To call "Cloud Atlas" ambitious would be an understatement. The film is based on the complex novel by David Mitchell, and the story follows six plot threads across time—a 19th century notary on a Pacific expedition, a bisexual musician in the 1930s, a female journalist embroiled in a thriller in 1970s California, an aging publisher in London in the present, a clone in a futuristic dystopia, and a Pacific survivor in a post-apocalyptic world—all of which fold in on themselves. Oh yeah, all the characters may be sharing the same soul that has traveled through time.
And if that isn't enough for you, the $100 million production boasts an A-list cast that includes Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Ben Whishaw, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent, Jim Sturgess and Hugh Grant all playing multiple characters. As is typical with a project involving The Wachowskis, who are co-directing with Tom Tykwer, details have been tightly under wraps. All we really know is that Weaving is playing six characters in this thing, and that the size and scale of it has been compounded with the decision to give both The Wachowskis and Tykwer their own production crews to shoot their sections concurrently.
The New York Times has profiled the film in an article mostly focused on its financing (which has come from China, Korea, Singapore and Germany; Warner Bros. will distribute the picture in North America), and along the way revealed a couple of interesting tidbits about the project. Firstly, the decision to have the directors shoot their sections of the movie at the same time came out of financial necessity more than anything else. With much of the cast working on discounted salaries, they were enticed to sign on with the promise that with the directors shooting at the same time, the schedule would be shorter than a film of this kind usually is.
“The biggest change for me as an actor is to have two different film units and two different film crews and to go between the two from one day to the next,” Berry said about the unconventional approach. And given the wild costume changes the cast members undergo for their various characters, it can lead to some confusion. “Some days I go into the trailer, I’ll be having a conversation — I won’t even know it’s with Hugh Grant until five minutes in,” she says.
While exactly what those roles are is still yet to be discovered, Berry offered up that she plays “a Jewish woman in the 1930s” in Tykwer's section and “an old tribal woman” for the Wachowskis. But if you think this material may just be all too much for a mainstream audience to embrace, it's the thematic undercurrents that have been attractive, particularly for investors from the East.
“The theme of the story is rebirth, and it comes straight from the basic ideal of Buddhism,” said Michelle Park, an executive of Korean distributor Bloomage Company. But "Cloud Atlas" will also deliver the visual sizzle that fans of Wachowksis want. Last month at the American Film Market six minutes of footage was screened for potential distributors, and it apparently delivered.
“It looks phantasmagorical,” said Victor Loewy, who was looking to snatch up the U.K. rights. “It’s so unlike anything I’ve seen in 40 years in this business.”
"Cloud Atlas" continues to shoot and will "probably" hit theaters next fall.