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Friday, November 02, 2012

Will a few clouds over Cloud Atlas hold back other arthouse adaptations?


Last weekend,one of the more heavily promoted films released then was Cloud Atlas,an adaptation of David Mitchell's 2004 novel which is a series of interconnected stories about interconnected characters in different time periods who often change race and gender as they move onward.

The movie received a variety pack of censure and praise from the critics,while audiences were intrigued enough to make it reach the Top Five of the box office chart but with only 9.4 million(for a film that cost 100 million,that's not a good sign,folks).

With a cast lead by such big stars as Tom Hanks and Halle Berry,plus the Wachowskis(The Matrix trilogy) and Tom Twkyer(Run,Lola,Run) on board as directors,this seemed like a sure fire hit to some but many folks seemed to turn off by the elaborate plot,which required multiple make-up effects and actors playing more than one character at a time:




Now I haven't seen the movie or read the book,which has been said to be an amazing read,,yet I fear that Cloud Atlas may be one of those stories that just doesn't translate well to the screen.

This is not a slam against the book or film,it's simply that some tales work better in the individual imagination than in a group effort such as film. For every Brokeback Mountain that does well,there's a Time Traveler's Wife that doesn't. Some have said that bringing such unwieldy stories to TV in the series or miniseries format is a much better choice to get the full scope of the author's vision out there:




Others would point to the genre in question as the source of the problem. While many can argue that it's far easier to turn a popular mystery or fantasy novel into a financially successful film than say,something like a David Foster Wallace or a Neal Stephenson book would be,it's not just about the dollars and cents.

Many feel that some of those authors speak to a small,specialized fanbase that has no real chance of creating mass appeal in another media. Maybe that's true but then again,films like Atonement,Sideways and The Hours have proved that wrong or at least not a hundred percent right all of the time.

Actually,it's more like that Forrest Gumpism about life being a box of chocolates;with movies,you're not always sure what you are going to get. Sometimes,a big budgeted production with big stars such as The Bonfire of the Vanities is not the way to go. Doing something on the smaller side might be more beneficial to the story and it's intended audience:




Cloud Atlas may become a major misfire or a cult film that gets appreciated by later generations,who knows at this point. Hopefully,it's financial future will not totally inhibit others to take a chance on an original intellectual property. With the alarming abundance of remakes and reboots in Hollywood these days,we need to encourage fresh sources of cinematic storytelling as much as possible.

As to the literary vs. commercial fiction adaptations debate,it's worth noting that even best selling authors have trouble getting good films made from their work and they deserve them just as much as arthouse writers do.

Of course,the best way to look at this is to remember what James M. Cain said when a reporter lamented that Hollywood had ruined all of his books. He just pointed to a shelf that had his books upon it and said "No,they're all still there." Of course,it would still be nice to have a good movie version along side them:








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