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Lucid Dreaming: Inception Blu-Ray Review

THE FILM:

(original review written on 16/7/10)

INCEPTION

2010

Starring: Leonardo DiCaprio, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Marion Cotillard

Directed by: Christopher Nolan

Released by: Warner Bros Pictures

As many reviewers have noted, this summer movie season…well, it’s almost not deserving of being called a summer movie season at all. Sequels. Remakes. Reboots. Rehashes. Re-what-have-yous. Granted, they were not all bad, but neither were they all good. Along comes Christopher Nolan, saviour of the movie universe, with Inception.

The psychological action-thriller centres on Dom Cobb (DiCaprio), a skilled “extractor”. Cobb is a master of a specific kind of corporate espionage: he enters peoples’ minds while they are asleep to retrieve secrets from their dreams.

Cobb and his partner Arthur (Gordon-Levitt) are approached by the wealthy Saito (Ken Watanabe) to perform “inception”: planting an idea instead of stealing one. Their target is Robert Fischer Jr (Cillian Murphy), the son of a terminally-ill tycoon. Saito wants Fischer to disband his father’s energy empire so that his own company can have an edge against their rival.

However, Dom is a deeply troubled individual, and with valid reason: he is wanted for the supposed murder of his wife Mallorie (Cotillard), and visions of his wife manifest themselves in the dreams Dom enters. Being a fugitive, Dom is unable to return to their children.

Dom assembles a team to help perform the inception, consisting of Arthur, college graduate and “dream architect” Ariadne (Ellen Page), “forger” Eames (Tom Hardy) who impersonates others within a dream, Yusuf (Dileep Rao) the “chemist” who formulates the drugs needed to enter the dream state and Saito himself, as a “tourist” in the dream world.

And then things get (even more) complex.

In many ways, Inception, despite its mind-bending premise, is classic Christopher Nolan. Memento, Insomnia and the Prestige all display similar traits in that they enjoy playing with the audiences’ minds. However, Nolan is a director who learns, and after gaining the experience of the big-budget Batman films, is able to translate his ideas into mind-blowing spectacle.

Inception exemplifies the thinking man’s blockbuster, and it is very rare that filmmakers of tentpole summer fare treat their audiences like geniuses. After scores of films that are so painfully dumbed-down, it doesn’t hurt to watch a brain cell-jolting flick like this one once in a while.

Inception operates on its visuals: the notion that anything is possible within the world of the dream allowed production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas to go wild. The film includes such scenes as an entire city folding in on itself, a freight train running through a city, an assault on a fortress that wouldn’t be out of place in a Bond movie and a desolate, abandoned dream city filled with crumbling buildings. One of the many great sequences in the film is a zero-gravity fight scene performed by Gordon-Levitt along the corridors of a hotel. Even for audiences jaded by the proliferation of “wire-fu” since the Matrix films, it’s exciting.

Inception’s greatest asset however is arguably its emotional core that functions like a rope guiding the viewer through the labyrinth of story. Leonardo DiCaprio has carved a career out of playing emotionally-complex characters, Cobb indeed brings to mind DiCaprio’s recent performance in Shutter Island. Cotillard is also commendable in that it’s never easy to play a character who exists only as a figment of another character’s imagination, and Cotillard does this hauntingly well.

The rest of the cast, too, is an iron-clad ensemble. There is literally not one weak link, everybody is perfectly cast. Gordon-Levitt especially seems to be emerging as a bona fide movie star, after making a name for himself in smaller character films. Watanabe manages to be dignified yet possess a misleading sinister streak as the employer and money man.

Tom Hardy is a hoot as the comic relief who is actually really useful. My favourite however (it could be just that I’m a 17-year-old male) is the lovely Ellen Page, who has no problems portraying the youngest yet deepest character in the film. My only complaint with regards to the cast is that Michael Caine, as Cobb’s mentor and father-in-law, is woefully underused.

If you’re tired of being insulted by blockbusters that throw money at the screen and hope it sticks, then treat yourself to one of the best cinematic uses of money ever. There’s no shortage of spectacle or intelligence in what I can safely say the best movie of the year.  And Blu-Ray is the best way to take the dream home – see section below

RATING: 4.5/5 STARS

THE BLU-RAY RELEASE

When I walked out of the movie theatre after seeing this film with my family, my brother turned to me excitedly, and said “we HAVE to buy the Blu-Ray when it comes out.” I must say I agreed, and now he’s been proven correct. The format was the winner in the “optical disc format war”, pitting it against the now-defunct “HD DVD” format – never since the days of Betmax vs VHS have home video format wars been this brutal. My Dad says he feels for those who stocked up on a HD DVD collection and are now left with a large pile of very useless discs.

Anyway, the format has been around for three-ish years now, but Blu Ray discs are still significantly more expensive than a normal DVD release. In the case of the Blu-Ray release for Inception, is it worth it?

Simply put, yes.

Watching the film in the comfort of your own home, you can rewind, pause or play the film in slow-motion, and Inception is one of those films where many cinemagoers did want to go back to have a closer look at an earlier scene. But why watch it in Blu-Ray?

As you’ve gathered from the section above, Inception is a very visual film. Oodles and oodles of artfully-shot, awe-inspiring images come one after another. I’m sure it looks great on a regular DVD as well, but the Blu-Ray format does indeed do the film incredible justice. Every tiny detail in unparalleled quality. There’s also the sound. Hans Zimmer’s throbbing, ominous score and the sound effects – especially the bit where Ariadne steps on a broken glass, and there’s that eerie ringing tone – come to vivid life. Not every film needs to be seen in Blu-Ray. When my Dad bought the Blu-Ray player, one of the free discs they packaged with it was a Blu-Ray release of the comedy “First Sunday”. That film doesn’t need to be seen in Blu-Ray – Tracy Jordan is scary enough as he is on TV.

