It can be argued that Christopher Nolan is one of the most exciting directors working today. Similar to other filmmakers like David Fincher, Darren Aronofsky or even a studio like Pixar, you know that whatever their next project is going to be, you’ll have your hand hovering over your pocket, ready to buy a ticket. Nolan is a filmmaker who unashamedly loves to do blockbuster films, but expertly crafted ones that always take that extra step to engage you. Inception is no exception.
It grabs you from the first scene and takes you on a ride that doesn’t let up until the whole thing is over. Much of it has to do with the frenetic pacing, forward-moving story and the unique score by Hans Zimmer. These elements carry the film forward like a freight-train, hardly allowing the viewer to take a break either emotionally or intellectually.
Some have criticized the film for not being as clever as it thinks it is, and for not being as “deep” as the hype makes it out to be. After the film had sat in my memory for a while I was starting to slightly agree with those people. However after revisiting the movie again for the second time since its theatrical release, I found myself immersed in the plot, and picking up on new, clever details and explanations that flew past me the previous time. And that is a testament to the movie. It would have been easy to leave most of the fine details of the workings of the world up to the viewer to fill in, but the movie sets up the “rules” very clearly, and almost always brings a moment of amusing realization when that point is implemented later in the story.
All the characters are wonderfully cast and bring a lot to the overall feel and individual roles of the team, which is important in an ensemble film. There’s not a whole lot to go into in terms of character arcs or personality because in this film the story plays a much bigger role than the individual characters themselves. That’s not to say it isn’t there, it just isn’t prominent.
The action scenes are all excellently choreographed and executed, most with limited usage of CGI and done in-camera. Almost the only issue I took with the entire film was in the later moments at the snow fortress area, for which the action and shooting sequences end up getting a bit too drawn out and exhausting. It didn’t help that most of these scenes were shot using a disconcerting shaky-cam method, so some of it is a bit arduous to watch as it goes on.
Overall it really is a truly interesting and exciting film that brings up a lot of interesting concepts and ideas, and will put the viewer on a unique ride they’ll want to experience more than once.
Nolan teamed up with his long time trusted cinematographer Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight, Memento, The Prestige) again for Inception. Both are adamant proponents for shooting on film, even going as far as using large format prints including IMAX, as in the case of The Dark Knight. No IMAX footage in this one, but other high-resolution film stock like 65mm and VistaVision are utilized, along with standard 35mm and some high definition video, for high frame-rate slow-motion.
Inception is a stunningly beautiful film. I knew this would be the case just from the initial trailers, and it certainly translates exactly as I remember it from theaters. Colors are muted but natural and pop when they need to. Sometimes skin tones can turn a bit orange tan-like, but it doesn’t get to the point of distracting. As was the case with the Batman films, black levels are as deep and inky as you’ll ever see, and contrast complements it.
There are a few soft shots in this film, and some scenes just don’t have the feel of a modern movie, particularly one shot on film. Faces can look smoothed over, and edges of things can just look blurry and not intact. This mirrors what I remember seeing in theaters so I’m feeling fairly confident that it’s not a fault of the transfer, or atleast too much. Pfister opts not to use a digital intermediate for his films, opting for traditional chemical methods. This philosophy certainly could be a reason for the unique look, but it’s hard to delve more into that without falling into speculation.
The Dark Knight was a very popular and bestselling Blu-ray, but many have noticed that the picture quality suffers from excessive filtering, mainly during non-IMAX 35mm scenes. Digital noise reduction and edge enhancement were very apparent, but not like some of the worst cases we’ve seen on the Blu-ray format. Regardless, it’s shameful, but was a primary result of a decision of using the IMAX film print rather than separate IMAX and 35mm prints. When blowing up regular film for their large screens, IMAX filters the image with a process called DMR, which is meant to subdue finer elements in the film that might be exaggerated on a large scale. It doesn’t however, prove for a good looking Blu-ray. We don’t have many of those issues this time, but there are signs of light edge enhancement throughout the film, which might actually be down-scaling artifacts. The transfer doesn’t exhibit any signs of over-compression or other digital anomalies. Grain is existent, but not always, and when it’s there, it’s very fine.
