November 5, 2012
My hope is that this does well enough that Hollywood will throw lots more money at big ambitious science fiction projects. Because this certainly gets an A+ for ambition. Whatever I’m about to say, this is worth seeing, even though I think the movie falls short of what it was reaching for.
I decided I would have loved seeing this with a slate of unknown/lesser known actors. Ultimately, the A-listers who played the leads were distracting. I was never able to lose myself in the story, because my brain kept going, “Ah, there’s Tom Hanks in this storyline, there’s Susan Sarandan in this storyline. There’s Hugo Weaving playing six different versions of Agent Elrond, as if he just wanted to pack his next six movies into the same movie. And there’s Hugh Grant’s smirk.” I’m thinking having such recognizable actors was a way to link the various storylines together — the viewers would be able to follow the same “character” because the actors were so identifiable. But I think this backfired, because I never forgot that Halle Barry’s characters were all Halle Barry, and Jim Broadbent never stopped being Jim Broadbent, and so on. Easily my two favorite actors in the film were James D’arcy and Doona Bae, virtual unknowns, at least in the U.S. Not only was I able to follow them from segment to segment, I fell into their stories. That last interview scene with the two of them is one of the strongest bits of acting in the film. I’m a bit sad now for the movie this might have been, without the distraction of the well known actors. And the irony of that is a movie that like this could never have been made with this kind of budget, without a slate of Oscar-winning A-list actors and character actors anchoring the thing.
For the most part, I loved what this was trying to do. I loved the intercut storylines, how each story was a different genre/type of story. As I writer I deeply loved how each narrative produced a narrative of its own — letters, journals, scripts, political movements, etc. — that was read by and served as inspiration for the main character in the next narrative, and was framed overall by Zachary telling a story around the fire, and by the archivist interview in New Seoul. For me, that was the thread holding the film together. The film was also ambitious in its handling of race — every actor played more than one race, and most played more than one gender. Not entirely successfully, alas. (The Korean makeups on the white actors really were distractingly bad. Read about the protest here.) The stories themselves were fairly simple, hung on a fairly complex structure, which should have worked — and didn’t quite. Mostly because the movie was too damned long. What seemed clever and intriguing in the first hour became dull and predictable by the third. There was a message to be had here, about authority and subjugation and freedom and autonomy and the rest. But by the end, this is what it felt like: “Here, have a message. THUD.”
I want to read the book now, which is what any good movie adaptation should inspire, mostly to see how the author tagged the various characters through the various storylines. Obviously, in a visual medium it was done by using the same actors. But how do you signal something like that in prose? I’m intrigued.