INCEPTION - Blu-ray review

...there's no denying those special effects. They are spectacular and creative in the extreme.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.
TimRaynor's picture

Note: In the following joint Blu-ray review, both Tim and John provide their opinions of the film, with John also writing up the Video, Audio, Extras, and Parting Thoughts.

The Film According to Tim:
For all the hype a summer blockbuster can dish out, I'm pleased to see that Christopher Nolan's "Inception" astoundingly delivers . . . most of it, anyway. Where I give it high marks is for being visually creative and original; however, it does have that Nolan style we have already seen in "The Dark Knight." For example, there's that same climactic musical score constantly giving you the feeling something big is going to happen. But then nothing happens, and the movie goes on with the same climactic score. Nevertheless, "Inception" is certainly a well-crafted film that is just as daring as it is imaginative.

What's nice here is we finally have a summer film that asks us to think as well as enjoy the fancy visuals. In a sea of films that require us to put the brain aside and enjoy the Hollywood formula, it's nice finally to get a break. While I don't feel "Inception" is perfect in every way, I do think it makes a fine attempt at it. True, we have experienced other films with the phenomena of dreaming and subconscious mind control, as we've seen in "The Matrix." But Nolan also examines the theory of the dream within a dream, which is something David Lynch attempted in "Mulholland Drive," though in a much different style and delivery. Nolan not only deals with a dream within a dream, but with dreaming in multiple layers. Sound confusing? Trust me, it's really not, and Nolan actually makes it quite easy to follow.

Even though the movie has an underlying theme we may have seen before, it is the narrative's unique attempt at taking us somewhere innovative and less explored that sets it apart. On the surface, there is a team of guys, Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), who provide a specific type of security for the subconscious mind; at least that's what Cobb keeps telling us. This is all done while the client, or victim, is passed out in a dream state. Inside the dream is similar to what we've seen in "The Matrix," but with the subtle difference in that Nolan's world it tends to look like that in "The Dark Knight." Granted, I'm not trying to be a killjoy; I'm just making an honest observation.

An interesting thing to note about Nolan's dream world is his own set of rules. In his dream world, if you get shot and killed, you simply wake up on the other side (real world). None of that "the mind makes it real" so you die on the other side. Also, when in a dream state, one's perception of time is greatly increased. Five minutes in the real world is equal to an hour in the dream world. And for each dream layer (dream within a dream), the time is doubled. Confused yet? Don't worry; as I say, it's easier to follow than you might think.

The real meat of the narrative doesn't begin until Saito (Ken Watanabe) hires Cobb and Arthur to assemble a team to enter the mind of a billionaire, Robert Fisher (Cillian Murphy), in order to pull what you might call a subconscious heist. (It is at this point in the film you will learn what "inception" is in Nolan's world, but I feel it's best not to give too much away and just stick with the obvious details.) The team Cobb and Arthur assemble are Ariadne (Ellen Page), Eames (Tom Hardy) and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), and now we have "Oceans 11" meets "The Matrix." Ok, maybe that's not fair, but I'm just saying.

Beneath the surface you have an underlying story concerning the main character, Cobb. For most of the film, we know he lost his wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard), who follows him when he's in dream sequences. He is also banned from the United States and has two very young children he desperately wants to get back to. As the narrative unfolds, we spend a lot of screen time with Cobb and Ariadne exposing and cutting the wounds even further. Ariadne knows that if Cobb keeps his problem a secret from the rest of the team, it could put them in danger. Therefore, the underlying plot mixes in with the chaos of the surface plot and becomes like a child with a chemistry set. Not that I mean that as a bad thing; it just means as we wind down, the heat gets turned up.

The Good:
Where I give "Inception" really high marks is simply for being original. Very few blockbuster films dare to test us anymore or ask us to leave the brain intact. I'm not going to say the movie blew my mind, but I admire its creativity and originality. It asks us to think of something very familiar to us in a very different way. Let's face it: Dreams and dreaming are strange and chaotic. Therefore, "Inception" is also a little strange and chaotic, but not in the way of distorting a linear path we cannot follow. The film is simply well executed, delivering an inquisitive idea, challenging our mind, and giving us astonishing visuals for the ride. I can't say there are a lot of blockbusters that dare to attempt that kind of mix anymore.

