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Tuesday, March 19, 2013

“Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell (Book/Movie Review by Sabine Gueneret)

Order “Cloud AtlasHERE (US) + HERE (UK)
Read An Excerpt HERE
Read Liviu Suciu’s Review of “Cloud Atlas
Watch the Movie Trailer HERE

AUTHOR/DIRECTOR INFORMATION: David Mitchell is an English novelist born in January 1969 and has lived in Japan—you can really feel the Asian influence in his writing. He has written five novels including Cloud Atlas, which was shortlisted for the 2004 Booker Prize, Nebula Award, Arthur C. Clarke Award, and other awards. His latest novel, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, was published in 2010.

Tom Tykwer is a director, writer, producer and composer born in Germany in 1965. His filmography includes Run Lola Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, and The International.

Lana & Andy Wachowski were born in Chicago in the 1960s and are best known for writing/directing The Matrix Trilogy. Other works include V For Vendetta, Speed Racer and Ninja Assassin.

FORMAT/INFO: Cloud Atlas the novel was first published in 2004 by Hodder & Stoughton in the UK and by Random House in North America and is currently available in Paperback, Hardcover and eBook.

The film adaptation of Cloud Atlas was released in North America on October 26, 2012 and in the UK on February 26, 2013. The film is 172 minutes long and stars Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, et cetera.

OFFICIAL PLOT SYNOPSIS: A reluctant voyager crossing the Pacific in 1850; a disinherited composer blagging a precarious livelihood in between-the-wars Belgium; a high-minded journalist in Governor Reagan’s California; a vanity publisher fleeing his gangland creditors; a genetically modified dinery server on death-row; and Zachry, a young Pacific Islander witnessing the nightfall of science and civilization—the narrators of Cloud Atlas hear each others’ echoes down the corridor of history, and their destinies are changed in ways great and small…

INTRODUCTION: When I learned that David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was going to be adapted into a movie, I was intrigued. Could this subtle, complicated story really be translated into a film successfully? The book definitely had potential for a screen adaptation, but would the fragile link between the different parts survive? Would it be possible to condense so many time periods, characters and stories in just two to three hours? It was a major challenge, and just for making the attempt, I really admire Lana & Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, but what did I think of the movie? Find out below as I review Cloud Atlas as both a novel and a movie.

ANALYSIS (Cloud Atlas—The Novel): Cloud Atlas is certainly one of a kind to say the least, and it is definitely “intense”, which is how my friend who recommended the book to me described it as. The six stories composing the novel are beautifully and intricately linked together, while Cloud Atlas asks two critical questions that is a wonderful reflection about humanity: Where might our hunt for more—more power, more materialistic comfort, etc.—might drive us to, and whether humans are reborn again and somehow linked to their past and future self? Yet Cloud Atlas is not a piece of Marxism or an esoteric essay, and only two of the six stories possessed SFF elements, and it is from these very characteristics that David Mitchell’s novel takes its strength from.

NOTE: Click HERE to read Liviu’s more comprehensive review of Cloud Atlas and its six individual stories.

ANALYSIS (Cloud Atlas—The Film Adaptation): In Cloud Atlas the movie, the directors decided not to keep the (relatively) linear construction of the book which separates each story into two parts but Zachry’s. Instead, the six stories are fragmented and run simultaneously to one another. This can be confusing for those who haven’t read the novel and do not understand who the characters are. Despite this, I think that overall the movie is really good: good acting and good pacing, especially once you get used to the alternating stories. In general, I find that the necessary (but painful for fans of the novel) cuts are for the most part justified or understandable, including the suppression of minor characters such as Arys’ daughter in Robert Frobisher’s story for instance.

Yet I felt the book’s message had been slightly distorted in the movie. This is partly due of course to the nature of movies itself—showing instead of telling—but this still disturbed me a bit. For example, I felt the romantic elements in each story were given too much importance compared to the part they played in the book. This is classic Hollywood, fair enough, but it seems to me that this focus on love only confuses the meaning of the original story: instead of six characters linked together somehow, the movie became the story of two lovers finding each other again and again (which was a possible interpretation of the book, but not the main one…again in my view!). All this while, the link between the individual stories—how each character heard about their most recent alias—practically disappears, which was such an important part of the novel’s construction.

Also, there is the fact that the same actors play more than one character in the film. There is no indication whatsoever of such resemblance in the book, except for the comet birthmark, and in my opinion this made the film more confusing than anything for someone who has yet to read the novel.

CONCLUSION: I completely agree with Liviu when he said that “Cloud Atlas is considerably more than the sum of its parts and a novel that deserves all the acclaim it got.” The film adaptation of Cloud Atlas has been well received as well—it has been nominated and won several awards so far—and certainly serves justice to the novel in many ways (the beautiful sceneries for instance, especially in Sonmi’s story) and is a worthy complement to the book, even if it allows less place for imagination, but the movie doesn’t possess the subtlety of the novel and guides (too much in my sense) the viewer on how to interpret the whole story. In short, Cloud Atlas is a good film adaptation, but between the novel and the movie, I prefer the book version of Cloud Atlas...


Anonymous said...

What the hell happened to reviewing fantasy books?

The Reader said...

While we review fantasy & SF books generally, from time to time we also like to review stuff that we love and which might not fit entirely in the fantasy genre like this book.



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