New on DVD/Blu-ray: Cloud Atlas (2012)

Halle Berry and Tom Hanks in Cloud Atlas (2012) Movie Image

Talk about ambitious. The Wachowskis (that would be Lana and Andy) and Tom Tykwer have combined their immense talents to tackle David Mitchell’s “unfilmable” book “Cloud Atlas” and made it, well, filmable. Many years in the making, the sprawling epic is definitely one of those movies where a Blu-ray player (or DVD player for those of you still clinging to such things) is preferable over a theatrical viewing, because let’s face it, you’re going to have to see this movie at least twice, if just to catch all the actors in all their different roles. Try that while the film is still in theaters and you might end up having to hawk an arm just to pay for the privilege. (In case you haven’t noticed, going to the movies is insanely expensive these days.)

In fact, while watching the Blu-ray, I realized it was much easier to watch the film with the movie’s page opened, allowing me to consult the cast listing every time a familiar face showed up. A must, given that many of the actors go through some pretty convincing physical transformations for different segments. Well, most of them are pretty convincing. Some are just head-scratchingly bad.

Adapted by the Wachowskis and Tykwer, based on the book of the same name by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” will be available on Blu-ray Combo pack, DVD and Digital Download this May 14, 2013.

A huge undertaking that spans centuries and involves disparate sets of characters , “Cloud Atlas” is spearheaded by Tom Hanks and Halle Berry, and features outstanding roles by the Jims (Jim Broadbent and Jim Sturgess), along with Doona Bae and Ben Whishaw. The film clocks in at just a shade under 3 hours, but don’t let that fool you, this thing moves pretty well and never feels bloated or dragging its feet. The script may seem complex at first — it keeps jumping from one timeline to another, quickly establishing past, present, and future timelines before skipping back and forth and back again — but there’s a plan to its madness. After a while, you start to become familiar with the characters and their settings, and the film gets noticeably easier to follow as the plot chugs along.

Hanks does good work throughout (though he really shines in the futuristic segment as a member of a primitive tribe), but Jim Broadbent as a crusty old book publisher (who Hanks also plays in a movie within the movie, natch) is the real scene stealer. Hugh Grant is nearly unrecognizable in a variety of heavy make-up, though there are some amusing misses in this department — Halle Berry as a white woman, Jim Sturgess as an Asian, and Hugo Weaving as an, er, chesty nurse are borderline hilarious in their awfulness. Some storylines are also better than others, with a few that seems to have a lot of good ideas behind them, but drag too much. I also never really bought into the Berry-Hanks relationship, as the two have no real chemistry regardless of what timeline they’re currently meeting up in.

Louis Dempsey and Jim Broadbent in Cloud Atlas (2012) Movie Image

Besides the human elements, universal themes of love and salvation (who can’t get behind those?), and cause and effect, “Cloud Atlas” does feature some nifty action sequences. You won’t be surprised to learn that the Wachowskis are responsible for the film’s more “out there” sci-fi sequences, which feature slick action choreography. Tykwer does most of his work on the film’s more “grounded” timelines. If I had to nitpick, it would be forcing too many scenes with the same actors needlessly popping up in different characters (usually wearing ridiculous make-up). It can be a bit distracting as you try to figure out why that really weird old Asian guy looks so familiar when you should be focusing entirely on Sonmi-451’s plight.

Bottom line: “Cloud Atlas” is an easy film to enjoy, both for the casual viewer and for those who like a little more bone in their movies. Be warned, though, the film is nearly 3-hours long, so be sure to carve out enough time to watch it, preferably in one sitting. This is probably not the kind of movie you’ll want to stop and pick back up again in a day or two, because it really does build on previous segments for a grand finish.

Doona Bae and Jim Sturgess in Cloud Atlas (2012) Movie Image

Despite squeezing the rather long running time into one disc, the Blu-ray’s video and audio are excellent, a must given the film’s many exceptional visuals. This is one good looking movie, and the Blu-ray doesn’t let it down one bit.

Too bad you can’t really say the same for the special features, because it doesn’t look like the studio or the filmmakers went all out here. (I’m guessing a future Director’s Cut, perhaps?) You do get just under an hour of behind-the-scenes mini docs (about 7-8 minutes each) spread out as “Focal Points”. No Maximum Movie Mode or any other fancy play-back features, alas. Much of the mini-docs consist of talking head interviews with the cast and crew about their characters, the movie, and the film’s complex storylines. It’s all very Inside the Actor’s Studio, if you’re into that sort of stuff. (I’m not, in case you were wondering.) They’re nothing you couldn’t do without, even for big fans of the movie. There aren’t even any trailers, which is kind of odd. Even barebones movies toss in the trailers, and “Cloud Atlas” had some really great trailers.

Standard DVD watchers get the shaft, with only “A Film Like No Other”, one of the 7 mini-docs available in the Blu-ray version.

Cloud Atlas (2012) Movie Blu-ray Cover