I went and saw Inception yesterday, partly for the rare treat of seeing a well reviewed adult movie, and partly to see whether my hunch was right that the weekend election was a dream within a dream. I'm leaning to the theory that soon Malcolm Turnbull will wake up and resume his rightful place as Prime Minister.
Anyhow, I have to say I was pretty disappointed.
Christopher Nolan's career has coincided with my young child raising years, so I still haven't seen his well regarded Momento or even The Dark Knight. But if Inception is any guide, it certainly appears he doesn't do ordinary human emotion very well. It's flashy film making with money and CGI effects galore, but its over-riding fault is how very cold [update: probably more accurate to say "unengaging", as did the WSJ review] it feels at an emotional level. In that respect, it seemed rather like a Kubrick effort, but lacking that director's more careful pacing and powerful set piece imagery which usually more than compensated for the artificial quality of much of the acting.
There was one element that came close to feeling emotionally real and being an interesting plot point - the DiCaprio character's unresolved guilt over the fate of his wife - but the details of it were revealed far too late in the film, and not resolved in any especially memorable way.
Here's a list of other problems I had with it:
* no wonder it's said to have taken 10 years to write. It's supposed to be an adage of good filming making that it is better to show character and story rather than have protagonists explaining it, yet this would have to be the most "explained" cinema event since An Inconvenient Truth.
* talk about your cursory attempts to portray a new technology. Group dreaming involved a briefcase sized device with what seemed to be intravenous lines into the wrist, although even that was not so clear. The drugs involved seemed to come from a backyard operation. Come on, if the participants had a least a electronic mind wave reading skull cap on, it would have had some vague plausibility, but just linking up via the wrist?
* the action scenes were, by and large, just poorly directed, with editing that was too choppy to tell what was really going on, and who was in danger. And because a lot of the figures being shot or crushed were merely dream characters, there was not the same sense of danger that you get from "real life" action.
* the near climatic action around a snow bound fortress looked extremely similar to the snow chases and gunfights we've seen many times in James Bond films. Why did Nolan think this would look particularly interesting? It was actually hard to tell who was who during parts of this segment.
I would guess that Nolan was heavily influenced by Jungian ideas on the subconscious and dreaming, which makes his lack of emotional involvement all the more puzzling, given my impression that Jung was a "warmer" character with less of the cool intellectual approach of Freud.
This is a film that would have been better served by a lighter touch, a shorter length, and director better with emotion. People like to complain about Spielberg's sentimentality, but the way he dealt with adult emotional material in the very serious science fiction of AI and Minority Report left you feeling something at least, unlike this effort.
It also reminded me of another film dealing with fights inside dreams - Dreamscape from the 1980s. I remember very little of its plot now, but do recall enjoying it as a bit of a romp, and that's about as much as you should expect from this implausible type of science fiction. (Amusingly, on the question of originality of Inception, I have just read the Wikipedia entry I linked to above, which notes that the central idea is very similar to the plot of an Uncle Scrooge comic! I see the Kubrick similarity has been noted by others too.)
Gee, now that I have put down my issues with it, it sounds like I really hated it. That's not quite true either, but as you can see I spent a fair bit of time thinking about why it wasn't working for me. I also tend to react more strongly against a very big budget film that I consider a failure than a more modestly scaled one, for the obvious reason that it feels more of a waste when it has sucked money away from (say) 3 smaller scale examples of science fiction which could well have been more enjoyable.
So maybe that's it for my adult movie viewing for another year. I'm half tempted by "Salt," but it's hard to believe I could really like an Angelina Jolie film.
Update: It's me, from the future, finding that I enjoyed it more on the second viewing. Huh.