Saturday, January 31, 2009

File Under 'Hmm'

Via Edward Champion, we learn that Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) is trying to adapt David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas for the screen, with the help of the Wachowski brothers.  Note that this article erroneously (I hope) assumes that Tykwer's adaptation will focus on only one of the novel's six narratives, and also that there's no indication of an actual production deal in place.

Champion calls Cloud Atlas 'an unfilmable novel', but I'm not sure I see how it is any more so than any other big, sprawling piece of fiction.  The nested narrative structure is unusual, but there have been plenty of films--including Run Lola Run--whose narratives were far less linear.  Unlike, say, Possession, Cloud Atlas makes the switch from story to story, period to period at only a few clearly marked locations--in that sense, the shape of the movie is predetermined, and 'all' that's left for a screenwriter is to fill in the details of each narrative.  Which of course is the problem, but it means that Cloud Atlas is no more unfilmable than Pride and Prejudice, and for much the same reasons: because there's too much going on in the novel to cram into at most three hours.  That sort of problem has been solved well on occasion, and badly much more often.  I guess we'll have to wait and see.

5 comments:

ianras said...

A six or twelve part miniseries would be ideal. Alas...

Abigail Nussbaum said...

Eh. I know miniseries are all the rage, but too long an adaptation can kill a novel just as well as one that is too short, and at any rate one of the joys of reading Cloud Atlas is the jolt you get when the narratives cut off, mid-scene or -sentence. If the switchovers were indicated by episode breaks I think that sensation would be lost.

ianras said...

I don't think that an episodic format would preclude the jarring skips between stories but it would give each section room to breathe. A film adaptation couldn't really afford to give any one section more than half an hour and I can't imagine the, say, mystery story would be worth telling in that time.

Abigail Nussbaum said...

To be fair, none of the individual stories in Cloud Atlas are worth telling, or reading, in their own right. It's part of the point of the book that its components are distillations of various genres - historical novel, thriller, dystopian SF. Mitchell's ventriloquism is perfect but also somewhat on the lifeless side. The pieces only work when taken together, when the reader notices the common thread running through them and the point they come together to make. Splitting the novel into episodes, I think, would undermine that message.

Steve_Green said...

I saw Twyker's latest film last week, The International. He seems quite adapt at maintaining a strong narrative integrity (even when, as in Run Lola, Run, the actual architecture is quite innovative).

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