Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster, Inception, centers on Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio). Cobb is an “extractor,” a person capable of entering the mind of an individual while they are dreaming. Cobb’s talents are best used best by corporations, which hire him to invade the mind of rival executives and steal valued business secrets that are deep within their subconscious.
When we first meet Cobb, a Japanese billionaire named Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires him for a rather unique task: instead of extracting information from a rival named Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy), Dom is to plant an inception in his memory that will help cause the demise of Fischer’s corporation. In order to carry out the job, Cobb assembles a team to help him map out a plan and execute it. In addition to Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), his longtime planner, the team consists of a Dreamscape architect (Ellen Page), a “forger” (Tom Hardy) who can change his appearance to control a dream and a chemist (Dileep Rao). While the cost of the assignment will undoubtedly be great, the personal gain for Cobb will be far greater: if Cobb is successful, Saito has the power to clear Dom of previous wrongdoing that cost him his wife (Marion Cotillard) and children while making him an international fugitive.
Having worked on the screenplay on and off for the better part of the last decade, Nolan isn’t making one film with Inception; he appears to be making several at once. The first hour, which covers the assembly of Dom’s crew and the planning phase of the inception, is classic heist-movie material. The foot and car chases and gun battles across multiple continents are straight out of the Jason Bourne and James Bond playbooks, while examination of dreams, the danger of holding onto memories and the blurring between perception and reality are the type of deep-thinking materials previously examined in films such as The Matrix, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and even David Lynch’s classic mindbender Mulholland Drive.
Attempting to successfully cover so much ground at once could have resulted in a loud, overbearing and convoluted train wreck of a movie that would only succeed in wearing out and dumbing down the viewer. For most, a project like Inception would guarantee a disaster or at the very least a confusing mess, but Christopher Nolan is one of those exceptional filmmakers who not only can handle a project of this scope but can create something truly unique with it. He knows how to balance multiple characters and storylines, intelligently flesh out theories and ideas and execute some kick ass action sequences (something he improves on with each passing film) without one cancelling out another. Inception is some pretty dense material that requires the viewer to pay close attention from the first frame to the last. Nolan respects the viewers’ intelligence and trusts them to decipher what it’s all about rather than spelling it out for them.
To fully flesh out his dream world, Nolan has once again assembled a top-notch cast and production crew. Di Caprio, whose character is not unlike the one he played earlier this year in Martin Scorsese’s mediocre adaptation of Shutter Island, does a fine job playing a broken man trying to correct the events of his past who only succeeds in making things worse in the process (a common theme of Nolan’s movies). The talented actor is backed by solid supporting turns from Levitt, Page, Watanabe, Murphy, Cotillard and Hardy. I would include Michael Caine’s performance in there, but since he is only in the film for all of five minutes (if less), there really isn’t much to say. Behind the scenes, the film is flawless in every department (Hans Zimmer’s score is easily one of his best). Hopefully, the Academy will wake up and see that as well when voting time comes around.
When I first saw Inception back in July, I felt the emotional impact didn’t quite have the payoff I expected. I also felt that at 148 minutes, it was about 10-15 minutes too long in the third act. On the small screen, the emotional impact comes across much stronger than before (especially in the last 15 minutes) but the length is still an issue.
In a day and age where Hollywood thrives on sequels, remakes, reboots and products that cater to the level beneath the lowest common denominator, Inception stands as a breathtaking accomplishment. The latest feature from my favorite commercial filmmaker of the last decade is a beautiful and thrilling cinematic ride that will stick in your collective memory for days (if not longer) after you see it.
High Def Presentation
Warner Home Video’s Blu-ray presentation of Inception is mighty impressive. The 1080p/VC-1 encode is strong right across the board, featuring strong colors, deep black levels and sharp picture detail. Skin tones are largely spot on, only appearing a bit on the orange side in certain sequences (possibly the result of the cinematography?) and a bit overcooked on contrast in others. While the film grain is minimal, DNR doesn’t appear to have been as overused as it tends to be on many Warner titles. I was also hard pressed to find any application of edge enhancement.
In the audio department, I’ll make it short and sweet: WOW! The disc’s 5.1 DTS HD-Master Audio is absolutely fantastic, beautifully showcasing the superb work done by the production’s sound team. Music, sound effects and center-channel dialogue are as clear as a bell, while the LFE channel is so strong and effective that your whole home theater will shake with delight.
Beyond the Feature
Much like the 2008 Blu-ray release of Nolan’s The Dark Knight, the extras found on Inception are good, but tend to leave the viewer wanting more. The majority of the extras are presented in 1080i High Definition. As was the case with The Dark Knight, Nolan did not provide an audio commentary for Inception, nor is there a Maximum Movie Mode.
Extraction Mode – In lieu of the Maximum Movie Mode, the sole supplement on disc one are 14 short featurettes (a la Warner’s ‘Focus Points’ feature) that look at various aspects of the film’s production. The viewer has the options of either playing the film in the Extraction Mode, which switches from the film to the featurette when the time comes to do so, individually or as one standalone 45-minute documentary. The segments are quite interesting and informative given their brief runtimes.
Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (44 minutes) – Hosted by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt, this nearly one-hour special takes a interesting look at real-life dream research. Nolan is also interviewed for the special. Levitt makes for a good host, but the way he hosts the special reminded me far too often of Sam Worthington’s character doing his video diary in Avatar. Plus, some of the theatrical flourishes used throughout the special are a bit of the eye-rolling variety.
Inception: The Cobol Job (15 minutes) – Available on the film’s official website, this full motion animated prequel to the live-action film shows how Cobb, Arthur and Nash came to be enlisted by the mysterious South African company Cobol Engineering to perform an extraction on Saito. While the motion comic doesn’t feature any vocal performances by the cast members, it does offer Hans Zimmer’s score in the background during its entire runtime.
Soundtrack Selections in 5.1 – Ten tracks from the soundtrack album Zimmer’s excellent score are presented in vibrant 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio. One only wishes that the entire score was presented here instead of three quarters of it. As the score is played against a black background, this makes for ideal background use while you do things around your house.
Conceptual and Promotional Art – Two still gallery sections offer up quite a few set design drawings in one and the film’s poster and banner promotional campaign from this past summer.
Trailers and TV Spots – Presented in HD and 2.0 Dolby Digital Stereo are 13 television spots, two of which run over two minutes each and play like mini-trailers. We also get three theatrical trailers, each accompanied by their release date listed in the main menu. The trio is the film’s cryptic teaser (8/24/09), the first full-length theatrical trailer (12/28/09) and my pick for best trailer of 2010, the third and final preview (5/12/10).
Project Somnacin: Confidential Files (BD-Live Feature) – Apparently, this BD-Live feature will allow viewers to access “highly secure files that reveal the inception of the Dream-Sharing Technology.” I say apparently because I was unable to access the feature at the time of reviewing the disc. I am guessing that the feature will go live on December 7th, the disc’s official street date.
Most movies that are heavily hyped before their release carry with them expectations that few if any can meet or exceed. Inception is one of those rare big ticket films that not only delivered on its hype, but matched and even exceeded the lofty expectations set by Christopher Nolan’s fervent fan base. While Warner’s Blu-ray edition might not be the bells-and-whistles edition fans have been waiting for since this summer, it does offer up a great transfer and a solid amount of supplemental material. One of the bright spots in an otherwise dreary movie year, Inception comes highly recommended.
Shop for Inception on Blu-ray for a discounted price at Amazon.com (December 7, 2010 release date).
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