I may not have liked Inception quite as much as a lot of people, but I have to admit (as I have been known to say frequently) I would rather see people try to do something great and fail (or not quite get there), than sit through yet another example of trying to do something mindlessly aimed at the lowest common denominator and succeed brilliantly.
While I think Nolan ultimately ran away with himself (see full review below), and could have used some other sounding board (brilliant things can be tricky to understand… so too nonsensical things), I also think he is nevertheless one of the most talented filmmakers working today. It may have folded over on itself too many times, but the film is still a fun adventure with amazing visuals, and thoroughly entertaining.
The release is somewhat light on bonuses, especially considering it is the film everyone was talking about for much of the first half of the year, but the extras it does have are rather nice. Plus, the film itself is exceedingly Blu-Ray friendly, and it is sure to become the new go-to disc for showing off your home system’s abilities.
The main special feature is Extraction Mode, which is a “pop in” featurette that plays along with the film. It focuses largely on production and design, giving behind-the-scenes and something like behind-behind-the-scenes coverage of how many aspects of the film came together. It’s a pretty nice feature, and more interesting than most, though I have a sense that many fans of the film might find themselves wishing there were a bit more to it. You can watch it separately, and it runs about 3/4 of an hour. The most valuable bits are when Nolan is directly involved, but you also get other members of the cast giving their thoughts on pulling off the film’s gargantuan efforts. Generally, I’m about 50/50 on finding these “Mode” options rather annoying, but this one is mostly worthwhile.
The other bonuses are on the second disc, and don’t add up to all that much frankly. Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious Documentary is a nearly hour-long featurette that offers up experts and the film’s cast talking about dreams. This is a road that is sometimes entertaining, but often silly, and I can’t say I got much out of the effort. While there were interesting moments, I’m not looking forward to real world documentaries attached to films as the next big push in special features.
You also get Inception: The Cobol Job, a digital motion comic, which acts as (basically) a prequel to the film. Fans of the film will probably enjoy this, and it’s a solid example of such efforts. I’m not sure it’s something I hope to see more of, but this one takes advantage of the possibilities of this new (and strange) idea.
Beyond that, you aren’t going to get a whole lot. There are a number of trailers and TV spots, a promotional art archive, and a conceptual art gallery. All are somewhat interesting, but I don’t know that most people will even look at them. You also have the ability to access a number of tracks from the soundtrack, which is a nice feature.
Overall, while I’d like a few more special features, this will probably be on most people’s must-own list for the year. Wherever you stand on the film itself, you owe to yourself to pick up the Blu-Ray and find the biggest screen you can.
For your chance to win a copy of the Blu-Ray, there is still time to head on over to the Holiday Extravaganza Giveaway!
Originally published film review
For most purposes, the words “complicated” and “complex” are synonyms. When you dig around a little though, there is a big difference between the two concepts, at least, if you ask a lot of philosophers and thinkers. Generally, a thing is as complex as it is, but it isn’t too complex, or not complex enough. At the same time, it makes sense to think of some things as simple and complex. Things can be too complicated though, and it is hard to imagine something being simple and complicated at the same time.
It is largely an odd and unnecessary distinction, but it serves well to grasp where people often go wrong in their attempt to make things seem quite clever. You see, the things that stand out as seeming very intelligent are usually rather complex, and when in doubt the idea is invariably to make a thing ever more complicated. For an easy example, compare the first Matrix film to the sequels.
Christopher Nolan‘s Inception falls prey to this idea worse than most films, and while the end result is still quite an entertaining effort, it suffers from one of the worst crimes a film can – it thinks it’s a lot smarter than it is.
The film centers around a technological advancement that allows people to enter one another’s dreams. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a technician of this technology, and works as basically a corporate spy. Entering people’s dreams, and ferreting out their secrets via a created dream world, Cobb gets information there is no other way to get. When a certain mission doesn’t work out as planned, Cobb discovers it was a test (sort of), because the victim, Saito (Ken Watanabe) actually wants to hire him for a different job.
What Cobb generally does is known as extraction, removal of some information (or thought, I suppose), but Saito wants him to pull off an inception, putting an idea into a subject’s mind.
With his trusty sidekick Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Cobb takes on the job that most people consider impossible. Inception is just too difficult, the mind being what it is. Cobb is willing to give it a shot, because Saito promises that he can pull the strings that will let Cobb return home to his children. He’s on the run at the moment, wanted in connection with his wife’s death.
Thus, we’re off to the races for one of the biggest jobs imaginable, and what Saito is looking for is no easy feat, even in the realm of inception. He wants Cobb to plant an idea into the mind of Robert Fischer Jr. (Cillian Murphy) such that he will dissolve his father’s global energy company as soon as he inherits it.
In order to get the ball rolling, Cobb needs a new architect, and he finds someone who is potentially the perfect sort of genius for the job. A student of architecture, Ariadne (Ellen Page) – and isn’t that clever – joins the team after being shown the possibilities, and finding herself hooked like someone getting their free taster of heroin.
From there we follow along as the web spins itself into ever-tangling patterns, and try to keep focus with situations that make little sense, but angle toward the ultimate goal. Once inside the mind of Mr. Fischer, we see the thoroughly muddy game we’re playing, but events are further complicated by Cobb’s own psyche, which, riddled with guilt, is beginning to become its own player.
While there are notes of the more brilliant Nolan efforts to be found (Following, Memento, and The Prestige), what clearly started off as an analysis of a complex idea was eventually, and sadly, saddled with complications. Worse still, to no real purpose. There are interesting themes in play here, not least simply drawing the line between reality and fantasy, and how you come to be who you are based far more on the reality you create, than anything that objectively exists.
In the end, the film spins us a tale based on a philosophic yarn just like The Matrix. Instead of, “How do you know you aren’t a brain in a vat,” it is, “How do you know this isn’t the dream?” So simple that they are a bit silly, yet so complex that philosophers have bandied them about for longer than seems sane. Both films manage a worthwhile and fun celebration of the complexities of the mind, wrapped in an intriguing effort at wreaking havoc on what are ultimately koan-esque puzzles.
The difference is that the Wachowski brothers waited until the second film before deciding to leave playful, joyous analysis and venture forth into concepts they don’t understand, opening the door for throwing out random complications. All of this working off the mistaken idea about the relationship between what is complicated and what is complex. Nolan, on the other hand, throws both efforts into one film.
Inception is without question a fine enough, and enjoyable film. Well above the average fare to be sure. But, on the road to creating a kind of meta-labyrinth, it has added complicatedness to the extent that it has lost its complexity. It tries so hard to talk about its themes that it isn’t talking about them at all anymore.
As the movie wound down, I found myself thinking about the old Buckminster Fuller quote – “When I am working on a problem I never think about beauty. I only think about how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.” Something related to this has happened in the final product here, and while it is certainly a workable solution, it isn’t beautiful.