How Inception Can Save Hollywood Blockbusters, But Only If You Pay To See It

By Katey Rich 2010-07-14 19:50:45discussion comments
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I'll start by saying this: Inception isn't a perfect movie. It's not even the best movie to come out this summer, given all the Sundance gems that pop up week after week, and it may or may not even be better than Christopher Nolan's last film, The Dark Knight. But love Inception or hate it, fans of good movies have to acknowledge that it's important, as a very expensive, very heavily marketed potential blockbuster that also happens to be totally original and more than a little bizarre. The fact that Inception exists is a sign of faith from Warner Bros. that we, the moviegoing public, are willing to see something different and weird and maybe a little beyond our comfort zone. And it is our duty to prove them right.

Because if Inception succeeds, it could become a standard bearer for blockbusters in a way even The Dark Knight couldn't be. It could be proof that, after a long decade of remakes and reboots and sequels, moviegoers are ready for originality again, and that studios should be willing to pay for it. Sure, Inception is in the unique position of following up on one of the most successful movies of all time-- and a superhero movie, at that-- but it's by all means a step in the right direction for blockbusters, no matter how imperfect it might be. Below are the five things Inception does right that could inspire the rest of the industry to follow suit, but fair warning: none of this will mean anything if the movie tanks at the box office. Buy your Inception ticket early, buy it often, then read this list of all the good things you'll be supporting with your purchase.

It assumes you have a brain.
Whether they overexplain every tiny detail-- allow us to have Liam Neeson lay out The A-Team's plot one more time-- or overlook plot entirely-- how exactly did the Washington D.C. Air & Space Museum lead to the Arizona desert in Transformers 2?-- the bulk of Hollywood blockbusters operate under the assumption that, if they throw enough special effects your way, you'll just be glad you don't have to think for two hours. Even the Bourne movies, uncommonly smart tentpole releases, relied heavily enough on action that knowing who had betrayed who wasn't crucial to enjoying the film. And while Inception isn't nearly as complicated as it seems from the outside, it is remarkably complex and layered, and asks the audience not only to participate actively in the events of the film, but ask meta questions of themselves and their relationship with what they're watching.

It is, in a word, smart-- maybe too smart for it's own good, but that's certainly better than movies that assume they're playing to an audience made up of 8-year-olds. There's plenty of speculation that "mainstream" or "average" audiences won't go for it, but I believe they will, not just because everyone knows from The Dark Knight to expect great things from Nolan, but because no one likes to be talked down to by a movie. We just rarely get the chance to prove it.

It's made in glorious 2D.
Christopher Nolan has all kinds of eggheady reasons why he decided not to convert Inception into 3D as the studio doubtlessly wanted, but there's really only one reason: he's Christopher Nolan, and he didn't have to. Good on him. There aren't very many directors making big tentpole releases right now who have the clout to back away from the 3D fad-- Marvel's newest recruits sure don't-- but every time a movie hits theaters in 2D and is a hit anyway, it puts another chink in that $2-extra-per-ticket armor. The visuals and storytelling of Inception are so immersive that it feels like it's in 3D, and moviegoers who saw Airbender last week can see it and realize, hey, this 3D stuff isn't even necessary. Movies can't make extra money on 3D if we won't pay for it, and Inception proves you don't have to.

It's an original idea and story.
You know and I know that the studios are terrified of anything that doesn't come from an existing property, and even the summer blockbusters that feel original-- Pirates of the Caribbean, The Dark Knight, District 9-- started off as something else. Again, Nolan is in a unique position here-- he's the only director in the world who could get this kind of budget for his esoteric dream movie-- but audiences embracing this original story is a step in the right direction for studios to even try to promote new ideas. And if we can get on board with a story this crazy, selling a simpler original story should be a piece of cake.

It actually deserves its gigantic budget
We're always bemoaning the ridiculous amount of money studios spent making and marketing movies, but Inception is one of those rare instances where $180 million actually seems like the right price. Not only does the movie look fantastic, but elements that might seem indulgent-- shooting in 7 different countries, building a rotating hallway for a fight scene-- are spectacularly effective in the final product. It's an incredible gamble for Warner Bros. to spend that amount of money on Inception, but if it it pays off more than something less adventurous (like, say, WB's next film Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore), it will only be encouragement for them to spend that money on something more worthwhile.

It's made by a director in complete control.
There are plenty of directors whose name count for a lot in getting a movie made, but very, very few of them are making movies on the scale of Inception. Not only can Christopher Nolan garner the kind of faith that inspires a studio to spend $180 million on a mental heist film, but he can convince the studio to butt out entirely, allowing him to make the film he imagined, and not one hampered by studio desires (see: virtually every other major movie this summer, Iron Man 2 included). There aren't that many directors who even deserve that kind of control over movies this big, but Inception's success could mean that the ones who do can do their work and do it right.
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