I finally got round to watching?Cloud Atlas last night, lying on a sofa with aching limbs after a day’s walking. I read David Mitchell’s very, very fine novel two years ago, and was a partly-paid-up member of the ‘Cloud Atlas is unfilmable‘ club, which has a billion members and is the easiest club to get into in the world.
The critical reaction to the film on its cinema release was a pretty sanctimonious chorus of ‘It’s an Honourable Failure.’ Now, I’m never quite sure what an Honourable Failure is, but I think what people meant in this case is that the film in some mysteriously not-quite way did not achieve the same artistic heights as the book.
Well, pish and tosh to that. A film is not a book. It’s not even a facsimile of a book. A film is a film which takes a book as inspiration and then adopts some or all of its rhetorical devices: its dialogue, its characters, its narrative. And the only question that’s worth asking of a film is this one:
Is it a good film?
The Shining?is a good film, but it’s not an adaptation of the original book. It’s entirely different in tone and in rhetoric. Misery is also a good film, and it’s much more similar to the book it is based on (entire chunks of dialogue are lifted verbatim from the original). Neither film is a success or a failure because of its similarities to its source material.
And?Cloud Atlas is a good film. It?is a good film. It’s finely acted, crisply written, it looks amazing, and it has an internal coherence which may be a little California sunshine-and-chanting for some people, but that’s not the film’s fault. It’s long, at almost three hours, but it covers astonishing distances.
Mark Kermode was one of the original Honourable Failure proponents, but on second viewing he changed his mind. Me, I don’t need to see it again. I thought it was wonderful.