The New York Times reports that Leonard Nimoy has died at age 83. We’ve already seen his death and funeral on screen, in the movie that was possibly the best episode of the television show that made him famous. But that time, there was a sequel.
I’ve meant for a long time to write about how, for all its failure to directly represent the diversity of human sexual identities, Star Trek did have queer characters in leading roles — and Spock was the first of them. But I’m going to block out my evening tonight to re-watch The Wrath of Khan.
So last night I saw Cloud Atlas, the big new film directed by the Wachowski siblings and Tom Tykwer. I don’t know what I was expecting, exactly, beyond that it’s based on a widely respected and reputedly un-filmable novel and that I haven’t cared much for anything the Wachowskis have directed since the original Matrix. But, well, wow.
Cloud Atlas weaves together a set of stories set hundreds of years apart, using the same core cast of actors — including Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Jim Broadbent, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess, and Ben Whishaw — in different-but-related roles. If that sounds potentially unwieldy already, consider that many of the actors switch genders and races (to widely varying degrees of effectiveness) from story to story, and that in fact each story is really a completely different genre. There’s a Merchant Ivory-style tale about a nineteenth-century lawyer voyaging home from a slave-buying expedition, a farce that might as well have been an episode of that BBC sitcom about life in a retirement home, a mystery thriller set in the 1970s, a quest across a postapocalyptic wilderness, a tragedy about a miserable old-timey homosexual who’s composing a groundbreaking symphony in prewar Britain, and a Blade Runner-style science fiction action film.
All these films are intercut so as to highlight, with varying success, the overlaps and interconnections between their stories. The melody at the core of the symphony composed in prewar Britain recurrs in a San Francisco record shop in the 1970s, in the slums of futuristic Neo-Seoul, and among the ruins of nuclear war. In the farce, a bumbling old publisher writes a memoir which is adapted into a movie that inspires revolution centuries later. People are made captive, and set free; they help and hinder each other in their various quests. Multiple characters in multiple stories muse aloud about the interconnectedness of all people and the transmigration of souls, which is mostly unnecessary given how often we can see that, if the stories don’t quite repeat themselves, they unmistakably rhyme.
Whether or not you like Cloud Atlas will boil down to how well you think it weaves all these stories together — I came away almost entirely satisfied. I’m a sucker for big and ambitious and wide-ranging, and while there’s more than a few moments of fridge logic within the individual stories that comprise Cloud Atlas, I walked out of the theater looking forward to seeing it again.
By adding Bilbo Baggins to his filmography, I think Martin Freeman is officially defining his career in the role of the Universal English Everyman, the straight man to wonders: John Watson, Arthur Dent, even Tim, his breakout role on the original version of The Office. Next up: Newton Pulsifer from Good Omens?◼
And check out the casting: Hugh Jackman is Jean Valjean (yay!), Russell Crow is Javert (um, okay). The Thénardiers will be played by Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter. And in a particularly nice touch, the Bishop of Digne will be played by Colm Wilkinson, who was Valjean in the 1985 cast.
Spoiler alert: Indy (and the franchise) wouldn’t have survived, in the real world. But exactly how Professor Jones would most likely meet his end is a much more enjoyable question. Here’s a tiny bit:
Sadly, the lead and steel shielding which the authors intend to protect their protagonist from ionizing radiation can itself become a source of it. While beta decay constitutes a relatively small portion of the average nuclear device’s output, what little sprinkle the Frigidaire receives it will transmute, in kind, into an X-ray bath for its inhabitant. It’s sort of like the way a Russian Sauna works, but instead of hot coals there’s a nuclear explosion, and instead of steam there’s a burst of X-rays, and instead of a wood hut it’s a Frigidaire, and also you’re dead. [Link sic.]
As additional evidence of Shechner’s scientific bona fides, he presents the whole analysis in the persona of the third reviewer. I don’t think I’ve enjoyed a takedown of one of George Lucas’s late-career cinematic catastrophes so much since Anthony Lane wrote, in reference to Yoda’s diction in Revenge of the Sith, “break me a fucking give.” ◼