Jen’s preview of”Cloud Atlas,” starring Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Huge Grant, directed by Tom Tykwer, Andy Wachowski, Lana Wachowski, in theaters Oct. 26, 2012.

I read the 2004 novel “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell in four days.  Spurred on by Ryan, who was reading with me, I devoured the book like I had no other title before it.  We wanted to finish it before the screening of the feature film at the Hawaii International Film Festival.

I thoroughly enjoyed the novel.  Sure, it was gimmicky, but it was also fascinating. Cloud Atlas is a collection of six short stories with common themes, all tied together.  The narrators of the stories are from all over the world, in both the past and the future.  Mitchell was able to deftly create six different, distinct voices.

I realized that a film adaptation of this novel would be very, very tricky to pull off.  I had high hopes, though. The film is written and directed by Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) and Lana and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix Trilogy).  I was somewhat confident in their collective ability to translate the novel into a coherent film.

They did pull it off.  Mostly.

The writing team cut a few corners and made a few changes that made me scratch my head.  They completely discarded the structure of the novel.  I was able to follow along with the characters, but I can imagine how someone not familiar with the novel could be very confused.  Some of the novel’s loose ends are tied up a little too neatly, and the filmmakers’ choice to use only a few actors for so many roles was maybe not a good one.

The film stars Halle Berry, Tom Hanks, Susan Sarandon, Jim Broadbent (Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince), and Jim Sturgess (Across the Universe), among others.  Halle Berry is Halle Berry, but I have to say, I am impressed with Tom Hanks.  I never saw him as a serious actor before and considered him very overrated, especially in Forrest Gump, a role which still earns him praise.  He sheds his movie star skin in this film and truly inhabits his characters. Hugo Weaving, of The Matrix Trilogy and the Lord of the Rings franchise, appears in drag in one story and is frightening every minute he is onscreen.

The team struggles, I think, with tone.  There are quite a few genuinely funny moments in the novel that just aren’t funny onscreen. One act involves a senior citizen (Broadbent) who is accidentally imprisoned in a retirement home and enlists some of his fellow residents in his escape.  This part of the novel is quite funny, but feels dark and surreal onscreen.  Another act takes place in the 1970’s, and feels much too modern.  A little more attention to how the original stories feel could have made this film seem more than just an exercise in dress-up.

And the makeup required to turn some of the Caucasian actors into Asian characters is truly awful.  Watching these actors in their makeup made me forget about the story entirely.

I appreciate what the filmmakers were going for.  I truly do.  The idea of the novel is that throughout one’s lives, he meets the same people over and over again, throughout history.  Seeing the same small cast appear as different characters underscores that idea, but it’s not necessarily successful.

The film does succeed, though, in its epic scope and especially it’s brain-twisty-ness.  It’s dense and confusing, in the best way possible.  The lack of a structure allows the audience to make connections that they might not make with the novel.  Scenes blend into each other, lines of dialogue highlight themes.  It is an achievement in filmmaking.