Movie Review — Cloud Atlas

Technical problems delayed the screening by half an hour.

But the faulty projector didn’t warrant curses or scorn. In retrospect, it deserved a medal. That selfless, heroic hunk of steel sacrificed itself trying to save us from having to sit through “Cloud Atlas.”

To be fair, “Cloud Atlas” isn’t a bad movie. It’s a lllooooo(inhale)nnnnnggg movie. One hundred seventy-seven head-scratching, bladder-testing minutes that feel like at least twice that.

It’s something to be endured more than enjoyed.

But it sure is pretty.

Written and directed by Lana Wachowski and Andy Wachowski (“The Matrix Trilogy”) and Tom Tykwer (“Run Lola Run”), based on the novel by David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas” tells the story of a handful of souls and how they change — for better or worse — over centuries.

As characters repeatedly say: “Our lives are not our own. From womb to tomb, we are bound to others. Past and present. And by each crime and every kindness, we birth our future.”

“Cloud Atlas” is essentially six movies — distinct in their characters, stories and styles — woven together to tell a larger tale.

There’s the historical drama set in the South Pacific in 1849, the love story in 1936 Scotland, the thriller in 1973 San Francisco, the comedy in 2012 London, the sci-fi adventure in 2144 Neo Seoul, and the post-apocalyptic tale of survival set on “the Big Isle, 106 winters after the fall” (which the press notes helpfully identify as 2321).

And pieces of the stories flow into each other.

The diary written in 1849 by a young attorney (Jim Sturgess) is read in 1936 by a young composer (Ben Whishaw), whose boyfriend and masterwork, “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” turn up again in 1973. The 2012 adventures of a publisher (Jim Broadbent) are made into a movie that, in 2144, inspires a genetically engineered restaurant server (Doona Bae) to rise up and be worshipped as a goddess in 2321.

But it’s the central conceit of “Cloud Atlas” that ends up being both its most ambitious aspect and its most flawed. Each actor plays a variety of roles — Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant and Hugo Weaving turn up in all six timelines — representing that soul’s evolution.

Each of Hanks’ characters looks pretty much like Tom Hanks, with varying degrees of wigs and putty. He’s one of the most recognizable movie stars in the world, so no one wants to hide that light under a bushel. But the deeper you go into the cast, the more confusing things get.

Along the way, Berry portrays a German Jewish woman, Susan Sarandon plays an Indian man, and Whishaw and Weaving turn up as women. Chinese actress Xun Zhou plays a man, while Korean-born Doona Bae takes turns as Hispanic and Caucasian women. Berry, Sarandon, Grant, Weaving, Sturgess, Broadbent and James D’Arcy all portray Asian men. And Grant shows up in 2321 looking like the bass player in a GWAR tribute band.

The problem is, virtually none of these characters looks like an actual person.

Rather than paying attention to the story, you’ll probably spend too much time trying to suss out who’s buried beneath this or that blob of latex — or being distracted by other moviegoers as they announce their guesses.

That’s just one more complication for a movie that’s already asking audiences to adapt to the mental whiplash of a story that careens back and forth across centuries and dialects, including a nearly indecipherable language in 2321, best described as Space Cajun, that leaves Hanks and friends muttering about “the true true.”

You’d have better luck comprehending a conversation between Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises” and Honey Boo Boo.

Makeup aside, the production values are top-notch, offering such whiz-bang visuals as 19th century ships at sea and chases high above a stunning Neo Seoul.

And it’s an admirable effort by everyone involved.

But for a movie built on the ways love can endure throughout time, “Cloud Atlas” is remarkably short on heart.

Christopher Lawrence is the movie critic at the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at clawrence@