Having read the book, I'm in an awkward position to review the film version of Cloud Atlas. The few people I asked about the film, who hadn't read the book, found it confusing. I never had that problem, but I can't say whether that was because I was better at parsing the film's narrative, or just because I already knew the story. Understandability is something I'm going to have to leave out of my review. So how does the film compare to the book? Well...
Certain mediums have advantages over others. For film, its chief advantage is immediacy: within a second of looking at a scene, the audience member knows whether they are in 2012 Scotland or 1970s USA. The film of Cloud Atlas
takes advantage of this, ricocheting between stories to interconnect similar themes or emotional cues. Without these "jump cuts", the novel has to make do with segregating its stories, themes and parallels over chapters. The result is that the film does a better job of forming a meta-narrative than the book.
Another criticism I had of the book, the derivative nature of each story, also doesn't apply to the film. A movie can get away with familiar settings, as long as the aesthetics, cinematography, and other visual aspects are distinct enough to distinguish it. Without visuals, a book depends on the reader to create the mental image, but when a book borrows so much from other works, the mental image often ends up being recycled too. This is why the film's future Seoul feels like a vibrant, distinct piece of cyberpunk, whilst the book's feels like a carbon copy of an Orwell or Huxley dystopia. The few images unique to the book feel tacky and uninspired, such as future Disney making hentai porn.
The film has its own issues. The make up quality is inconsistent; the Yellow Face
and Devil make up, for instance, looks too Star Trek
. The CGI also struggles to be convincing too, looking cartoony at times. Finally, despite the benefit of a clearer narrative, the film needlessly explains its own themes to the audience. I got it, thank you.
Over all, I hold the film in higher regard to the book. I'm tempted to revisit the book, just to see if I can spot what I apparently missed the first time, but for now, I'll just stick with a more enjoyable, more imaginative movie.