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Feature
What The Heck Is Cloud Atlas?
Everything you need to know about the genre-bending epic

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If you take Bright Star, The Parallax View, The Road and Amadeus, add a sprinkle of Blade Runner and a dash of One Foot In The Grave – bear with us here - give them a shake and pour the heady mix out onto the screen, you’d have something close to Cloud Atlas. Well, probably. The whole concept is so melon-twistingly different that we need to see it to believe it - despite the five-minute trailer that’s recently dazzled us. To help prep for Cloud Atlas we’ve assembled everything you need to know about the Wachowskis/Tykwer epic...

WORDS PHIL DE SEMLYEN
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The Book...
Written by David Mitchell – not the one from Peep Show – Cloud Atlas was published in 2004 to the excited whisper of literary critics going quietly gaga. It made the shortlist for that year's Booker Prize, and the fact that it ultimately missed out to Alan Hollinghurst's The Line Of Beauty hasn't stopped it maturing into a much-loved work of contemporary fiction. People who read it back then rhapsodised about the way it tombola'ed different genres into six mesmerising, interlocking narratives, swept up in its ambition and scope. (They also said things like: "There's no way they'll ever make this into a movie" but we'll gloss over that.)

The Film...
Directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, a talent troika about whom we're legally obliged to use the word 'visionary', it's a collaboration of filmmakers as well as actors. "It's never been attempted before, I don't think", says cast member Ben Whishaw, "three people sharing the directing responsibility of a film." It could equally be argued that, with six storylines to shoot, three directors is three too few. Still with Tykwer and the Wachowskis boasting a CV with films as diverse as The Matrix, Bound, Speed Racer, Run Lola Run and Perfume: The Story Of A Murderer, there was no shortage of creative firepower when the film's Berlin shoot kicked off in September 2011.

The Script...
The book's unique six-story structure – think of a Matryoshka doll with story strands fitting neatly into one another – posed a unique challenge to the three writer/directors. In short: how to ensure a single, coherent through-line without the film (a) confusing the heck out of audiences or (b) lasting 14 days. That process took a year. "We decided that if David Mitchell didn't like it, we'd kill the project," says Andy Wachowski. "Fortunately he loved it."

The Production...
"Hard to explain, hard to finance" is a Hollywood truism – which is why we won't see David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest on the big screen anytime soon. "Even though we had this incredible cast, no-one was interested," remembers Andy Wachowski. "The experts said it was too complicated", laughs his sister Lana, "and three directors? That's never going to work." With the exception of Warner Bros., who'll distribute the film in the US, the team were left without big studio backing and turned to German banks, film funds and tax breaks to raise a budget that producer Stefan Arndt puts at "definitely lower" than $100m.

As Andy Wachowski stresses, it is very much an indie movie, albeit with more multi-genre quantum-leaping than your average mumblecore. Each story had its own production unit, with Tykwer focusing on the period elements and the Wachowskis unsurprisingly turning their hands to the sci-fi storylines.

The Plot...
Make that 'plots' plural. The six stories begin in the 19th century with American actuary Adam Ewing (Jim Sturgess) sailing home from the Chatham Islands, recording his voyage in a half-finished diary that resurfaces in the hands of penniless musician Robert Frobisher (Ben Whishaw) in 1930s Belgium. We then find Frobisher's penpal and lover Rufus Sixsmith (James D'Arcy) as the scientist in Reagan's California who lays bare a nuclear conspiracy to investigative journo Luisa Rey (Halle Berry).

Still with us? Good because now it gets really complex. Rey's story – Half-Lives: The First Luisa Rey Mystery – eventually lands in the lap of vanity publisher Timothy Cavendish (Jim Broadbent) in Noughties London, and his character's fate ties in with a dystopian clone in a near(ish) future called Somni-451 (Doona Bae). Then that leads on to a post-apocalyptic Hawaii where tribesman Zachry (Tom Hanks) and Meronym (Berry again) try to evade cannibals, including a terrifying Hugh Grant. Yes, we used the words 'terrifying' and 'Hugh Grant' in the same sentence.

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Have Your Say
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Your Comments

1 missed another
Jim Broadbent appears near the end of the Sloosha's Crossing story when Halle Berry's ship comes to rescue them More

Posted by matsnowie on Sunday December 15, 2013, 19:08

2 You forgot all about some people...
Susan Sarandon is missing Keith David is missing David Gyasiis missing More

Posted by Montago on Wednesday July 3, 2013, 09:08

3 Ben Whishaw
Ben Whishaw also plays in "the first Luisa Rey mistery", as the seller in the music shop who's listening cloud atlas record. More

Posted by macha24 on Thursday March 21, 2013, 13:11

4 Run Lola Run
...it's actually NOT 'The Matrix'... More

Posted by Midgit315 on Tuesday September 11, 2012, 15:45

5 Bollocks
So now once I've waded through Cloud Atlas (it's fun don't get me wrong) I now have to read all David Mitchell's other books as well!!?? Can't wait! :) More

Posted by Guinevere6 on Monday September 10, 2012, 19:41

6 RE: What The Heck Is Cloud Atlas?
Urm, you guys might want to check out the Run Lola Run bit on page 3. More

Posted by MonsterCat on Monday September 10, 2012, 10:53

7 Goon likeness
Hugo Weaving (post apocalypse) looks awfully like the Zombie Priest. Knife to the eye! More

Posted by Varcolac on Friday September 7, 2012, 17:54

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