Film review, by Jason Day, of Mortal Engines, the futuristic action adventure about warring, mobile city states. Starring Hera Hilmer and Hugo Weaving, co-written by Peter Jackson.
Directors: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski. Cloud Atlas/X-Filme/Anarchos et al (15)
Producers: Stefan Arndt, Alex Boden, Grant Hill, Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Writers: Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski.
Camera: Frank Griebe, John Toll.
Music: Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, Tom Tykwer.
Sets: Hugh Bateup, Uli Hanisch.
Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, Doona Bae, Ben Whishaw, Keith David, James D’Arcy, Xun Zhou, David Gyasi, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant, Robert Fyfe, Gotz Otto, Sylvestre Le Touzel.
Jumping between different time periods and based on David Mitchell’s novel, the lives of seemingly unconnected people across the ages are brought together as their actions impact on others in the past, present and future. One soul turns from a killer into a hero and another sparks a revolution that reverberates across centuries and throughout the cosmos.
I love the ephemeral existence of going to the movies. How a film can lift you up to take you far, far away from the thuddingly dull mundanity of everyday life for a precious couple of hours and plop you in another world, either one recognisably like the one you will go back to or something completely different. Cloud Atlas, encompassing as it does so many worlds, is a valiant if not entirely successful example of this.
It resembles a beguiling, dazzling but uncomfortable mash-up of D.W. Griffith’s Intolerance (1916) and David Lynch’s Dune (1984, the poster closely resembles that wobbly sci-fi epic’s). Despite sharing those film’s tendencies to reach far beyond its grasp, it has a lot more heart amidst the artifice and grandeur than they ever managed.
As Forrest Gump once noted about boxes of chocolate, “You never know what you’re gonna get” and you certainly don’t with Cloud Atlas.
No surprise then that Forrest himself (Hanks) crops up in one of the panoply of roles on display. He is game if nothing else; successful isn’t always at the forefront of your mind though when you see him as either a vicious, Dublin gangster with a mouthy ‘Oirish’ accent or a balding, garrolous Scottish landlord. Where he does strike lucky is in the futuristic sequences as a schizophrenic goat-herder romancing Berry or a terrifying ship’s doctor slowly poisoning rich passenger Sturgess.
But when you’re playing seven different roles, as most of the cast are, you have a high betting average of getting at least one of them right. The casting agents deserve all the plaudits for probably sweating blood and tears to assemble these people in one film.
The rest of the starry cast are pretty much up for it and there are some stylish turns amidst the dross: Berry as a seductive Jewish emigre, Broadbent as a bent publicist imprisoned in an old people’s home and determined to escape, Bae as a monotone, revolutionary clone in futuristic Korea. D’Arcy impresses the most in his roles, whether as a gay, whistle-blowing scientist in 1930’s Britain and 70’s America or a blankly efficient futuristic interrogator.
Latex.com could probably have floated themselves on the stock exchange after the exemplary overtime the make-up team put in to making the cast look (slightly) dissimilar for each characterisation.
The problem with film’s such as these, massive in scale and scope, disparate stories stretching across centuries of existence, is the need for an effective link to weave all of the elements together. Intolerance failed on a huge level; using Lillian Gish as a woman eternally rocking her child in a cradle merely baffled WWI audiences and frustrates modern viewers. Cloud Atlas has a similar problem; the remnants of some good stories on their own are quite strong, but without an effective link in the narrative until much later in the film, they seem quite adrift.
When the theme of the film becomes apparent (a few choice lines that hug the stories together), it’s difficult to tell whether one is knocked side-ways by the film-makers’ audacious approach, relieved that a somewhat gruelling journey is over or simply desperate to go the toilet. Probably all three at the same time, though difficult to tell in what order (at 2 hours 44 minutes in duration, the latter feeling might figure largely).
The propensity for film-makers to make such large-scale films when something more concise would suffice is a matter for further debate elsewhere, what isn’t is their writer’s lack of humour to sustain an audience on such long trips. Apart from Broadbent’s scenes as the publicist, seen in flash-back sustaining serious injuries from a well positioned cat when he is trying to lose his virginity, there is something of a funny-bypass here. Still, the images are sometimes quite incredible and it’s fun to scratch your head and try to piece together the celluloid jig-saw.
Director: Peter Jackson. NewLine/Wingnut/MGM/3Foot7. (12A)
Producers: Carolynne Cunningham, Peter Jackson, Fran Walsh, Zane Weiner.
Writers: Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens, Peter Jackson, Guillermo del Toro.
Camera: Andrew Lesnie.
Music: Howard Shore.
