5 August 2010
Going to see a movie has a lot to do with managing expectations. A movie can be great, but if the person who is watching it comes into the dark, sometimes strange smelling room and expects something else, there is really nothing a movie can do.
That’s partially my problem with Inception. My timing was bad, I guess. I shouldn’t have waited a week to see the movie. That gave me enough time to see all the hype on the internet that has surrounded the latest installment by Nolan. Especially Cory Doctorow’s “it’s one of the best scifi movies I have ever seen” kinda blew my mind. I also like Jeremy Keith’s review of the movie, who so eloquently highlighted the fact that the movie lacks any product placement. (I actually did looked out for that and only detected a pattern in the selection of the cars: they’ve used quite a few Mercedes-Benz, but the camera never tried to place the brand into the foreground.
My whole problem with the movie comes down to this: I’ve expected Science Fiction.
It really is that simple. SciFi is my favorite genre and I watched and read a lot SciFi, so I have a very clear expectation towards it. SciFi is, contrary to the common believe, not about space ships and technology, but about hope, exploration and gazing into the future. It’s about new frontiers. Mostly, it’s about curiosity.
None of that is in Inception. Sadly so, I might add, because it actually starts outs with a certain taste of gibsonesk endeavor. Big, global corporations, entangled in a fight to become the real super powers of the world use mercenaries to wander between cognitive levels … there is a taste of Neuromancer there. But very soon the whole story comes down to one, very boring, very selfish and very conservative point: the main character, played by the ever trying, but not really succeeding Leonardo DiCaprio, wants to get back to his family. Moreover, the whole plot is based about something that is rooted in the past instead of the future. Everything is based on whatever Dom Cobb is keeping in himself, in his past instead of what might be coming. That’s rarely enough for any good plot, but especially in a SciFi context is just sucks.
Moreover, there are a lot of unnecessary cliches in the movie. My highlight, and I really laughed during the scene, is the part where Robert Fisher – the son who gets all the money, but never got the love of his father – pulls out the wind wheel out of the safe. Something screamed Rosebud! Rosebud! in my mind and it all came down to a simplified Kafka moment. Cillian Murphy succeeded to transform himself from being hunted down by zombie’s in 28 Days Later to embody Robert Fisher, who really is nothing more then a shell of a man, a zombie of some sort.
Murphy isn’t the only actor who is being reduced to less of what he really is. Marion Cotillard, after receiving the Oscar for bringing Edith Piaf back to life, was downsized to being Mal, the ideal wife who was broken by her husband. Her character is really only driven by her wanting to spend all her life with her husband. I’m all for romance, I really am (big fan of Sleepless in Seattle), but these days it’s just not enough to be that simple.
Ellen Page was the all clever, teenage looking student of the Master himself and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, whom I adore in Brick and 500 Days of Summer was actually only cast, because Keanu ‘I have no emotions in my face’ Reeves was to old to be Arthur in Inception. That kinda bumped me out a lot, because I have this image of Gordon-Levitt being the indie guy, who is a real actor, but he really doesn’t get the opportunity to show what he actually can do in front of the camera.
All of this leads of course to a total linearity in the storyline. The three levels are being reduced to a one way highway down one road. First the chase in a city, then the obligatory hotel scene and a rather James Bond like show down in a snowy paradise, which is of course just there, because somewhat thought that it would impress somebody. It didn’t really.
The action is – of course – very well made. The effects, the setting, the whole craftsmanship is impeccable, but to expect something less from the best professionals in the world with a huge budget would be wrong either. Nobody is impressed by VFX anymore.
In the second half of the movie, I’ve started to think to myself that Inception would have been a great game. It would have worked story wise better, because we aren’t quite used to expect from games a complex story. The whole architecture of the movie would also make a lot of sense as a game design. Unfortunately, there aren’t quite a lot good games based on a movie, so I’m not exactly holding my breath on this one.
All in all, it’s really about how one frames this movie. My expectation was to see a new a great new SciFi film, instead I got … well, whatever it was.