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Inception - Blu-ray Review


Inception

Based on an idea that has been haunting director Christopher Nolan for over a decade, Inception, an action-heavy 007 inspired journey into the corners of the unconscious mind, is an absolute masterpiece of skilled precision and punch.  Written and directed by Nolan, Inception is easily the overwhelming culmination of all of his previous efforts, beginning with the cause-and-effect reality of Following, the mind-altering narrative structure of Memento, the use of light and dark in Insomnia, the nature of magic in The Prestige, and the darkening cityscape shine of Batman Begins and its sequel, The Dark Knight.  His latest excursion down the proverbial rabbit hole is full of exciting locales and fresh performances from its cast and demands, every single step of the way, your full conscious and unconscious attention.

The romantic-era philosopher, Sir Christopher Riegel, first introduced audiences to the concept and the beauty of the unconscious mind.  Suggesting it was responsible for night dreaming and unplanned thoughts, Riegel was able to gather a sizable interest with writings that deal with what unexpectedly manifests in a person’s mind.  Yet, it was Jung and Freud who took the unconsciousness into another realm with their psychological studies on its management and influence upon human behavior.  Working with these ideas, Nolan adds the concept of willful manipulation - solidifying its relationship to greed and desire - onto the wrinkled and unconscious minds of those past thinkers and gives us a glimpse at our own capability to dream within the highly-charged narrative of Inception, a screenplay that consistently works at a higher level of thought because you never know what to expect from its radical constructs.

Originating from the implicit threat in the idea of sharing the same secret dream space as another (as hinted at in 1984's Dreamscape), Nolan's Inception operates under the illusion of a big time heist film - (Imagine the horror in having ideas or secrets extracted from you!!!) - that kicks around several Jungian influences and sci-fi ideas brought about by the era of filmmaking that produced The Matrix, The Thirteenth Floor, and Dark City.  With the explain-as-you-go mentality of modern day storytelling, Inception opens with the rough convergence of the sea meeting its shore as Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) washes to the beach.  This symbolic contrast of liquid against a solid, complete with a fractured and beaten man caught in the middle of those two opposing forces, immediately suggests a dystopian-like tug at the loose thread of reality and certainly opens the movie to personal interpretation.

Cobb is an expert Extractionist – one who steals information from the unconscious mind of others and sells that information to the highest bidder – but his personal life is a chaotic mess full of heartbreak and loss.  For one, he can not return to America to be with his two kids without severe legal repercussions as he is running from the law.  Surrounding himself with top notch operators of Extraction – a cast that includes Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Ellen Page (finally breaking free from the Juno role), Tom Hardy, and Dileep Rao – Cobb buries his depression and self-loathing with his unending work.  Ultimately, he and his team accept a high dollar offer from Mr. Saito (Ken Watanabe) – an offer that will make returning home possible for Cobb - to “incept” the idea of breaking up his father’s company into the brain of his business rival, Robert Fischer, Jr. (Cillian Murphy).  What transpires is a huge operative con job against Fischer, not unlike an episode of TNT’s Leverage, which requires teamwork and openness from all its players.  Yet, in random moments not out of place in a Kubrick film, the secrets Cobb holds inside his mind slowly slip into the shared dreamscape and set out to destroy Cobb at his own game.

Solely supporting Cobb’s quest to return home to his kids, albeit from the sidelines (and certainly not satisfyingly enough for such a fine actor), is his mentor, his one-time professor, and his father-in-law, Miles (Michael Caine).  The one scene the two actors, DiCaprio and Caine, share is a tastefully meaty one, full of subtle nuances that suggests friendship beyond their father and son-in-law relation, however, there simply isn’t enough of the two together throughout Inception and so we savor what we can from their implied friendship and their on-screen chemistry.  Perhaps, more of the two together would simply be too much of a good thing.

With an emotional thrust (no spoilers here) that slightly hearkens back to Scoresese’s brilliant homage to B-movies in Shutter Island, Nolan places the emotional impact of Cobb’s storyline in DiCaprio’s capable hands.  DiCaprio works the material well, but the emotion of the piece only comes alive when it becomes part of the mystery to Inception.  Channeling the robust physicality of George Lazenby from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service one minute and the emotional complexities of a latter-era Jack Nicholson in the next, DiCaprio brilliantly breathes life into the crux of his performance as it relates to Cobb’s sanity and his own relationship with his now-deceased wife, Mallorie (Marion Cotillard), who haunts him at every twist and turn of the make-believe world he inhabits when on assignment.  Since, as publicly discussed by Nolan in several interviews, the script was re-written to satisfy its leading star’s taste for centered emotional follow-through from its lead character, one can only agree – based on the end result - that Inception is yet another fine example of DiCaprio’s relentless insight and demand for character authenticity (guess that means he won’t be working with Marvel Studios anytime soon).

