Monday Morning Quarterback Part I
By BOP Staff
October 30, 2012

I am the best Romo in all the land!

I can't control what kids like these days, what with their SpongeBob and Pokemon and Cloud Atlas.

Kim Hollis: The daring but complicated Wachowski family/Tom Tykwer release Cloud Atlas opened to $9.6 million. By now, we've all heard about the complex financial structure required to make the movie. Let's be more basic in our analysis. Do you believe this movie ever had the possibility of becoming a box office hit? In lieu of that, what went wrong here?

Edwin Davies: I think the release pattern for the film probably did it no favors. It was put out into only 2008 theaters at a time of year when an audacious, potential award-courting film probably is going to struggle, both of which suggest a certain lack of faith on the part of the studio. The studio could have put it out in more theaters at the height of summer, when the visuals might have been enough to drive curiosity, or put it out in limited release in late November to try to generate interest that way. Both of which might have had a better chance of creating more demand for the film.

However, I don't think that either would have been enough to make the film a hit, or at least not the sort of hit that would earn back the budget. I saw it yesterday and thought it was frequently brilliant if flawed, and it's just not a film that was ever going to have a huge audience. Really, the only thing that would have definitely helped it would have been if the original novel had been more of a phenomenon, since it would have created a larger built-in audience to begin with.

Jason Barney: I guess I am kind of shocked by this low total. There has been some buzz about this film for weeks, even months now, so a less than $10 million opening is really surprising. A few weeks ago it seemed to have everything going for it, a stellar trailer, weak competition at the box office, a great list of stars... all of that is now lost to the sub par opening, and the reality of just how blah this opening is. With the budget being over $100 million, this sort of opening is just embarrassing. We live in front-loaded times, and for this one to have any chance for success it needed to open far above these numbers. I'm not sure what went wrong. The screen count maybe...Hurricane Sandy...

This is an awful opening and there is no other way to characterize it.

Felix Quinonez Jr.: While there is no way to spin this opening into anything other than a loss I don't really know that anything went "wrong." I just don't think this was ever destined to be a hit and the fact that it was ever given such a big budget seems like a mistake. Maybe a more limited release could have helped it get some buzz. Or maybe even making a better movie would have been helpful. A movie like this needs really good reviews not just okay ones. But even so I don't think either of those things would have turned this into a hit.

Bruce Hall: It's a relatively small segment of the population that is into esoteric-as-entertainment. Getting everyone else interested was key, and this is where Cloud Atlas never had a chance. The novel has fascinated a lot of people, but it was not The Da Vinci Code. In fact I wonder if the film isn't the one doing the book a favor; most of the people I know who have read it only did so after hearing about the movie. Still, I can't wonder how anyone looked at the relatively obscure (some say impenetrable) source material, noted its lack of general public awareness and decided it was a worthwhile investment to pour that much money into it. It's a film that for art's sake, you're happy to see get made. But from a financial standpoint this seemed like an obvious underachiever, in my opinion. I don't feel very shocked by this.

Reagen Sulewski: Virtually every comment I heard about this film boiled down to, "That looks really interesting, but I have no idea what that's supposed to be about." I think especially in an environment where people are paying $15 for premium tickets, there's more of a demand by audiences to have a clear expectation, and Cloud Atlas wouldn't and perhaps couldn't give that to them, beyond the initiated. I'd say this also shows that the notion of the Wachowski name being a guaranteed box office draw is well and truly gone.

Max Braden: Movie projects like this make me want to throw my hands up. It's not daring if you know it's not going to sell, and these types of movies - multiple time periods trying to tie some epic philosophical gooey pablum into one thought - don't sell. They just don't. You can sell mindbending alternate realities like Inception or The Matrix, or concurrent narratives like The Empire Strikes Back or Lord of the Rings, or time travel twistaplots like take your pick, but you can't sell a movie with the same story told in multiple time periods. If there's one truth to be taken from a movie like this, it's that audiences don't go. A hundred years of moviemaking and a thousand years of storytelling demonstrate that audiences want a simple, strong, linear storyline. You try to get fancy, and you're going to turn away all but the fringe fans. It's happened before, it's happening now, and it will happen again.

David Mumpower: I vehemently disagree with Max's sweeping indictment of the multiple time period concept as one that will never sell. Doctor Who is indoctrinating an entire generation of kids on this very theme as we speak. The absolution of that generality aside, I was one of the people saying Cloud Atlas would bomb. It was never even a conversation for me. In the exceptional New Yorker article wherein the Wachowski Brothers railed against the way studios project releases, I was with the herd (for once). The author mentioned that the film used most often in comparison to Cloud Atlas was The Fountain; this was my expectation as well. I understand exactly why they railed against the thought process for refusing to identify a novel concept. They were unfortunately too close to their own work to appreciate that it was not differentiated enough, at least on the surface level.

The commonality of stories told at multiple moments in history can sell if the trailers concisely enumerate the storytelling goal. I've SEEN Cloud Atlas yet I still struggle to reconcile a lot of its meaning. I really needed closed captioning to decipher the premise during the first viewing. I fully believe Cloud Atlas is worth the investment of another 3-6 hours in order to determine such philosophies. I am not like most consumers, though. Cloud Atlas is a stubbornly impenetrable viewing experience. As such, this movie was doomed to low box office from the moment Tykwer and the Wachowskis decided to go all-in on the project.

What we should keep in mind, however, is that a courageous attempt like this is a refreshing change from the cynical saturation of known franchises that we ordinarily chronicle. Cloud Atlas is a daring adaptation and I think everyone involved should be congratulated for trying in the face of overwhelming odds.

Kim Hollis: I am probably one of the novel's greatest champions, and have been since almost the moment it was available for purchase in the U.S. With that said, I never felt like it was a book that could (or should) be adapted to film; the structure was simply too complex. Once I saw the trailer, I was very intrigued, because I at least thought that what the Wachowskis and Tom Tykwer did was interesting. I think it would have appealed to me even if I hadn't read the book. Even so, I expected it to be a limited, platform release. This is not subject matter or storytelling that is meant for mass audiences.

While I agree that the dollars and cents are disappointing, I'm still glad that the creators of this film were willing to take a chance and try something different. I find myself easily bored with movies and television these days and I always really appreciate when storytellers try to present things in a new, challenging fashion. I did find myself wondering while watching the film if anyone who hadn't read the book would completely understand what was going on. I kind of think that the answer is "probably not."