July 24, 2010

#088: Inception (8/10)

This past weekend I made it to the theater for the third time in 2010.  Yes! Inception was powerful enough to draw me to the cinema on opening weekend; an extremely rare occasion.  I am not disappointed that I coughed up matinée rates to see it.  Inception was visually impressive, and an overall enjoyable film to watch on the big screen.  My initial reaction was an 8 out of 10, and I will stick with that.  
When I walked out of the theater I knew I liked Inception a lot.  I was excited to write about it.  I was looking forward to diving into this film and sharing my thoughts.  Then this past week happened.  I had no time or motivation to sit down at the computer to write.  I did read a few reviews and I listened to people talk about it.  There are a lot of different opinions out there, and there are plenty of critics who had way more time and energy to dissect the film. The guys at /Film did a good job on their podcast.   So many people flooded the internet with thoughts about Inception and I don't feel I have much different to add.  Cineamablend has an interesting and pretty exhaustive analysis. Cinematical has a nice post about the questions raised at the end.  A simple search should provide you with tons more articles discussing the film in depth. I will try to keep this somewhat brief and share a few of my opinions.

First off, I should mention that I do not intend to include any spoilers or specific plot details.  However,  going into Inception I knew absolutely nothing, and that is the best way to see it.  If you haven't watched the film yet it is likely you have heard quite a bit about it, but if you are trying to avoid any knowledge of the plot, then you should probably stop reading.  

Inception is one of the few films that will come out this year that is based on a completely original idea.  It is not a sequel or a remake, it is not an adaptation of a tv show, it isn't even based on a book. The story and characters were created with the film in mind. It doesn't mean Inception is better than all the other films this year that are not original, it is just nice to see something fresh and new in the theater.  Even though this is original material it is composed of elements we have seen many times before.  It is kind of like The Matrix meets Oceans 11, with some James Bond thrown on top.  Even though this film is "entirely" set in the dream world, Nolan was content with keeping the film almost completely rooted in reality, and presenting us with the same action sequences we have seen hundreds of times before.. ie car chases, gun fights, even a 007-esque winter sequence.  Nolan had a compelling over-arching idea for a story, and he chose to fill it with lots of recognizable (maybe cliche) elements.  His execution was good, and I was pulled into the action for the most part.  There were a few times where it felt lame, and I wished he would have gone in a different direction.  Those are purely my own reactions to the way he used the dream levels to present us with genre film tropes.  Even though it worked overall, I can't say I enjoyed the car chase shoot-em-up scene or the overly-long snow level.  

I also really liked how ambitious Inception was.  Nolan creates a whole new world here, and invites us into it.  He also takes on the impressive task of showing us several different layers of this world simultaneously.  If I tried to sit you down and explain the plot in words, it would sound like an absolute mess.  Surprisingly, during the film everything makes total sense and was extremely easy to follow.  The way the action sequences are laid out and edited was genius.  I was impressed by how intelligent the film seemed, while still allowing even the biggest idiot to follow exactly what was going on.  Sure, with further contemplation one can apply a lot more depth to what is happening in Inception. Still, the surface-level viewpoint makes for an enjoyable film also.

Nolan creates an entire dream world, and along with it come a whole lot of rules.  Undoubtedly there will be a fair amount of exposition.  The first hour is solid exposition.  Ellen Page's character exists solely to ask questions so other characters can explain the answer.  For a while this was driving me crazy.  I would rather be confused than have a character telling me exactly what is going on.  This is my biggest complaint about Inception, but I guess in the end it is justified.  I just said earlier that I liked how the film made total sense even when things got messy.  This is partially due to all the teaching we got in the first half.  I still think it could have been executed a little better, but in hindsight it wasn't so horrible. 

I also found Inception to be lacking in the character department.  The film doesn't have much time to spend setting up the characters at the beginning.  This is fine.  I don't need that.  But, all of the characters except for Cobb remain flat all the way through.  With Cobb, they tried to add depth and give us some insight into his past.  I didn't like Ariadne's role in the way we found out about his inner daemons, and I wasn't totally sold on his relationship with his wife and kids.  When it is time for the payoff in the end, it didn't have as much an impact because of this.  The stakes at the end also felt reduced because it is all happening in the dream world.  No matter what they did we really knew they were sitting in the plane, so the consequences weren't there. To make it more exciting they pulled the last minute swicheroo and defied one of their rules by introducing the prospect of being sent to an eternal limbo.  It wasn't integrated all that naturally, but I guess it worked alright.  I am nit-picking a little bit.  There was a lot of information thrown at us, so maybe it makes more sense upon multiple viewings.  

I think there are two types of viewer of Inception.  The first type, my type, is the person that goes in expecting a complicated, cerebral film that has a lot of depth.  This person instead gets a much simpler movie with a bunch of action in it.  The second type goes in expecting a fun action movie. Instead they get quite a bit of action, but a lot of convolution and dialog that they have to deal with.  Most films are happy to just fall on one side of the fence. Almost all studio films use their budget to fund mindless action.  I have to commend Inception for giving us the other stuff, and ultimately making a movie that succeeds at both. No matter the preconception, most viewers will come away satisfied with the finished product.  I know I complained about some things, but I did truly enjoy the film.  I have little desire to re-watch it right now, but by the time it comes out of DVD I will be ready to give it another go.  

I am glad to see Inception doing well at the box office.  Nolan was given a lot of freedom to make this film, and its success is good news for the future.  I liked Inception better than The Dark Knight, and think Nolan continues to improve.  I am looking forward to what he has coming up.  I'm sure the Batman movie will come next, but hopefully he is once again given the freedom to bring us another film in the same vein of Inception.  Earlier I hinted at my frustration with all the sequels coming out, but I feel Inception lends itself well to a sequel.  I would not mind seeing that at all.  They have done all the work of setting up the world and the rules, so the sequel would be free of that burden.  I have no clue if Nolan is planning to make a sequel, but I feel like it could work well if it is done right.  

Inception is my favorite studio film I've seen in 2010.  Shutter Island is right up there, but I think I enjoyed Inception a bit more.  If you haven't seen it yet, and are still reading, I would definitely recommend going to the theater to check it out.  It is long, but it is quite an accomplishment of film-making.  I know there are some people out there that totally hated it, and I just can't understand that.  I can't see how they were able to find no redeeming qualities with it.  The slow motion van scenes and zero-gravity fight sequences are reason enough to go experience Inception.  

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