Spoiler Alert: This page includes a synopsis that describes most of the plot. If you have not seen this movie, you might want to do so before reading this post. Otherwise, feel free to read it and watch it later for any feedback you might want to offer.
For Labor Day, I decided I’d spend 3 hours watching a single movie and perhaps write a review of it because the reviews in Redbox were mostly negative with audience scores of 2.5 out of 5.0. What convinced me was the few positive reviews that said to ignore the other reviews because those reviewers were impatient and lacked sufficient intelligence to follow multiple storylines in one movie.
While watching Cloud Atlas, it reminded me of The Hours movie that spanned three generations in the US. Instead, however, Cloud Atlas has six storylines that take place in different locations and diverse time periods. And the same group of actors play different characters in some manner during the six time periods. From Wikipedia, I’ve listed these storylines and year below.
- South Pacific Ocean, 1849
- Cambridge, England and Edinburgh, Scotland, 1936
- San Francisco, USA, 1973
- United Kingdom, 2012
- Neo Seoul, (Korea), 2144
- The Big Island, 2321
What’s amazing is the production over anything else. The cinematography, makeup, and scores were exceptionally well done, as was the acting. To produce this, there were two camera crews and a long list of special effects and stunt artists. That to me makes it an epic movie but from what I learned from Wikipedia, the term “epic” as a genre is a contentious evaluation.
As Wikipedia says, “Cloud Atlas polarized critics, and has subsequently been included on various Best Film and Worst Film lists.” It also says that it is the most expensive independent movies of all times with a $102 million budget provided by independent sources. I would imagine that a lot of that budget came from what were once known as the Wachowski brothers; however, now one is transgendered. This is the same pair that brought us the magnificent Matrix trilogy.
I often say that a typical movie should be no more that 90 minutes. In my review of Mud, I concluded that is a perfect example of a 90-minute movie but a lot of time is spent on B-roll footage that makes it more of a film festival movie than theatrical. In conversations with professional editors, like Oliver Peters, I have been informed that a movie should be as long as it takes to tell the story. However, I could never spend the amount of time sitting in a theatre watching a movie like Cloud Atlas, unless there were at least two intermissions, as I took myself while watching it.
Some of the properties of an epic movie, per Wikipedia, are that “Epic historical films often take a historical or imagined event, or a mythic, legendary, or heroic figure and add an extravagant, spectacular setting and lavish costumes, accompanied by a sweeping musical score, and an ensemble cast of bankable stars, making them among the most expensive of films to produce.” To me, that sentence alone qualifies Cloud Atlas as an epic movie.
Where Cloud Atlas meets the criteria above, it was not a successful movie, like those quoted as examples in Wikipedia. The lifetime gross for the movie was just over $27 million US dollars, per Box Office Mojo, and screened in a mere 2,023 theatres. That makes the movie an “epic failure” because it failed the business model of making a profit for those people “above the line” and instead lost roughly $88 million USD.
From what I’ve seen, it appears they did not release or market the movie right. Like I said above, there should have been intermissions along with a huge marketing campaign to attract the right audience and set expectations appropriately. As an idea, the trailers should have been constructed to show that this is a new kind of movie to experience. One Redbox review even described it as having six video screens sitting in front of you as you surf between the six stories, instead of being presented sliced between each other.
That’s where the mass audiences killed the release. A third of the gross income from the release came on opening day, a little over $9 million USD. Word of mouth is the thumbs up or down for the success of theatrical releases. The opening number of theatres was 2,008. Based on these numbers, only 15 more theatres screened the movie after opening release.
However, I believe it will eventually find its audience in a similar fashion to Blade Runner. This epic movie suffered a similar release problem as Wikipedia quotes, “A significant factor in the film’s rather poor box office performance was that it was released around the same time as other science fiction films, including The Thing, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and, most significantly, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, which dominated box office revenues that summer.” In addition, “Film critics were polarized as some felt the story had taken a back seat to special effects and that it was not the action/adventure the studio had advertised.”
I did find one problem with continuity. In the boat scene where Tom Hanks’s character is slowly poisoning the attorney passenger named Adam Ewing, at the climax of the scene there is a storm that darkens the sky outside and makes the scene even more terrorizing along with the fight between the black man named Autua and Tom Hanks’s character. Maybe they did this as creative license to add to the chaos. The problem I had was that when Autua takes Adam to the topside of the ship to puke the poison out, the storm is gone and the sun is shining.
In conclusion to my short review of an epic movie, I say set aside a large block of time to watch in one sitting (or during one day) or load it on a device where you can take the time to watch it in shorter timeslots. What I found to be the most fun was remembering the different plots and how they relate to each other. The central theme is the typical humanity, dignity, struggle for success against the oppression from others. But don’t watch it for the themes, watch it for its engaging performances by the actors, the costumes, the sets, and the action. As one reviewer said, it’s like putting together a puzzle and to me that is a significant reason to watch and challenge the brain.