Cloud Atlas

Starring: Tom Hanks, Halle Berry, Hugh Grant, Jim Broadbent, James D’Arcy, Susan Sarandon, Hugo Weaving, Jim Sturgess

Directed By: The Wachowski

Where I Watched It: Netflix (though this was not my first time)

English Audio Description Available?: Hell Yes.

Plot: People. Over time. Stories. Intertwined. I’ve now seen this film twice, and trying to describe it seems still like a monumental task. The film stretches over thousands of years, imagining actors almost as reincarnations of themselves across time in completely different circumstances and explores deep themes like human connection and fate.

What Works: Well, for the sighted, I do remember this being a visually impressive work. I thought it might be fun to see what this fil was like so many years later, and now without me being able to enjoy the traditional Wachowski visuals. This go around made me continue to appreciate the acting, as the cast, to be frank, is the lone saving grace here. I feel like I haven’t seen or heard from Jim Broadbent in a while, and this rewatch made me immediately nostalgic for him and all of his performances. He’s such a continuously terrific actor. Not to mention, the film also features Tom Hanks, who fully commits to anything, regardless of how poorly or bizarrely written it is, and Halle Berry really trying to do the same thing.

But the reason for me even bothering to attempt to review a film I didn’t like the first time around, and still don’t like, is because of the audio description. more on that later.

What Doesn’t Work: Everything else. This is still a three hour movie, that even with audio description still is hard to follow and understand. I felt like the first time I saw this film,, I was able to really just bathe in the performances and the visuals. this time around, the performances were still there, but I instead really took note of the score, which was nice, but I won’t remember it. The needle didn’t move for me. I didn’t like Cloud Atlas the first time around, and honestly, I still don’t. The Wachowski’s have always been an overrated pair of directors, who landed that one major punch with The Matrix, and somehow kept convincing audiences that their brilliance was still to be realized. But outside of The Matrix, I haven’t actually liked anything they’ve ever made. Cloud Atlas is over complicated and far too long, but I do remember Speed Racer, and that was easily the worst thing they’ve ever done. you couldn’t pay me to attempt to rewatch that.

The Blind Perspective: The entire reason I bothered to pop in with a review at all for a film like Cloud Atlas was the audio description, which, quite honestly, is the best audio description for a film I’ve managed in my few short years now as a blind individual. I’ve watched hundreds (maybe thousands because of the pandemic) of hours of television and movies, and this is the first time an audio description has actually introduced you to the character and the actor within the audio description. So if you don’t recognize the voice, you don’t have to jet off to IMDB to find out who was in that role. Granted, they don’t do this for minor, ensemble actors, but the main characters played by actors you’ve heard of (and a few you haven’t) are all named, so you can tie a character to an actor immediately. This is great for people who are less familiar with the vocal tones of actors like James D’Arcy or Hugo Weaving. Sure, maybe you can pull Tom Hanks out of a lineup, but it’s great to see them putting so much emphasis on the visually impaired community getting the equality that sighted individuals have. The ability to immediately recognizing who is on screen. Before losing my vision, I of course would have recognized the main cast, so it was nice to see that someone realized that importance in the audio description for once.

And to be honest, for a film like Cloud Atlas, without that additional feature, the film becomes even more unwatchable. Because of the structure, with stories being told across such a wide range of time, and hopping around a lot, having actors playing multiple roles, this description did its absolute best to actually help create as I hereby an experience as possible. The audio description didn’t just come in and make the film accessible, it actually attempted to exchange the potential of a visually impaired individual’s ability to follow and enjoy what is an often maligned convoluted mess.

Final Thoughts: I’d almost recommend this film to the blind community just on the audio description alone, but then part of me is still stuck on the notion that this excellent audio description was given to Cloud Atlas of all films. I would love to see this consistently done across more television and movies, because sometimes the audio description we get is almost non existent, if we get it at all. If you are planning on doing audio description, why not go full out, and make the best possible damn audio description you possibly can? Tragically, Cloud Atlas happens to be the movie.

Final Grade: D+

Audio Description: A+

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