The Bad:
For me, Nolan should have broken away from "The Dark Knight" style. The film is plagued by it, such as the climactic musical score, ever present throughout the entire film, that I mentioned earlier. Even casting a few people from his "Batman" franchise didn't help but make matters worse. Perhaps it is a style rut Nolan is stuck in, or maybe he's just trying to find some kind of trademark value for his films. Nevertheless, I can assure you "Memento" looks in no way like "The Dark Knight." Not to mention, Mr. Nolan, do you think you could possibly lighten up the mood sometimes? Just a little? Maybe?

The Ugly:
The ugly here is the attitude of those art-house critics who absolutely hate anything Christopher Nolan does. To them, the Hollywood film industry will just get uglier as long as Nolan keeps churning out successful films. Of course, I'm not jumping on the Nolan bandwagon; I couldn't stand "Memento." Nevertheless, I'm not jumping on the Hate-Nolan bandwagon, either. A good film is a good film, and "Inception" certainly fits the mold. However, it is fun to watch his hateful fans squirm when he hits the mark.

I really wanted this movie to be a perfect ten, but it's just not. Nevertheless, it is an extremely well executed film, very thought provoking and entertaining, even for a film highly ominous in tone. To be honest, it's probably the best blockbuster we will get all summer, and it is worthy of a great summer movie. As I mentioned, I definitely give it high marks for creativity and originality, and I look forward to watching it again in high definition.

Tim's film rating: 8/10

The Film According to John:
Given the amount of hype and hyperbole I'd heard about "Inception" when I went to see it in a theater, you'd think I were going to witness the Second Coming. It didn't happen. It's a good movie, and I enjoyed it, but, ultimately, it was just another movie. Granted, it now looks good in the high-definition format Tim was waiting for, but it's still not the end-all of Blu-ray movies.

I suspect that several things have contributed to the film's prestige, making it seem like a bigger deal than it turns out to be: the director's reputation; the offbeat, sci-fi/fantasy elaborateness of the story line; Leonard DiCaprio in the title role; and the movie's admittedly excellent visuals.

Writer and director Christopher Nolan came into "Inception" with several imaginative films behind him: "Memento," which turned the layout of time on its head; "Insomnia," which provided two excellent performances from Al Pacino and Robin Williams; "Batman Begins," which reinvented the Batman legend; "The Prestige," which gave us a series of clever twists; and "The Dark Knight," with its glowing turn from Heath Ledger. How could the filmmaker's fans not have awaited "Inception" with bated breath? The fact that Nolan's movies seem to have been growing larger and more involved over the years only added to the excitement.

More important, though, is Nolan's fairly novel story idea. As Tim has already explained, it involves dream states, levels of consciousness within dreams. Cobb is a specialist in searching people's minds and finding their secrets while they're asleep. He goes into their dreams. Slick move. He "can access your mind through your dreams," and "one simple idea can change everything." Although people usually hire him to steal things from people's dream memories, in "Inception" they ask him to plant a memory in a person's mind, a thought the person in question will figure was his own when he wakes up. For Cobb, it's one last job. In these kinds of movies, it's always "one last job."

However, the task is not so easy, even for the expert Cobb. It requires that he create a series of dreams within dreams for the dreamer, with each successive level having its own different observance of time relative to real time; and it necessitates a team of experts to help him carry out the scheme. After the setup, Nolan devotes the whole second half of the movie to what amounts to an intricate con game, sort of like "The Sting" but using sci-fi/fantasy concepts. Because it's a fairly complex strategy, it probably had a lot of viewers thinking it must be a great plot simply for its sheer audacity. Yet Nolan explains everything pretty clearly as he goes along, making most of the plot easy enough to understand if you pay attention well enough. There are places where you'll get lost, certainly, but hang in, and Nolan is sure to connect the dots for you later on.

All the same, I couldn't get over the feeling that Nolan was trying to extend himself too far. Once he's drilled down several layers into the mark's dreams, he can't seem to contain himself enough to let well enough alone; he's got to take it one level further just for the sake of, well, showing off, basically. So, we've got one thing happening to the characters in one dream level, while they're doing something else in another dream level, while they're doing another thing.... I mean, how many boxes within boxes do we need to get the point and be entertained? And just as Nolan can't help adding one more straw to the camel's back, he can't help giving the movie an ambiguous ending, just to remind us how sly he is. Yeah, it's one of those endings where if you asked the writer-director what really happened, he wouldn't know himself, or he'd tell you to figure it out for yourself. I don't mind this kind of thing if other people hadn't done it so often before.

