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Our Lives Are Not Our Own: Deconstructing The 'Cloud Atlas' Trailer

by Oliver Lyttelton
July 26, 2012 3:29 PM
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A pleasant surprise arrived today in the form of a lengthy trailer for "Cloud Atlas," the much-anticipated adaptation of David Mitchell's novel by The Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer. Anyone who's read the book -- a sprawling, genre-hopping, puzzle-box of a story -- will know it's a tough nut to crack, but the clip, now available in HD at Apple, suggests that the filmmakers have managed to handle the diversity of the visuals even if it's yet to be seen if the film works as a whole.

Just under a whopping six minutes, it's an incredibly dense trailer, and one that could be quite confusing for those unfamiliar with the material. So we've dug deep into it to try and help make sense of it, both for newcomers and fans of the book alike. Read on for more, and be aware of some mild spoilers.


- The first thing we see here is a boat -- most likely the Prophetess, on which American notary Adam Ewing sails in 1850.

0:10 - And here is Adam Ewing himself. We'd figured that Tom Hanks would play him, but in fact, it's Jim Sturgess in the role. He's trying to get home to his wife in San Francisco from the Chatham Islands, near New Zealand, but is treated by Dr. Henry Goose (played by Hanks), who believes he has a deadly brain parasite, as seen in this shot.

0.18 - And here's Ben Whishaw, star of Tykwer's "Perfume," in the next story to pop up. The actor plays bisexual, bipolar composer Robert Frobisher, who flees London to Belgium to become an assistant to Vyvyan Ayrs, a famous composer (Jim Broadbent, as seen at the 1:05 mark). He rewards his hospitality by sleeping with both his wife and daughter. You can also glimpse here one of the ways the stories are interlinked -- Frobisher finds Ewing's journal from his voyage in Ayrs' home.

0.37 - Frobisher's segment of the tale is told in letters written to a friend, Rufus Sixsmith. He's seen as an old man here (as played by "Master & Commander" star James D'Arcy, under heavy old-age make-up), and also features as a character in the next segment, which stars...

00:43 - Halle Berry, as Californian investigative journalist Luisa Rey. This section, "Half-Lives" is a straight-up thriller, with Rey investigating a nuclear conspiracy that Sixsmith puts her on to. As you can she, she finds the letters in her possession before too long.

00:49 - As was revealed long ago, and is clear from the trailer, the actors are, for the most part, playing multiple characters, although it's unclear if all will feature in all six storylines. Here, we're in the fourth segment, set in present-day Britain, and we can see Hanks, seemingly as gangster Dermot "Duster" Hoggins, who has written a book, managed by Jim Broadbent's literary agent Timothy Cavendish. We later see him throwing a literary critic off a roof. As far as we remember, the character we see Berry as in the reverse is a new addition, suggesting that the filmmakers have tried to draw the storylines even more closely together.

00:59 - We're back in the 1970s section with Hugh Grant, who appears to be playing Alberto Grimaldi, the CEO of nuclear energy company Seaboard. Grant has said in interviews that all of the characters he plays in the film are bad guys, which should be fun.

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  • Jimi | October 10, 2012 12:42 PMReply

    The "mysterious figure" at 5:00 in the top hat is Old George, played by Hugo Weaving.

  • YELLOW | August 22, 2012 5:06 PMReply

    Lol the blonde at 3:41 is definitely Zhou Xun, not Doona Bae.

  • Nik | August 11, 2012 11:53 AMReply

    Zhou Xun is the blonde with the protractor on her head. She says she plays 3 characters in the movie.

  • Noah | July 29, 2012 6:14 AMReply

    "Sixsmith, Dreamt I stood in a china shop so crowded from floor to far-off ceiling with shelves of porcelain antiquities etc. that moving a muscle would cause several to fall and smash to bits. Exactly what happened, but instead of a crashing noise, an august chord rang out, half-cello, half-celeste, D major (?), held for four beats. My wrist knocked a Ming vase affair off its pedestal—E-flat, whole string section, glorious, transcendent, angels wept." Sounds like that's where the bullet time slow motion comes into play. Looks stunning.

  • mindsale | July 28, 2012 7:42 AMReply

    The gent in the top hat is Ol' Georgie, the islanders' religious trickster figure. Like Satan, if he were in a minstrel show. Also, before reading this, I had absolutely no idea that was Sturgess, Grant, or Berry - the makeup is absolutely phenomenal. I'm guessing Weaving's "political problem" character will also be Korean.

  • Freddy | July 28, 2012 7:40 AMReply

    WHOA..just realised some of the disguised roles.Jim Sturgess makeup becoming an Asian is impressive as he really does look like a japaneses guy in those makeup.Even Berry looks convincing in a red saree

  • Ben | July 27, 2012 10:13 PMReply

    I believe the crockery shot at 4:49 is a reference to the antics Frobisher committed with Sixsmith to get himself kicked out of the Frobishery.

    I'm thrilled with this trailer and can't wait to see the full movie.

  • feihong | July 27, 2012 3:48 PMReply

    The blond woman with the protractor drawn on her forehead is actually Zhou Xun, not Bae Doona.

  • Diana | July 27, 2012 2:37 AMReply

    You can't get a clear look at her face, but from the stills released it looks like Bae Doona (in a curly, strawberry blonde wig) is also playing Ewing's wife Tilda in the 1850 storyline, so there is a kind of symmetry there, with Sturgess playing a Asian character and Bae playing a Caucasian one.

  • jingmei | July 26, 2012 10:12 PMReply

    Looks like impactly too much.

  • jingmei | July 26, 2012 10:17 PM

    And maybe one of the tricks of this film is making every actor into transition of a totally different ethnic character or gender.

  • dag | July 26, 2012 9:57 PMReply

    The "mysterious figure" at 5:00 must be Georgie, the phantom who taunts Zachry at different moments in the Big Island chapter.

  • Candi | July 26, 2012 9:08 PMReply

    I think that's James D'Arcy at 1:53 not Jim Sturgess.

  • Ahnmin | July 26, 2012 6:28 PMReply

    Bae Doona is also at 4:38 as Jim Sturgess's wife.

  • Sean Young | July 26, 2012 6:04 PMReply

    Why the hell didn't WB attach this to TDKR?

  • dsweet | July 26, 2012 6:19 PM

    Seriously. It seems like a missed opportunity. It would have upped this movie's profile.

  • Jiao Chen | July 26, 2012 4:44 PMReply

    I'm pretty sure the blonde girl next to Tom Hanks at 3:41 is Zhou Xun with impressive make up.

  • Diana | July 27, 2012 2:34 AM

    Seconded. Here she is without the makeup:

  • Sean Young | July 26, 2012 3:52 PMReply

    Sturgess looks terrible in the Asian make-up. Aside from that I give this movie 50/50 chances of being unwatchable or amazing.

  • Kotomi | July 27, 2012 11:31 AM

    I'm pretty sure it will win the Oscar for make-up.Jim Sturgess looks great,too. It's almost impossible for Caucasian actor plays Asian.But make-up artists of this film did great job.And Sturgess is very talented.

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