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There is never going to be an easy date for Warner Bros. to release "Cloud Atlas."
Some movies are simply challenges, no matter what. That doesn't make them bad films, and it doesn't make them good films. It just means they are hard to sell to an audience. When you have to cut a 30-second commercial that conveys the main idea or appeal of a film, that is a very difficult thing on certain movies.
Warner Bros. digs "Cloud Atlas." I feel fairly safe in saying so. They know what movie they've got, and they know what sort of challenge is ahead, and so declaring a release date is step one in setting the table for the eventual release of the film.
It helps when you have Tom Hanks and Halle Berry starring in your movie, especially when you can advertise that each of them ends up playing a variety of different roles in the film. And when the supporting cast includes Jim Broadbent, also playing multiple parts, Hugo Weaving reteaming with his "Matrix" directors, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, and younger familiar faces like Jim Sturgess, Ben Whishaw, and James D'Arcy, you've got enough leeway that you can let a relatively unknown actress, internationally speaking, like Doona Bae star in the film in one of the main key roles.
The official synopsis from Warner Bros as part of the release date announcement is as concise a description as I've seen attempted so far, and it seems to cover most of the important broad strokes:
"Cloud Atlas' explores how the actions and consequences of individual lives impact one another throughout the past, the present, and the future. Action, mystery and romance weave dramatically through the story as one soul is shaped from a killer into a hero and a single act of kindness ripples across centuries to inspire a revolution in the distant future."
Talk about calling your shot and pointing over the back wall of the stadium, right? That is one seriously ambitious single paragraph descriptions of a film I've seen in a while. Of course, it's one thing to call the shot, a la "Prometheus," and it's quite another thing to actually make the shot and really pull off this big ambition.
David Mitchell's book is incredibly ambitious, and I thought it offered up all sorts of potential material. I thought maybe a series of HBO films might do it justice… not even one hour episodes, but full movies for each of the six stories that are woven into one another, stories within stories, like an MC Escher version of one of those Russian dolls that just get smaller and smaller the further in you go. In "Cloud Atlas," there are some major structural conceits that work because it is a book, and as a book, it is a comment on the way stories are laid into books and the ways they come alive, come roaring back off the page.
For Lana and Andy Wachowski and Tom Tykwer, it's a fairly daunting proposition to build these stories onscreen. Will they simply mimic the moves of the book, or will they find a new way, particular to film, to convey the same sense of wheels within wheels, of narrative inside of narrative? But they're ambitious filmmakers by nature, and Tykwer certainly has experience adapting a fairly unadaptable book thanks to his adaptation of "Perfume." He's also shattered narrative by sheer blunt force in "Run Lola Run," so he's plenty daring. It is in the collision between him and the Wachowskis that this film gets really exciting. I think opening yourself up to some sort of unconventional collaboration can be good for anyone, and especially someone as notorious for the control they exerted during the making of the "Matrix" sequels as the Wachowskis. This is the first time they will be billed onscreen as "Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski," so it's fitting that they'd be taking on this book about identity and the nature of a soul and transformation at this particular moment.
Warner Bros. announced that they'll be distributing the film in several major foreign markets as well as in the US, including the UK, France, Spain, Australia and Japan, and they'll roll the film out in early 2013 in all of those places. I think it's telling that they not only want to bring the film out in a fairly major way domestically, but they're also betting that it's going to travel. In today's press release about the domestic release date, Dan Fellman was quoted as saying, "Audience who have seen an early screening of 'Cloud Atlas' have been elated by its powerful and inspiring story, as well as its breathtaking visuals. An October release in North America is the perfect wind to showcase this epic film."
I hope they're right, and I wish them every possible success with it. I can't wait to get a look at it, and between this and Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master," October is looking like a very happy month for film freaks overall.
"Cloud Atlas" will be released in the US on October 26, 2012.