“I can’t explain it,” Tom Hanks’ character (or one of Tom Hanks’ characters?) says at one point during the 5-minute trailer for the fall film Cloud Atlas. There is a second half to that sentence, to be sure, but there might as well not be; “I can’t explain it” says just about everything you need to know about the trailer.
Adapted from the acclaimed David Mitchell novel by the dream directorial team of The Matrix’s Wachowskis and Run Lola Run’s Tom Tykwer functioning as one unit, Cloud Atlas is a literary Russian nesting doll, with six separate stories weaving in and out of temporal and geographical boundaries. In other words, it’s a borderline unfilmable novel that inspired the ambitious efforts of some of the most visually innovative directors of the last 20 years, and our first look at it is even weirder than it sounds.
One character mentions a symphony called “The Cloud Atlas Sextet,” which is about people meeting in other lives again and again, and sure enough, we see leads Tom Hanks and Halle Berry bumping into each other in multiple configurations of hairstyles and outfits. The plot may not fully be discernible, even after five minutes, but some of the imagery is in fact breathtaking, including a restaurant in the sky, forest warriors, and a futuristic cityscape traversed by vehicles that defy physics.
In an age when movies need to be pre-sold as sure things, Warner Brothers is taking a risk in selling a Tom Hanks movie with a trailer this weird. Perhaps it will pay off in the same way the last mysterious trailer from a visionary director on a big studio movie did. That one was called Inception.