Thursday, July 15, 2010

Inception: Best Sci Fi movie so far for 2010

Chris Nolan's Inception is definitely a movie that a large majority of its casual viewers will fail to fully grasp.  That is an opinion that I very sadly have about the movie.  Why?  Because the movie is that good.  Because the movie is that intelligent.

While most would too quickly try to compare this movie to Matrix or Nolan's other movie, The Prestige, I personally felt the movie was much more like an attempt of Nolan's to explore the role dreams play in our lives and how at its very core, the relativity of everything is what makes the uniqueness of something shine.  With tag lines such as, "Your mind is the scene of the crime" and concepts of having dreams-within-a-dream prevalent in the movie, Nolan presents to us a world where people can infiltrate shared dreams to steal information that the target is keeping locked in his head and does this with a familiar ease that can easily have one wondering, "What if this was really happening somewhere out there already?"

Nolan shapes his story (which took him 10 years to write) with a stellar cast that perfectly captures their roles so well.  Leonardo DiCaprio, whom I have never really envisioned ever being believable in a science fiction role, portrays the tragic Cobb with so much emotional honesty, I actually could feel the tension he was keeping from his team when.. well, things got worse.   Looking back, I'm very thankful that neither Brad Pitt nor Will Smith got the role.   Michael Caine is clearly a Nolan favorite, having seen him before in both the Batman films and The Prestige.  Cillian Murphy shows us how he could have been a Bruce Wayne if Christian Bale never landed the coveted role, as he plays the man who is the target of the idea the team needs to plant. Ellen Page and Tom Hardy were engaging in their roles, although sometimes I felt Ariadne (Ellen Page) should have been told off for being too nosy at times.  Ken Watanabe proved he truly has an impressive acting range, even if speaking in English isn't his strong suit.

Key to the movie is the need to do an impossible feat:  Inception - the act of planting in someone's mind an idea that was not their own.   With the concept of shaping shared dreams and all, Nolan however keeps things nicely grounded by setting down the rules on how all this dream business works.  Even the viral marketing for the movie nicely shows how much Nolan meticulously crafted the world's mythology and how the plot's internal rules are all supposed to make sense.

While many will be drawn to the movie due to its incredible effects (with the folding city sequence, the fight scene in the shifting vectors of gravity and the like) I found myself incredibly fascinated with how Nolan manages to present the concepts of varying time passage between dream depths, the mental con jobs done in order to accomplish their goals, as well as the nice use of basic terminology practically reminiscent of how things are "importantly labelled" in White Wolf Gaming Studio games (such as the Architect, the Forger, the Projections, etc).   The movie nicely delivers the concepts and presents them without having to overly explain things or lose the adrenaline rush of the action sequences.

Having Hans Zimmer score the film adds so much to the movie's already vivid visual feast.  Using a musical beat that evokes tension without losing heart, the movie's score keeps the film's action roots present without overwhelming the intellectual meat of the narrative.  Not once did the score feel intrusive and unlike other movies, there was less manipulative use of swells and high vocal moments to create tension or joy.   A brilliant example of the appropriate use of restraint in musical taste.

Inception is in my opinion absolutely the best science fiction movie I have seen so far this year.  And if we're thinking about Academy Award contenders, the closest challenger I can think of to this would be Toy Story 3.  Beautifully done, visually captivating, emotionally complex, this movie just shows us how much one can truly do with the medium of film without necessarily going overboard with flashy effects or too much computer generated environments.  Chris Nolan continues to make great movies, recovering very nicely from the small hiccup that was Insomnia.  And in many ways it is because he sticks to his vision of how the story should look and unfold.  Here's hoping he maintains this creative integrity for the many more years to come.

Or at least so long as that top keeps spinning.
The film also reminded me of three other favorites of mine:
The Cell
by Tarsem Singh.  
The Cell touches on a woman who enters the mind of people for psychiatric rehabilitation and eventually is forced to enter the mind of a killer to try to save a life.   The movie very nicely shows how one's dreamscape may appear, but unlike that of Inception, here tried to touch more on poetic or eccentric rather than real.  Still tremendously visually compelling movie.

by Tarsem Singh.
While also visually crafted, the Fall nicely reminds me of Inception as well due to the importance of story and how perfectly timing the reveals can make a movie a wonderfully moving experience.   Having Pushing Daisies' Lee Pace in it gives it bonus points!

by Satoshi Kon
This animated film about a young therapist who is tasked to recover a machine that allows one to enter another's dreams very closely resembles elements of Inception that I was surprised it wasn't listed among his influences.  But then again, in many ways that was a good thing since it allowed Inception to maintain a very distinct visual style.  Paprika looks closer to The Cell and The Fall more than Inception, but nicely throws concepts and ideas about dreaming which would easily mesh with Inception's mythology.

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