But Inception is one film that needs to be seen in Blu-Ray. I’ll go as far as to say if someone puts a gun to your head and says you can only choose one film to own on Blu-Ray, choose this one. And no, neither Warner Bros. Pictures, Syncopy, Legendary Pictures, Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio nor Tai Li-Lee (the Japanese kid on the train who helps Cobb with the “kicks”) are paying me any money to say all this. I’m just really excited that it looks, sounds and feels brilliant at home – as much as it did in the movie theatre.

And of course, the biggest reason that I get video releases of films to watch at home – aside from being able to watch the film at home and as many times as I want to – are special features. Unfortunately, Inception is slightly thin on the special features, at least when compared to some other Blu-Ray releases which contain tens of hours of bonus material. However, quality does trump quantity this time around. The second disc contains most of the supplementals. There’s a 45-minute-long documentary featuring Joseph Gordon-Levitt and real-life PhD and MD-holding dream experts, who discuss the psychology and the inexact science behind dreaming. I always like it when the audience gets a peek into some real-life context behind a movie, and the documentary is informative, deep, yet fun to watch. Apart from the interviews, “Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious” features fascinating animated and re-enacted sequences that attempt to portray what it looks like when we dream. Very artistic.

You also get a “motion comic” of “The Cobol Job”, which is a comic book that acts as a prequel to the film and sets it up very nicely. “The Cobol Job” tells of the circumstances leading up to Cobb, Arthur and Nash performing the extraction on Saito at the beginning of the film, and provides great context – provided you watch the film first, as the film in turn provides context to its prequel. A motion comic is a stylised animated representation of the comic book: you get the speech bubbles, narration and onomatopoeic “sound effects”, but also a degree of animation accompanied by Hans Zimmer’s music and some sound effects. It’s a surreal and novel way to tell a story as the characters don’t “speak” audibly. It’s supposed to be a comic book come to life, and that’s exactly what it is. The art is gorgeous, and there are some pretty good likenesses of Leonardo DiCaprio and Joseph Gordon-Levitt drawn into it.

You get the standard collection of trailers, TV spots and promotional art, with intriguing and very exquisite concept art thrown in for good measure. Disc 2 is rounded off with ten tracks taken off the film’s soundtrack, composed by Hans Zimmer. I’m not a big fan of the composer, as his scores are often derivative and repetitive – there indeed are moments of the soundtrack that are recognisable as riffs from other Hans Zimmer soundtracks for other films. However, he does use some very clever tricks in his composition, including adapting parts of “Non, je ne regrette rien” (the Edith Piaf song used for the kicks) into his score. It’s fun to listen to the music in such quality, and it does suit the film very well.

The main special feature is back on Disc 1: “Extraction Mode”, which is a version of Warner Bros’ “Maximum Movie Mode” feature only available on its Blu-Ray discs. It’s like an audio commentary, but much cooler: at certain points in the film, a behind-the-scenes clip detailing the making of that particular scene is inserted into the film. This includes astounding and revealing footage of how some of the mind-blowing special/visual effects were done, and interviews with the main creative team (and Leonardo DiCaprio). This is sure to excite any movie buff: an opportunity to enter the mind of the mastermind, so to speak, and hear it straight from Nolan himself. For those who want to go deeper into the story and want some questions answered, watching the movie this way is sure to be a treat. But, just as a magician never gives out his secrets, Nolan attempts to remain deliberately vague on those plot details. At any rate, the “extraction mode”, which is exclusive to the Blu-Ray edition, is a really big reason to get this on that format. You can also watch the clips by themselves, without having them pop up during the film.

I don’t own it, but there is also a limited edition release packaged slickly in an aluminum briefcase-type case. You get the Blu-Ray, DVD and digital copy versions of the film, as well as four postcards, an in-universe “instruction manual” on how to operate the PASIV device that enables the shared dreaming in the film, and coolest of all, a prop replica of the spinning top totem.

The Blu-Ray release of Inception lets you dream big, dream clear, dream in vivid detail and dream as often as you want to. Now, the dream truly is real.

BONUSES FOR THE ACTION FIGURE COLLECTOR:

Well, this is the Fwoosh after all, and let’s not forget the main reason we’re here. I have yet to see custom action figures based on the film, but I really want to see some. I’ll say this will be a hard one to pull off though: many of the actors who appear in this film have not had official action figures made in their likeness. Ken Watanabe has the 5-inch scale Ra’s Al Ghul action figure from the Batman Begins line, and that’s as close as we get. The Scarecrow action figures from Batman Begins and from The Dark Knight, even the Movie Masters 6-inch scale one, are all wearing the burlap mask, so no chance of a Cillian Murphy likeness there. However, I will suggest the Rogue action figure from Toy Biz’s line for the first X-Men film if you wish to make an Ariadne custom figure. The face does bear more of a likeness to Ellen Page than Anna Paquin; coincidentally enough before Page joined the X-Men cast as Shadowcat in the third film. The other challenge are the clothes: we all know that it’s hard to come by a figure in a suit or some approximation of everyday clothes, given that superheroes do prefer spandex. The Heroes action figures by Mezco (based on the cancelled television series) seem like your best bet, I guess. Mr Linderman is in a suit, and most of the other characters such as Greg, Hiro and Dr Suresh are in casual everyday wear. Indeed, Dr Suresh with some sculpting could easily pass for Yusuf. Do add a comment below if you have any ideas for Inception-based custom action figures!

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