Now that I’ve gone into way too much detail about the flaws, I should make it clear that the majority of the film does look very good. And the aforementioned cinematography adds to it in spades. Besides the few shots here and there, most of the movie is filled with exquisite detail, just not as super sharp as you’d expect in a cutting-edge modern day release. You could place the poorest shot and the best shot side-by-side, and wonder why they exist in the same film. Facial details and close ups can look really great, and that’s one area where this disc can really shine, along with select aerial shots.
If you’re worried about another Dark Knight fiasco, I’m here to tell you that won’t be the case. Despite the small, albeit puzzling, issues with the film, I think most people can justly stand by their purchase decision. Favorite scenes for reference picture quality: the snowy mountain area (great aerial wide shots), a scene involving a tub of water, and an scene in a torrential downpour of rain.
Inception’s fantastic audio comes to you from the Academy Award winning team from The Dark Knight, and most of Nolan’s other films: sound designer/editor Richard King, and mixers Lora Hirschberg and Gary Rizzo in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1.
Anyone who saw Inception in a quality theater during its release knows this mix is heavy and very aggressive. Bass frequencies are extremely prevalent and varied, being an integral aspect of the aural personality of the dream states. This is a disc that will really push the limits of your subwoofer. The sound team actually recorded a variety of subwoofers in several environments, playing modulated and stressed bass tones, to provide some very interesting sounding LFE. There’s one particular scene that takes place in an out-door coffee shop in Paris that will make you want to grab hold of your sofa for fear of having your viewing room cave in on you.
All other aspects of the track are stellar. Surround usage is prominent and well imaged with lots of nice ambience, and dynamic range is full and wide. Gun-shots and other sounds, when not seen on-screen, always feel like they’re being heard from exactly the right direction in the sound-field. Those of you that had dialogue volume and intelligibility issues with the Dark Knight can rest easy. Voices are prioritized and clear throughout the entire film, maybe with the exception of Ken Watanabe’s heavy accent. Hans Zimmer’s excellent score is well mixed and clearly resounding, though slightly front-heavy, but envelops the room when appropriate.
There’s hardly anything to fault at with the audio mix on the film. It’s everything you’d come to expect and adore from everyone that had a hand in it. Great track and sure to please all listeners.
Special Features/Bonus Content
- Extraction Mode (14 clips: 44 minutes 13 seconds): Infiltrate the dreamscape of Inception – with this in-movie experience – to learn how Christopher Nolan, Leonardo DiCaprio and the rest of the cast and crew designed and achieved the movies signature moments.
- Dreams – Cinema of the Subconscious (44 minutes 29 seconds): Taking some of the most fascinating and cutting-edge dream research to-date on lucid dreaming, top scientists make the case that the dream world is not an altered state of consciousness, but a fully functional parallel reality. Features insights from Christopher Nolan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Leonardo DiCaprio, several professors and psychiatrists.
- Inception: The Cobol Job (14 minutes): Now in full animation and motion, check out this comic prologue to see how Cobb, Arthur, and Nash came to be enlisted by Cobol Engineering to perform an extraction on Saito.
- 5.1 Soundtrack Selections: Featuring 10 tracks from Hans Zimmer’s score, featuring Johnny Marr.
- We Built Our Own World
- Dream Is Collapsing
- Radical Notion
- Old Souls
- One Simple Idea
- Dream Within A Dream
- Conceptual Art Gallery (32 images)
- Promotional Art Archive (12 images)
- Teaser (0:56)
- Trailer #1 (2:10)
- Trailer #2 (2:14)
- TV spots (13 commercials, 11 minutes)
- Project Somnacin – Confidential Files: Get access to the highly secure files that reveal the inception of the dream-share technology.
- iTunes or Windows Media Digital Copy
- DVD copy of film
While Inception’s video quality might be slightly flawed, its strengths over-shine. Audio is outstanding and long awaited bonus features provide some great insights into the unique creation process of this unique and thrilling movie. Overall a great package with plenty of replay value that no one should regret to miss.