing and we knew exactly what we were shooting.”
“Honestly, it was like the most fun to stretch," Berry said. "I got to play a white Jewish woman in 1930 – like, when would I get to do that?” So to put on that skin…the fun part was that we had these make up tests that went on and on which might seem like arduous work but when you’re an actor, that’s the fun of it, to create something that you’ve never done before and to be a part of that process.”
3. Divisions Of Race And Gender Are Blurred
Lana Wachowski, who is a transgendered woman formerly known as Larry, has said the film aims to topple racial and gender divisions.
“Thematically, it transcends boundaries of race and gender, location and time, and tells a story that implies the nature of humanity is beyond all those boundaries,” said Lara in the film’s press notes. “That’s what intrigued us when we read the novel and then when we started working on the script.”
Berry and Sarandon both play male characters in parts of the film while D’Arcy, Weaving, and Whishaw portray women.
“Cloud Atlas” is also set in a variety of geographical locations, making for an ethnically diverse group of characters.
Three dialect coaches, William Conacher, Peggy Hall-Plessas and Julia Wilson Dickson, helped the actors convincingly portray a range of different races.
Among the characters Berry portrays are a German-Jewish woman and a half-Puerto Rican reporter. In one section of the film, D’Arcy, Grant, Sturgess, and Weaving play Korean men while South Korean actress Doona Bae portrays both a white and Latina woman.
Daniel Parker, the film’s makeup artist, used a combination of prosthetics, wigs, and makeup in order to transform each actor.
4. Its Nearly Three Hours Long
The film’s 164 minute runtime makes it one of the few films with a near three-hour runtime. Though this could deter audiences, some of the most acclaim films ever released have lengthy runtimes. Both James Cameron’s 1997 epic “Titanic” and Steven Spielberg’s harrowing 1993 Holocaust drama “Schindler’s List” are over three hours long. Other renowned projects, such as “The English Patient” (1996), “The Lord of the Rings” (2001), and “The Dark Knight Rises” (2012) are over two and a half hours long as well.
5. Unconventional Filming Approach
Production of the “Cloud Atlas” was divided into a two unit shoot. One unit was run by Tykwer while the other was helmed by the Wachowskis. This meant that filming could be completed in less than six months. The Wachowskis filmed in Berlin, Germany and Mallorca, Spain while Tykwer shot in Scotland.
The Wachowskis and Tykwer spent years attempting to raise the funds necessary to finance “Cloud Atlas.” With the help of Warner Brothers (NYSE:TWX), the German Federal Film Fund, Focus Features International (NYSE: GE), and various other investors the film was able to begin production in September 2011. In an interview with the Huffington Post, the Wachowskis revealed that they financed someof the film themselves.
“Four days before we were supposed to start shooting, another financier fell out, and it opened up this huge gap,” Lana told the site. “We didn't even hesitate. We just put our money and our houses in to cover the gap. What was a sort of miraculous aspect of this story was that there wasn't one more falling out. Basically the movie demanded every single thing from us and then said, ‘OK, you can proceed.’”
According to the New Yorker, its $100 budget makes it the most expensive independent film of all time.
“Cloud Atlas” hits theaters on Oct. 26.