Much has been made of David Mitchell’s initial assessment that Cloud Atlas, his acclaimed time- and genre-hopping 2004 novel, was unfilmable. He could also have said, with equal confidence, that it was unrecordable.
Adapting Cloud Atlas to the screen presented directors Tom Tykwer and Andy and Lana Wachowski with challenges ranging from the practical (how to depict 19th-century Polynesia as convincingly as 22nd-century Korea; how to make Halle Berry look white) to the metaphysical (how to convey the everything-is-connected grandeur of it all). But the difficulty wasn’t just a question of re-creating Mitchell’s phantasmagorical images. One of the most daunting challenges concerned one crucial piece of music, which plays a central role in Mitchell’s novel. The task fell to the composing triumvirate of Reinhold Heil, Johnny Klimek, and Tykwer himself, an accomplished pianist who has co-written the scores of most of his films.
For a work of fiction whose hydra-headed millennia-and-genre-hopping narrative begins at sea near 19th-century New Zealand and ends (um, spoiler alert, I guess, although the "end" in question happens around the halfway point) with a campfire story about man's final descent into barbarism in post-apocalyptic far-future Hawaii, David Mitchell's 2004 novel Cloud Atlas is actually pretty easy to follow, and even enjoy. It's a page-turner that happens to be engineered like a particle accelerator; there are actual stories (and actual cliffhangers) within its tricky nesting-doll structure, as well as prose that riffs on Daniel Defoe, Martin Amis, and Philip K. Dick, but also Pelican Brief–era John Grisham, as if Mitchell were writing for the spinner rack in an interdimensional airport.