What happened to Cloud Atlas? My favorite film of 2012 has totally vanished from the face of the Earth. It was made by the highly successful, mainstream Wachowski siblings and their collaborator Tom Tykwer, who has also had mainstream success. It featured some of the biggest names in Hollywood (Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Susan Sarandon, Hugh Grant), as well as a huge, well-known supporting cast. It was so grand in scope and spectacle, so bold and daring, so unique, and so expertly executed that it was bound to leave audiences awed and inspired. As I sat dumbfounded in my seat after seeing it, I fully anticipated that it would pile up accolades through awards season and cement its status as a classic.
Enter crickets chirping. None of that happened. No accolades, no awards, and very few Top 10 lists. It didn’t even get any nominations from the Independent Spirit Awards, which is amazing considering it was one of the most ambitious independently funded films of all-time. It was even branded the worst film of the year by Time Magazine, and its DVD/Blu-ray release has been delayed not once, but twice.
I don’t know, maybe it’s just me, but it seems like something fishy is going on here. I know I couldn’t have been the only person to be totally blown away by Cloud Atlas, so why is it being neglected, ignored, and buried by the industry?
To go back to beginning, it was incredibly difficult to get the film made in the first place, and the project likely would have been abandoned if it weren’t for Tom Hanks’ enthusiasm for the project and his determination to make sure it was completed as written. Which leads me to what I assume is the real issue here. The subject matter.
Yes, Cloud Atlas is a sweeping, genre-bending epic with big name actors and incredible special effects, but it’s also highly political. And not just political, it’s revolutionary. The narrative weaves together several stories that take place over several hundred years, but the theme of openly resisting injustice and authoritarian power is carried throughout. It’s proudly anti-establishment and openly embraces resistance and revolution as the solutions to human exploitation and oppression across the ages. While right on the money politically, that’s not a line the major studios are too keen to finance, promote, and distribute.
And even though the film has one of the best trailers I’ve ever seen, an incredible 6-minute composition in its own right, the film wasn’t marketed on television very well. The TV spots focused on action scenes, flashed generic critical praise on the screen like, “A remarkable movie experience,” and left out all the political content that would actually make people want to see the movie. Cloud Atlas is an intricate, philosophical, politically timely film, but it was promoted as a run of the mill thrill ride of the week. And, not surprisingly, its low box office numbers reflect that generic style of marketing. When you’ve got a film like Cloud Atlas in your hands, a film that has something important to say about the human experience, you’ve got to sell it based on what it actually is and hope it connects with the intended audience. You don’t advertise it as a roller-coaster ride… unless of course you’re afraid of the message and hope to limit the audience to people who just want to see things blow up on screen.
And once the film was considered a “flop” it became poison to awards nominating organizations. And thus, the best film of the year was buried. Its dvd/blu-ray release date originally set for January, was pushed back to March, and eventually delayed until May 14.
There are those who will argue that Cloud Atlas has been forgotten and buried by the industry just because it didn’t perform well, and perhaps others will say it’s just not a very good film. Those people are entitled to that opinion, but in my mind it seems clear that the reason the industry mishandled this project from the beginning, from the difficulty in acquiring funding, to the poor marketing, the lack of critical acclaim, the way it was conspicuously ignored by all the major award shows, and the twice delaying of its home video release… was a chain reaction caused by the desire to suppress the film’s progressive, anti-establishment, revolutionary political content.
It’s a film about how human beings are connected to each other, and the way we treat each other matters. It’s about finding the strength to resist evil, even if it seems like that evil is permanent and the entire universe is against you. It’s a film that desperately needs to be seen right now. We need some revolutionary hope. We need to learn that things don’t always have to be the way they are, and that if enough people get together and decide to do the right thing we can truly change this world for the better. The fact that Cloud Atlas, a film that champions this anti-establishment position and embraces a spirit of human interdependence and revolution, has been shoved in the corner, mocked, and left to be forgotten is practically criminal, especially while so many negative, politically harmful films are upheld critically and widely promoted.