Nolan’s use of background models and heart stopping old-school camera tricks throughout Inception (especially in Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s topsy-turvy hallway fight scene [which was shot in over 3 weeks of wire-work and certainly rivals Fred Astaire’s ceiling dance in 1951’s Royal Wedding]) is a markedly blessed affair.  What’s old is new again and the film’s lack of CGI verisimilitude adds a welcomed depth to its overall potency as an intelligent art house-like action film.  Certainly, everything feels real – no matter the level of unconscious dreaming the characters are registering at – and it plays even better than the real thing in key sequences which makes revisiting it more interesting.  Shot on a mixture of 35 mm, 65 mm, and VistaVision cameras, Inception feels destined for the showcase of an IMAX format, but still fills out nicely as a gritty type of in-the-moment heist picture.

Even composer Hans Zimmer gets into the spirit and mystery of Inception with a score that certainly feels like a gushing throwback to the John Barry era of Bond music.  Using a deafening mixture of driving strings and bombastic brass, Zimmer’s cues are as full of soft intrigue as The Living Daylight’s softer moments.  Yet, as if summoned by Cobb’s awakening unconscious, Zimmer unexpectedly shakes walls with a magnificent blast of full-throttled brass, reminiscent of Barry’s use of wailing brass in his Goldfinger score.  When Johnny Marr (of The Smiths, Electronic, and Modest Mouse fame) joins in with the tick-tick-tick of his tight rhythm guitar prowess, the cinematic tension builds again and the dreamscape atmosphere changes to magnify the collective dilemma and drama of Nolan’s script.

But let’s be honest and call it what it is.  The movie is a concept piece and, as a concept piece, Inception is certainly what The Matrix trilogy could have been, but appallingly - due to some really shoddy writing in its sequels - is not.  Nolan’s film is criminally slick and coolly smooth on a consistent level and never chokes or violates its established set of rules.  While it might challenge those without patience, Inception barely hiccups as it breathes, but it is still so full of life and mystery.  Nolan has obviously taken his time with the scope of the dream-heist project and, with DiCaprio’s insight, has balanced Inception in classic Twilight Zone fashion upon the undisturbed rotation of a child’s spinning top.

Inception, at its core, wholly completes itself in plot and picture as a stunning tour de force by forming – once all its mysterious pieces are in place – one big question mark over the very definition of reality.  While mystery and action arguably overtake Inception’s connective emotion, there can be little doubt that this film is Nolan’s first cinematic masterpiece.


Component Grades
Movie
 
Blu-ray Disc
4 stars
 
4 stars
     
Blu-ray Experience
4.5 stars

Blu-ray

Blu-ray Details:

Available on Blu-ray - December 7, 2010
Screen Formats: 2.40:1
Subtitles
: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese
Audio:
English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; French: Dolby Digital 5.1; Spanish: Dolby Digital 5.1; Portuguese: Dolby Digital 5.1
Discs:
50GB Blu-ray Disc; Three-disc set (2 BDs, 1 DVD); Digital copy (as download); DVD copy; Bonus View (PiP); BD-Live

Inception

This is a pretty sharp looking 1080p/VC-1 encoded transfer, but it isn’t the best the film could look.  The major fault in its transfer is flaring of skin tones.  Not too distracting, but it isn’t near the level one would expect from such a brilliant movie.  The locales, however, are lovingly graphic and colorful.  There’s a richness to some of the interiors that highlights the details in fabric and floor.  The sand and sea scenes are especially nice, bringing forth the grain of the sand and the salt of the sea.

The audio, presented in a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, is brilliant.  It’s bold and striking, ground-shaking with its bottoms, yet provides clarity in the dialogue which is spatially nice.  Hans Zimmer’s score is also nicely presented giving the surround speakers a nice workout.

Supplements:

Commentary: The commentary is provided by Christopher Nolan and Inception’s actors through a presentation entitled Extraction Mode.  It’s bizarrely orchestrated – with starts and stops – that restarts the movie at a particular point of interest once Nolan is done commenting on a sequence. Interesting? Yes, but a picture-in-picture presentation would have been more fluid – even if it would have been pocket-sized.

Special Features:
The three-disc Blu-ray includes the movie, a disc loaded with about 120 min of Special Features (disappointing, I know) and a DVD copy of the film.  The special features aren’t that “special” – outside of a dream documentary hosted by Levitt - and cover only a couple of the key moments in the film.  They are also accessed through the commentary making the inclusion of another disc a bit excessive.

The special features – found on Disc 2 - are as follows:

  • 5.1 Inception Soundtrack (39 min)
  • Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious (44 min)
  • Inception: The Cobol Job (15 min)
  • Trailers and TV Spots (16 min)
  • Project Somnacin: Confidential Files
  • Conceptual Art Gallery
  • Promotional Art Archive
  • BD-Live Functionality

    {pgomakase}

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