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Against all odds, David Mitchell’s novel ‘Cloud Atlas’ now a film

By Rick Bentley, The Fresno Bee –

LOS ANGELES — While writing “Cloud Atlas,” author David Mitchell never thought about how his novel could be turned into a movie.

“My only film-related thought when I was writing the book was what a shame that no one would ever, ever film this,” says Mitchell. “I was quite convinced it would never happen.”

“Cloud Atlas” (Random House), which won the Literary Fiction Award in the British Book Awards, looks at how those living in one time period have an effect on those living in past and future times. Mitchell tells this story through characters living in six different time periods that cover a 500-year span.

The complexity of the book is challenging, but the story has been adapted into a feature film starring Tom Hanks and Halle Berry. It will open in theaters Friday.

About a year after his book was published in 2004, Mitchell was approached about turning his tale into a movie. It was the Andy and Lana Wachowski — the sibling directors who made “The Matrix” — who won the right. After the deal was made, Mitchell put a potential film out of his mind.

“Many, many, many more books get optioned than ever get turned into films. For the sake of mental health, if you’re happy with the directors, it’s best to sign and then forget about it,” Mitchell says. “If you are not going to be cool with it, don’t put yourself through the stress of it. No one forces you to hand over the film rights at gun point.”

More than two years passed before Mitchell got a call from the directors, who wanted to show him an early version of the script.

The biggest change from his book to the movie is the way the story unfolds. In the book, Mitchell’s six stories play out in a linear fashion, one after another. In the film, the stories blend together as a way of showing how actions in one time can ripple through to another time.

Mitchell loved the change, and he found it “delicious” that the cast would play different characters in all six of the different stories.

“It’s a mosaic and not a Russian dolls structure and I’m very OK with that,” Mitchell says. “I’m not sure if it would be watchable if you kept the book’s structure. You’re asking an audience to begin a film six times without really knowing what’s going on.

“What works in novels doesn’t necessarily work in films.”

The one thing that didn’t change is the name. Mitchell says the “Atlas” part refers to things in life that remain constant; “Cloud” refers to what can change. In other words, “Atlas” is existence and “Cloud” is the soul. He took the title from a piece of music by Toshi Ichiyanagi, who was once married to Yoko Ono.

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