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CLOUD ATLAS
Blu-ray Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, James D’Arcy, Zhou Xun, Keith David, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant
Directors: Lana Wachowski, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski
Audio: DTS HD 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1
Studio: Warner Bros.
Features: See Review
Length: 172 Minutes
Release Date: May 14, 2013

Fear, belief, love, phenomena that determine the course of our lives. These forces begin long before we are born and continue after we perish.”

Film ***1/2

There have been numerous films over time that defy description, but I honestly think no other film in history has literally done so more than the marvelous visionary experience that is Cloud Atlas. And I mean that in the strongest, most positive way. Despite it being a difficult film to wrap your head around, it’s a film that begs to be experienced over and over again…until one possibly unlocks the meaning behind it all.

Now that is definitely a rare occasion among most films. It’s easy to come across a movie that’s extraordinarily hard to figure out that one never wants to even think about glancing at ever again. But in the case of Cloud Atlas, the viewer (or at least, I) can’t help but be absolutely marveled by the bold and ultra amazing level of passion and ambition displayed here by visionary filmmakers Lana Wachowski, Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer. They have created a film that challenges your mind and stimulates your visual senses, both on a monumental scale.

As a film reviewer, rarely have I ever been faced with a challenge this big in terms of describing a single film through words. I can only imagine how the themes and various storylines were detailed in author David Mitchell’s celebrated novel upon which the film is based. Absolutely nothing I write will do justice to what you see unfold before your eyes, but here goes.

The film weaves the viewer between six different stories in six different timelines. Each member of this remarkable ensemble cast appears in each story and timeline, be it a major character or simply someone lurking in the background (stick through the credits as the cast is listed with each individual’s appearance in every segment, and you may find yourself stunned a few times as I was). And the film doesn’t play by the normal rules of narrative when comes to switching storylines, which is another aspect of the filmmaking I so admire here.

Though it may seem hard to firmly grasp how all the stories relate to one another, The Wachowskis and Tykwer eventually reveal various similarities in a most riveting way. It does somewhat tap into themes similar to that of The Matrix concerning free will and refusing to be a slave to a specific society. It also beautifully illustrates that actions in one timeline will have a huge effect on an action in another timeline.

But even before the similar themes begin to show, and you find yourself still scratching your head as to the meaning behind these proceedings, you can’t helped but be marveled by a film that manages to transport you back and forth between the Pacific in the 1800s, England in the 1930s, San Francisco in the 1970s, a post-apocalyptic Hawaii and Neo Seoul in the year 2144. Editing-wise, this has to have been the most challenging job since Memento. How the work done by editor Alexander Berner got ignored at the Oscars truly baffles me to no end.

The film is also dramatically potent, occasionally very funny and periodically visually stunning in that signature Wachowski style. The sequences in futuristic Seoul rank among the absolute best visual set pieces ever created for film. Same goes for the visual effects work, too, as there isn’t a single moment in this setting when your eyes won’t be anything less than dazzled!

On top of all that, it’s really quite riveting to see all these well established actors take on different appearances in the various storylines. We get to see multiple sides of Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent and Hugo Weaving that we’ve never quite seen before, in addition to some effective dramatic work from the likes of Jim Sturgess, James D’Arcy and Ben Whishaw (Q in Skyfall). And there’s something to be said about a film where you actually get to hear Hugh Grant speak in an American accent (something I thought wasn’t even possible).

There’s no question that Cloud Atlas will go down as one of the most polarizing films of our time, as audiences appear to either love it immensely or loathe it with a huge passion. It was the same case with film critics as well, though Roger Ebert, who frequently endorsed bold visionary filmmaking, praised it tremendously as one of the best films of last year. No matter what you’ve heard of Cloud Atlas, at the end of the day this is a piece of art that everyone who loves the cinematic arts should make an attempt to see!

Video ****

And this is one Blu-ray presentation that will go down as one of the best we will ever see. Any and every single aspect about the look of this Warner Bros release is hands down EXCELLENT! Every individual time period displayed in the film is captured with phenomenal detail, be it the Pacific coastline, the Hawaii landscapes or the awe-inspiring look of Neo Seoul. The various set pieces and astounding visual effects also payoff on a grand scale in the 1080p. Needless to say, this is in the running for the best looking release of 2013!

Audio ****

The DTS HD mix perfectly matches the sheer beauty of the video presentation. Dialogue delivery is in top notch form from beginning to end. The surround sound quality is in full effect, especially in the futuristic setting. And the music score (I haven’t even mentioned the titular song piece, which is breathtakingly beautiful) is a fantastic treat for the ears. The sound quality is also heavily effective when a ghost like figure haunts the Hanks character in the Hawaii setting! Highest marks all around for a most incredible job!

Features **1/2

Included on this Warner release is a series of featurettes, which can be viewed separately or as a whole presentation, clocking in at nearly an hour. Among these featurettes are “A Film Like No Other”, “Everything is Connected”, “The Impossible Adaptation”, “The Essence of Acting”, “Spaceships, Slaves & Sextets”, “The Bold Science Fiction of Cloud Atlas” and “Eternal Recurrence: Love, Life and Longing in Cloud Atlas”.

Also included is a bonus DVD copy of the movie and an UltraViolet code to download it and watch it wherever you please.

Summary:

It may not be a film for everyone, but Cloud Atlas truly is a film unlike any other! For me, a film that can challenge the intellect, dazzle the visual senses and switch back and forth between multiple stories and timelines in the span of three hours is something of an accomplishment indeed! It is also a film that deserves to be experienced in the Blu-ray format!

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