Sets: Dan Hennah.
Ian McKellan, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Graham McTavish, William Kircher, James Nesbitt, Stephen Hunter, Dean O’Gorman, Aidan Turner, John Callen, Peter Hambleton, Jed Brophy, Mark Hadlow, Adam Brown, Ian Holm, Elijah Wood, Hugo Weaving, Cate Blanchett, Christopher Lee, Andy Serkis, Sylvester McCoy, Barry Humphries, Kiran Shah, Benedict Cumberbatch.
60 years before his nephew joined another fellowship, to destroy a magical ring that has the power to enslave all of Middle Earth, unassuming Hobbit Bilbo Baggins (Freeman) lives a comfortable, sheltered life in the beloved Shires. That is until the wizard Gandalf (McKellan) and a group of raucous dwarves (led by Armitage) show up on his doorstep. Bilbo is taken out of his comfort zone on an adventure to recapture the Dwarve’s fabled home city, taken years earlier by a ferocious dragon, encountering dangerous creatures and finding he has unexpected depths along the way.
Peter Jackson is a man who knows how to make big movies. Very big. Colossal in fact. And if he throws caution to the wind in terms of economy of scale, well good on him and so be it. What he is in dire need of however is a stopwatch. And a gutsier editor.
The combined length of his Lord of the Rings trilogy weighed in at around an arse-numbing nine hours (and that’s the slimmed down theatrical releases – there were extended versions released on DVD), King Kong concluded only after a rather unnecessary three hours plus. It is probably no surprise that he filmed so much footage for this adaptation of the first and singular novel in Tolkein’s Middle Earth series that it was easier to release it as another trilogy.
It also makes good box office sense; these films are expensive to make so two extra films means more box office ‘kerching’. It has also lead to an accumulation of rather a lot of protracted, repetitious, disposable events, scenes and moments in a film that runs to two hours 49 minutes in its original movie theatre version. The opening preamble, for instance, with the older Bilbo (Holm) and Frodo (Wood) seems tacked on to help audiences familiarise themselves with the first book being adapted last. Given the mighty publicity machine deployed though, the value of this scene is questionable.
One can’t help but imagine how much cheaper these film’s would be, if Jackson shaved half an hour off each one during the development stage.
Perhaps this feeling is wholly a question of taste at the end of the day; with nearly a $billion in gross takings for this first instalment as of Jan 2013, who am I to judge? But judge I will when I feel a creeping sense of the familiar and duplicated throughout.
I freely admit to not having read any of Tolkein’s much admired books. Perhaps I lack perspective on certain things, but as a film viewer and reviewer, it didn’t aid my enjoyment to come across settings already visited (the Dwarf city of Moria, where Gandalf was ‘killed’ in the first Rings film) and situations that smack of the ‘been there, seen it’ (the eagles who fly to the rescue, as in the second Rings film). This ‘samey’ feel probably explains why the London Evening Standard thought this was a ‘fair to middling return to Middle Earth’.
The set-pieces and special effects are, of course, magnificently realised. In terms of head-swirling spectacle, The Hobbit delivers in spades. 3D is used exceptionally well in many sequences, but if any film genre was made to be told in an extra dimension it is this. But this is par for the course; we know Jackson and his too-numerous-to-mention-individually technical team can deliver the goods here. He really needed a different tack to make this new trilogy stand out from it’s forbears.
The musical sequences are cute but a step in the wrong direction; are we heading into Cameron MacIntosh territory? Surely we want something other than Les Middle-arables. Could it be emotional intimacy in amongst the CGI? Are we hankering for less people but better character development?
Freeman is saddled with much of the dramatic weight of the film as his character is the main person who will progress and mature, but he is mostly sidelined until the film kicks into life (thank heavens we leave the Shire behind us). It will be interesting to see how far he pushes the next two films.
There are welcome returners in the cast, dotted amongst the newbies – Blanchett and Weaving as almost hypnotic Elvish leaders, Lee shows the beginnings of his turning to the dark side, Serkis is still unrecognisable as the dissociative Gollum. Of those new cast members who score strongest (or loudest at least), Nesbitt is Dwarf Bofur, Stott is older Dwarf Balin and former Dr Who McCoy makes a surprise cameo as a far too eco-friendly wizard (let’s just say it is no surprise he is known as ‘The Brown’). The dwarves help make sure that the comedy moments (such as when they are BBQ’d by two hungry trolls) carry the film along during the longuers. It’s a shame, then, that these are few and far between. Let’s hope that, as with the first part of Lord of the Rings, things pick up nicely after this lumbering character introduction.