MOVIE REVIEW - Inception
Posted by Nathan Major on Friday, August 13, 2010 at 1:25 PM
So in all the blogs I follow (primarily authors/agents/editors), just about EVERYBODY and THEIR DOG reviewed Inception about two weeks ago. It was a total fad between all these authors to sing the praises of this movie (and a few didn't like it). In accordance to this trend (and clearly that last step I have to take before becoming a Real Author), I will now review this movie, which I watched with my wife last Monday.
Also, everybody on my blog list is now buying iPads. Unfortunately, I can't afford this trend quite yet (and have no idea what I'd use an iPad for besides being trendy and playing Plants vs Zombies).
So. Inception. It's a movie made by Christopher Nolan, recently made super-star by nerds and non-nerds alike with The Dark Knight. I'm fairly certain the reason this movie got so big was because of the popularity of that one, which is fair because Inception is, truthfully, quite a good movie.
Most people have been comparing watching this film with one's first viewing of The Matrix. People really like to say that a lot these days, like watching The Matrix is akin to having some great life epiphany or being born again or something. On Inception, I will say this: it did have that "holy crap!" thing The Matrix gave us back in 1999, but instead of happening near the beginning, Inception's happens about an hour and and a half in, when is also about the time you finally freaking understand what is going on.
But I digress. Let me start from the beginning. Also, I'm going to be as completely spoiler-free as possible. Truthfully, this is a movie you can't spoil, because the details are so heavy and interwoven into the watching experience that any attempt I could make to put them to the written word would be inadequate.
So, now that I've proven my review moot, here it is.
Inception is about dudes entering dreams to steal secrets. Basically, in the future we have some technology that allows us to both make dreams for people, enter their dreams, and interact in them. Multiple people can dream together if they are all plugged into the magic dream machine box. Leonardo DiCaprio is a dream thief, who excels at entering worlds and stealing prized information.
All this, of course, is implied, because we never really see him steal anything from the whole movie. Whoops, spoiler?
Anyway, the plot of Inception is a reversal of the stealing bit; they want him to plant an idea into a person's mind. The problem is, you can't just go into dreams and tell a person what to do. Their mind will know it's not their own though, and they'll brush it away. So, they have to concoct an elaborate scheme to convince the person, through subterfuge and subtle hints, that this idea is really his.
That is really the most clever part of the movie: how they pull this off. Inception is a heist move at its core, with the sci-fi elements simply a stage and sets of rules used to keep the heist going. It's kind of like Mistborn, only replace the metal magic with dream rules.
As a heist movie, it works well, and when you finally see the payoff, it is really really satisfying. The rules are all very intuitive (once you figure them out), quite clever, and the game has a "timebomb" buildup that keeps the tension always at the forefront. As a heist movie, it works. As a sci-fi film, it also works. Overall, the ideas make it a "clever movie."
The movie also has some incredibly clever touches. Take, for example, the soundtrack. For you to get this, I'll have to give you a basic "rule" of dreamland. In the dream world, you can stack dreams. You can go into their dream, make a dream machine inside the dream, and then go into a dream within a dream. The plot revolves around going three dreams deep to plant the memory. The trick is, think about your dreams. You can think hours have passed (and they have, in the dream), but wake up and it has only been five minutes. The same happens in dream stacking. Five minutes is an hour in a level one dream, jump one deeper and you have like a week, jump another deeper and its a year. Time is essentially slowing.
Cool, right? Here's where the nifty trick comes in. The soundtrack literally adjusts according to this. If you watch a trailer, you'll notice the loud, "fog horn" type noises in the soundtrack, and think they are just for dramatic effect. They aren't. When the scenes switch between levels of dreams, the same soundtrack is played slower to represent the time compression. When I found this out, I was blown away. The soundtrack isn't just a soundtrack, it's part of the rules of the film. I wish more filmmakers were this clever.
Point being, it is certainly worth watching. However, the film does have some really major problems that made it just "great" instead of "holy crap best movie ever."
And here they are in no particular order!
- The film is about 30-45 minutes too long. Most of these minutes are spent on shootouts that have no relevance to anything and are way overdrawn, and the horrible, terrible, stupid snowmobile/snow war scene near the end of the movie. Look, I get it, this is a summer movie, and so it has to trade intelligence for guns sometime. But why does it have to? And does it have to do it for dozens of minutes in the most tacked on way possible? My wife's first comment after it ended was, "That movie had way too much shooting." And it did! The movie was smart, dramatic, and suspenseful without all the gunplay. That stuff just was extra. It seemed like a stupid way to force action into a movie that was better than that. The story was smart, why ruin it with stupid Michael Bay fighting?
- The film doesn't really trust the viewer, yet still manages to be completely confusing until about an hour in. This is mostly the fault of the way information is presented. There are two ways things are shown in Inception: scenes that are crazy with no context at all (so you have no idea what is going on: read, the first 45 minutes of the film), or expository blabbing between DiCaprio and Ellen Page. There is no middle ground; you learn very little on your own, which means you don't do much speculation. Either you totally know something for sure, or you are completely in the dark. The exception is the ending, which is perfect (if predictable), but the distribution of information is just...poor. It could have been done a lot better. It at least could have been done in a way that my wife and I had some clue whatsoever what was going on for the first three-four major plot-points of the movie. Seriously, no idea at all until 45 minutes in. We all know about "in late, out early" but don't freaking drop me off this far in without any explanation at all, especially in a movie as complicated as Inception.
- Ellen Page's character is useless, if not detrimental to all character development in this film. Seriously, she exists for one reason: to ask questions for the sake of the audience, and to infer stuff about DiCaprio's character that should have been left ambiguous. DiCaprio, while not my favorite actor, works well at presenting characters who appear one thing and are actually another. This sense of mystery is (I'm assuming) what draws women to him in droves, as well as providing speculation regarding his characters. Luckily, Page is here to ruin everything. The minute you learn something that could be a hint at DiCaprio's character, Page magically guesses what it really means, removing any speculation you might have had to do. Thank goodness, I was afraid I'd have to use my brain! It's almost as if Inception went: "Ok, we have this cool premise that is going to blow people's minds. We want good, deep character, but we are certain audiences will be too dumb to be able to figure out a complex plot, world, and characters! We'd better just explain one of them to death at every possible instance so their poor, dumb brains can handle it." The character is so flat and two-dimensional it is insulting, especially considering the other supporting characters are generally interesting. Or at least have personality.
Wow, that's a lot of gripes. All this aside, I enjoyed the movie a lot, and it had lots of moments where I was like "That is totally cool" or "That's some great writing" or "Wow! Clever!", stuff like that. It's certainly worth watching, mostly because the premise and "magic system" is fantastic. I just wish the characters and presentation could have lived up to this great idea Nolan had.