Why Nolan’s far-reaching fantasy feels so real…

Inception review

Maybe it's all down to Michael Caine.

Think about it: mentor figure Miles (Caine) is the one who taught hi-tech thief Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) how to enter dreams, the crux of Christopher Nolan’s blockbuster.

Maybe Caine is the puppetmaster behind the whole plot, a devilishly complex, dreams-within- dreams, wheels-within-wheels kaleidoscope that sees Cobb and his cohorts attempt to plant an idea (aka “inception”) in the mind of corporate big cheese Cillian Murphy.

Or maybe Cobb is the one pulling strings. Maybe no one is. Maybe…

We could go on. But who cares what it all really means?

Main bullet-point: Inception is an extraordinary movie. If nothing else, because it’s the kind of movie Hollywood lets someone make once in a blue moon.

It’s an original, impossibly imaginative arthouse psychothriller that’s been shot on a budget that few of the biggest summer movies get close to. That just doesn’t happen.

But having filled Warner Bros’ coffers with The Dark Knight’s $1bn box-office haul, Nolan was given the chance to do whatever he wanted before going back to Gotham. It may never happen to him again.

As you explore the Making Of featurettes on the Inception Blu-ray’s ‘Extraction Mode’ – which splices them into the action at every key moment – you can’t help gawping at Nolan’s imagination and audaciousness. Now we see exactly where that stratospheric budget went.

If CG had never been invented, you get the feeling that much of Inception wouldn’t have looked much different. Nolan does practically everything in-camera. That incredible café sequence in Paris where the world shatters around DiCaprio and protege Ariadne (Ellen Page)? Nolan’s team used air cannons to blast preprepared debris and props into the sky.

As chairs fly and cars flip, the two actors sit right in the midst of it – but in a discreet safety area. Not even a paper cup on their table moves. Stepping up Even the impossible is possible. Logic? Pah.

We watch Dutch artist Escher’s ‘Penrose stairs’ optical illusion created for real, using clever angles and a precision camera crane. Weather? Whatever. Nolan demanded pelting rain in broad daylight for two to three blocks at a time, so his crew hoisted up huge black screens to block out the LA sun.

It’s a reminder that, for a ‘dark’ storyteller, Nolan loves to play with light. Cinematographer Wally Pfister has become Nolan’s most essential collaborator in capturing his stormy visions.

Like their previous work (The Prestige and the two Batmans), Inception looks and sounds phenomenal on Blu-ray: the electric clarity, inky blacks, smooth naturalism and eardrum-shaking sonics add up to a gorgeous sensory assault befitting the head-knotting narrative.

The more you see, you more you realise this is movie-making with few limits. We watch how Nolan’s team built a train exterior on the frame of a huge truck. Even in this epic production, attention to detail is king.

In a film about dreaming, reality is the watchword. You need a scene where an entire hotel lobby-bar tilts at an angle? You build an entire hotel lobby-bar that tilts at an angle.

As DiCaprio, Nolan and his crew jovially sway this way and that, FX guys explain that a third of extras were physically unable to do it, forcing a specific set of auditions to take place.

That, though, is nothing compared to Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s corridor fight. It’s an extraordinary feat of engineering: a 100ft revolving corridor held inside eight 30ft rings that rotate like something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (You can only wonder what Kubrick would have thought.)

As the camera locks in place, the whole thing rotates and the actors scrap and stumble. After a two week rehearsal, Gordon-Levitt explains he still gets motion sickness. Fantastic stuff, but all a little too brief.

Each featurette lasts just three to four minutes, leaving you craving a little more. No Nolan commentary either, although he pops up consistently throughout the bonus material.

Elsewhere, Gordon-Levitt hosts a documentary about dreams themselves, and the Blu-ray also packs an animated prologue called ‘The Cobol Job’.

Not an essential package – but one that sure gets you hyped to return to the film and let it detonate your brain all over again.

Film Details

User Reviews

    • Greeny

      Dec 3rd 2010, 23:30


      I'm very surprised and a tad disappointed to discover that you have 'upgraded' your rating of this film. I considered your original criticism legitimate and a four star rating fair, if not a little generous. I am convinced that you have fallen foul of the populist misconception that this is a 'clever' film. It may be 'clever' for a popcorn action film. But by the same token, the 'action' is thoroughly dull - even by action film standards. Seriously, just recalling that snow scene is enough to nudge me into a deep coma. I'm disappointed that you would ever consider such a pretentious and ultimately superficial film to be worthy of the five star award.

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    • hago1

      Dec 7th 2010, 14:35


      Unlike Greeny above I am relieved that TF has come to its senses and awarded this amazing film the accolade it deserves! If I remember correctly Lock,Stock and 2 Smoking Barrels went through the same transition, and rightly so! In years to come Inception will be on a lot of peoples list of Top 10 films.....

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    • Greeny

      Jan 7th 2011, 9:24


      ........ "When film is not a document, it is dream," says Bergman of Tarkovsky. "He moves with such naturalness into the realm of dreams. He doesn’t explain. What should he explain anyhow?" Christopher Nolan doesn’t merely overexplain his characters’ reveries, he spends so much time outlining their rules and regulations that he neglects to fill them with sensuality, menace, playfulness, and liquidity. In this conceptually alluring but laborious, visionless film involves vast digital labyrinths, traumatic snapshots bubbling up from the hero’s psychological basement, and oodles of plate-spinning parallel editing. Despite the oneiric Chinese boxes, it’s a curiously sterile film - surely the spectacle of overlapping minds folding themselves into Escher pretzels looks more interesting than a scuffle in the lobby of a stockbrokers’ convention. Do all dreary capitalists dream this unimaginatively, or just the ones who go on to become directors? The fleeting notes of human emotion feel like candles dying in an aircraft hangar.

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