A very long trailer for the very long film version of David Mitchell’s very long novel Cloud Atlas, directed by the Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer, and starring multiple Tom Hankses and Halle Berrys, is propagating across the internet, with Warner Bros’ lawyers in hot pursuit. It would be nice to think they’re trying to repress the trailer because it makes the film look utterly terrible: lots of dreary CGI, clunking explicatory voice overs, bombastic score, intertitles announcing the themes as ‘death life birth future present past love hope courage everything is connected’. ‘You’ve saved me twice,’ one of the Berrys says to one of the Hankses. ‘You fall, I’ll catch you,’ he replies. Barf.
But then I didn’t care for the book either: ‘not so much one big novel as a collection of short-winded novellas, each with a beginning and an end, but not much of a middle.’ Matthew Reynolds, reviewing The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, gave a better sense of what’s wrong with it:
Beneath Ghostwritten’s postcolonial multiplicity lurks a neocon assurance of the smallness of the world and the fundamental Westernness of all who live in it. ‘Backpackers are strange,’ the Mongolian spirit says: ‘I have a lot in common with them.’
Cloud Atlas reruns the concept of Ghostwritten but adjusts it as if to palliate this unease. Here the far-flung but tenuously interconnected characters are all English speakers: rather than pictures from a global family album, Cloud Atlas gives us episodes in the continuance of a culture. But the past and the future, the hither and the yon, again turn out to be stocked with recognisable characters and plotlines. Mitchell flaunts his skill in pastiche, matching his different situations to genres including nuclear thrillers and Asimov-inspired sci-fi. Events crowd in, melodrama flourishes: nothing ordinary is allowed to happen for long.
On the plus side, at least the novel doesn’t have Tom Hanks in it.