The annual batch of blockbusters is upon us. What do we have this year? ‘Iron Man 2’, ‘Toy Story 3’, ‘Shrek 4’, ‘Twilight 3’, and so on. What do you think we’ll get next year?
I’m not against franchises, I’ve even seen ‘Iron Man 2’ three times. I understand that it makes sense for Hollywood, because repeating a successful formula has a better effort-profit ratio. The problem is that every time a follow-up film is successful, originality dies a little. What was the last original film you saw, that wasn’t a sequel, or a remake, or adaptation of a book, comic or TV show; something that tries to make it on its own merits without relying on gimmicks like “THREE DEE”?
Once in a while someone dares to make something different. Some get on with it, some don’t – but those who do get a kick out of it. It happens, but it is rare. Enter ‘Inception’, a sci-fi-espionage-thriller that has been bouncing around in Christopher Nolan’s mind since around 1999.
The premise is simple enough – Leonardo DiCaprio steals people’s secrets by going into their dreams. One day, he has to insert information instead of stealing it. How does he access into people’s dreams? He has a machine. It’s not something we’re meant to dwell on, just a plot device that conveniently allows our protagonists to do impossible things (a bit like “the Force” in ‘Star Wars’).
The narrative is where Nolan aims to mess with your mind. Several plots occur at the same time, but they occur at different speeds, and what happens in one has a direct impact on the next. There is no slow introduction to make the audience feel at home, no set-up sequence to establish characters. You are thrown right in and expected to make sense of things as you go. There is little time to find your footing because there is so much to take in. And just when you make sense of things, Nolan begins playing with physics. The trailers already showed glimpses of the visual treats on offer – water tilting 45 degrees in a stationary glass, a city rising up and folding in on itself. ‘Inception’ takes the worlds created in ‘The Matrix’ and dials it up to 11. The narrative complexity is such that those who go in expecting ‘Batman 3’ will be lost and disappointed.
Don’t let the absence of superheroes fool you. ‘Inception’ packs every bit as much blockbuster boom as the average James Bond flick. Moving up from his $5m budget for ‘Memento’ in 2000, Nolan was given $200m to play with. A stunt-heavy production thrashed the actors around for weeks. Visual spectacle and narrative complexity rarely go hand-in-hand. How complex is the plot in ‘Spider-Man’? How visually spectacular was ‘Pulp Fiction’? It is usually a case of one or the other. In ‘Inception’, the audience is treated to both.
This is Nolan’s most ambitious project yet, but his narrative audacity comes at a price. The downside to juggling so much is that it is often difficult to grasp everything that is going on. It risks alienating a percentage of the audience. Many elements are worthy of praise – Hans Zimmer’s score is powerful but manages to avoid being the theme tune it was in ‘Pirates Of The Caribbean’. Good cinematography. The acting is convincing. The casting is spot-on. Unfortunately, audiences might be far too busy to notice these things, at least on the first viewing. Those who prefer simple stories should avoid this. Everyone else – concentrate and you’re in for a merry ride.