Next, there's the matter of Leonardo DiCaprio. I understand that to his followers, he can do no wrong. What with Nolan's fans and DiCaprio's fans solidly behind the film, how could it fail? Yet I still think DiCaprio is merely a very good actor, not a great one. Indeed, it's a matter of wonder to me that so many prominent filmmakers (Scorsese, Spielberg, Mendes, Scott, Nolan) beg him to star in their pictures. Even though DiCaprio always puts in good work, he always seems to me the same guy; in other words, I keep seeing Leonardo DiCaprio in his movies rather than the characters he's playing. On the other hand, Ellen Page made me care about her character in the movie; she gave her character a sense of belief, with a very definable personality. Frankly, I would have found the picture more to my liking had she starred in it rather than DiCaprio.

Still, there's no denying those special effects. They are spectacular and creative in the extreme, and in high def they alone may make the film worth watching. For me, the best parts of the show are when Cobb is showing Ariadne how to construct fantastical dream architecture, and then when she starts doing it for herself and we see streets and cities folding in on themselves. They are wonderful visual delights that stay in memory long after the movie's characters and events have evaporated.

Anyway, "Inception" works well enough as an action thriller, a psychological drama, a con game, and a puzzle picture, with Nolan handling the action scenes in only slightly less-frenzied style than he did in the Batman films. The movie is grand fun and reasonably intriguing, and the Academy will probably nominate it for an Oscar. Just don't expect the greatest Oscar winner of all time.

John's film value: 7/10

As befits a film of its popular caliber, Warners afford the video a dual-layer BD50 and a VC-1 encode, capturing the image in its original 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio in vivid colors and definition. There is a thin veneer of natural print grain visible, giving the picture a film-like quality but never interfering with the reproduction of its colors, which show up most realistically. Occasionally, the hues may seem overly dark or overly intense, but most of the time they look quite rich and true to life, set off by excellent black levels. There is a small degree of softness in a few shots; otherwise, object delineation is sharp and detailing precise.

The lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 affords tremendously strong, taut, deep bass, along with massive dynamic impact for an awesome sonic experience right from the movie's opening scene. There's an effective use of the surrounds as well, not only during the obvious gunfights and car chases but during moments of environmental concerns, too, like waves, rain, traffic, trains, etc. Needless to say, Hans Zimmer's soundtrack music opens up beautifully in the side and rear speakers.

The Blu-ray set is packed with extras, so many they require three full discs to encompass. Disc one contains the feature film, plus an "Extraction Mode," which allows you to watch the movie with a series of behind-the-scenes featurettes covering the film's most-intriguing moments. Or you can "Skip Right to the Action" and just watch the featurettes. Then there's a BD-Live; an oddly spare fifteen scene selections; English, French, Portuguese, and Spanish spoken languages; French, Portuguese, Spanish subtitles; and English captions for the hearing impaired.

Disc two, also a Blu-ray, contains the rest of the moviemaking extras. They begin with a forty-four-minute documentary "Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious," wherein co-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt and leading sleep researchers try to persuade us that there is more to dreams than meets the eye. Next, there is a fourteen-minute graphic comic, "Inception: The Cobol Job," which provides a prologue to the movie's story. After that is a BD-Live feature, "Project Somnacin: Confidential Files," on dream-sharing technology. And, finally, we find an audio-only section, "5.1 Inception Soundtrack," thirty-eight minutes of Hans Zimmer's music; a conceptual art gallery; a promotional art gallery; three theatrical trailers; and thirteen TV spots.

On disc three we get a standard-definition DVD copy of the movie, along with a digital copy for iTunes and Windows Media (the offer expiring May 6, 2011), the three-disc case enclosed in a handsome slipcover with a lenticular picture on front.

Parting Thoughts:
Interestingly, I found myself getting drowsy watching the Blu-ray at about the same time I remember starting to nod off in the movie theater, around half an hour from the end, just as the boxes within the boxes within the boxes were unfolding. I think perhaps Nolan takes the thing just that one step too far, and while the plot is not particularly hard to follow, it can become tiresome. Nevertheless, high marks to the writer-director for attempting something reasonably creative and not making a total shambles of it. I'm not sure I'd be up for viewing "Inception" again anytime soon, but I can't say I didn't enjoy most of it the first two times around.


Film Value