A pleasant surprise arrived today in the form of a lengthy trailer for "Cloud Atlas," the much-anticipated adaptation of David Mitchell's novel by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. Anyone who's read the book — a sprawling, genre-hopping, puzzle-box of a story — will know it's a tough nut to crack, but the clip, now available in HD at Apple, suggests that the filmmakers have managed to handle the diversity of the visuals even if it's yet to be seen if the film works as a whole.
Just under a whopping six minutes, it's an incredibly dense trailer, and one that could be quite confusing for those unfamiliar with the material. So we've dug deep into it to try and help make sense of it, both for newcomers and fans of the book alike. Read on for more, and be aware of some mild spoilers.
0:04 – The first thing we see here is a boat — most likely the Prophetess, on which American notary Adam Ewing sails in 1850.
0:10 – And here is Adam Ewing himself. We'd figured that Tom Hanks would play him, but in fact, it's Jim Sturgess in the role. He's trying to get home to his wife in San Francisco from the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand, but is treated by Dr. Henry Goose (played by Hanks), who believes he has a deadly brain parasite, as seen in this shot.
0.18 – And here's Ben Whishaw, star of Tykwer's "Perfume," in the next story to pop up. The actor plays bisexual, bipolar composer Robert Frobisher, who flees London to Belgium to become an assistant to Vyvyan Ayrs, a famous composer (Jim Broadbent, as seen at the 1:05 mark). He rewards his hospitality by sleeping with both his wife and daughter. You can also glimpse here one of the ways the stories are interlinked — Frobisher finds Ewing's journal from his voyage in Ayrs' home.
0.37 – Frobisher's segment of the tale is told in letters written to a friend, Rufus Sixsmith. He's seen as an old man here (as played by "Master & Commander" star James D'Arcy, under heavy old-age make-up), and also features as a character in the next segment, which stars…
00:43 – Halle Berry, as Californian investigative journalist Luisa Rey. This section, "Half-Lives" is a straight-up thriller, with Rey investigating a nuclear conspiracy that Sixsmith puts her on to. As you can she, she finds the letters in her possession before too long.
00:49 – As was revealed long ago, and is clear from the trailer, the actors are, for the most part, playing multiple characters, although it's unclear if all will feature in all six storylines. Here, we're in the fourth segment, set in present-day Britain, and we can see Hanks, seemingly as gangster Dermot "Duster" Hoggins, who has written a book, managed by Jim Broadbent's literary agent Timothy Cavendish. We later see him throwing a literary critic off a roof. As far as we remember, the character we see Berry as in the reverse is a new addition, suggesting that the filmmakers have tried to draw the storylines even more closely together.
00:59 – We're back in the 1970s section with Hugh Grant, who appears to be playing Alberto Grimaldi, the CEO of nuclear energy company Seaboard. Grant has said in interviews that all of the characters he plays in the film are bad guys, which should be fun.
01:14 – And here's Hanks' character in the Luisa Rey tale — it looks like he plays Isaac Sachs, a whistleblowing scientist.
01:25 – This is Susan Sarandon's only real shot in the trailer, although her voice comes into play later on. Here, in the Timothy Cavendish segment, she seems to play Ursula, Cavendish's long-lost love (a fairly minor part of the story).
01:31 – And then we leap into a distant apocalyptic future, for the sixth storyline, entitled "Sloosha's Crossin' an' Ev'rything' After" in the book. Written in a curious, made-up dialect (which seems to have been dropped) it shows Valleysman Zachry (Hanks) coming across Meronym (Berry), a member for a more advanced tribe from across the sea.
01:51 – And finally, we meet our last protagonist: Sonmi-451 (Bae Doona, of "Sympathy For Mr. Vengeance" and "The Host"). She's a clone, designed to serve in fast food restaurants, who leads a rebellion.
01:53 – It seems that Ben Whishaw wasn't kidding last year when he said the characters were playing different genders and races: this is Jim Sturgess, given a slightly questionable, strangely Keanu-like Asian makeover, probably as Hae-Joo Im, a postgraduate student who turns out to be more than he appears.
02:27 – Here we see the inciting incident of Timothy Cavendish's plotline (which, as the toilet plunger might make clear, is more comic in tone than the rest). Dustin's sons come calling to extract their father's share of his book sales, calling Cavendish (who's been embezzling the funds) to flee and accidentally become trapped in a nursing home for the elderly.
02:43 – It's not entirely clear who Sturgess is playing in the far-future section: he could be a younger version of Hanks' character, but given the shot of Hanks hiding and weeping, it looks like he's Adam, the brother of Zachry.
02:44 – And as a member of the rival tribe, the Kona: it's a surprisingly menacing Hugh Grant, as you've literally never seen him before.
02:48 – That nifty building opening up like a flower is an observatory. As for what they find in there…you'll just have to wait and see…
02:51 – There's Hanks in his fourth (or first, depending on how you look at it) part, as Dr. Henry Goose. It does seem that, given his A-list status, he gets the lion share of parts, particularly as there are some actors — Whishaw in particular — we never see in more than one role. We're sure they'll crop up elsewhere.
02:54: Berry, with white hair (presumably playing older than her age) and tattooed features. Assuming this matches the shot before, she'll play one of the indigenious people in the first, 1850s-set storyline.
03:05 – The futuristic city of Nea So Copros, in Korea, the setting for Sonmi-451's tale.
03:08 – As might be clear from this, the Korea-set segment is likely to be where the bulk of action and effects take place. There seems to be a fairly nifty speeder-bike chase here. It has been reported that the Wachowskis directed this section, and we believe the Luisa Rey and Zachry storylines too, with Tykwer taking the others. Though that isn't quite confirmed just yet.
03:20 – This appears to be from the final, post-apocalyptic section, and may or may not be the ruins of Nea So Copros.
03:37 – "The problem you create is a political one." Hey, that voice sounds familiar to Wachowski fans!
03:41 – Unless we're very off the mark, that's Bae Doona in a second role, as Hanks' blonde, blue-eyed companion. Why she has a protractor on her forehead, we're not quite sure.
04:06 – Something of a money shot here, as Luisa Rey is rammed off a bridge into the water. Does she survive? Who knows? As the next title card ("Death") makes clear, not every protagonist survives their tale. Each storyline in the novel has a cliffhanger built in to it, picked up later, but the draft of the script that we read had changed that structure significantly.
04:27 – There he is! Wachowski favorite Hugo Weaving makes his first appearance. We're not clear who he plays, but it's presumably in the 1850s-set storyline, judging by those mutton chops.
04:49 – We're very curious about this shot with the slow-motion crockery, as it doesn't correspond to any scene we can recall from the book (though it's possible it slipped us by). Either way, that's Whishaw as Frobisher and D'Arcy as a younger Sixsmith.
04:57 – Diving off the boat there (and seen later on too) is young British actor David Gyasi, recently seen giving an impressive performance in the BBC's "White Heat." In this section at least, we think he plays Autua, a stowaway.
05:00 – Even with a better image like the one to your left, we can't tell who plays this mysterious figure (Weaving? Grant? Keith David?) and can't recall where he fits into the story, though we suspect it's in the Zachry section. Natty top hat, though, and an impressive make-up job (the film's already looking like a front-runner in that Oscar category).
05:25 – Luisa's car spins through the water, as the cast list comes up. The only billed actor not glimpsed at all during the trailer, as best as we can tell, is Chinese actress Zhou Xun.
We'll find out it if it all adds up when "Cloud Atlas" hits theaters on October 26th.