For all the high-tech gewgaws that help modern Hollywood filmmakers get their visions to the screen, we’re living in a depressingly undemanding time for cinema — and the summer blockbuster slate, traditionally stuffed with sequels and CGI-fueled action thrillers, is the most brain-dead season of all. Thank goodness, then, for Christopher Nolan, who refuses to treat filmgoers like children — and thank goodness for Inception, which, in the summer of The A-Team, Grown Ups, and The Last Airbender, gave us a movie worth talking about after it was over. Now that we’ve had a few months to debate what that ending meant, how does it hold up on DVD and Blu-ray?
Synopsis: Acclaimed filmmaker Christopher Nolan directs an international cast in an original sci-fi actioner that travels around the globe and into the intimate and infinite world of dreams. Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) is a skilled thief, the absolute best in the dangerous art of extraction, stealing valuable secrets from deep within the subconscious during the dream state, when the mind is at its most vulnerable. Cobb’s rare ability has made him a coveted player in this treacherous new world of corporate espionage, but it has also made him an international fugitive and cost him everything he has ever loved. Now Cobb is being offered a chance at redemption. One last job could give him his life back but only if he can accomplish the impossible — inception.
Instead of the perfect heist, Cobb and his team of specialists have to pull off the reverse: their task is not to steal an idea but to plant one. If they succeed, it could be the perfect crime. But no amount of careful planning or expertise can prepare the team for the dangerous enemy that seems to predict their every move. An enemy that only Cobb could have seen coming.
Video: With The Dark Knight‘s breathtaking IMAX sequences, Nolan proved he cares more about making his films look great than chasing trends, and Inception is no exception — while every other damn blockbuster in 2010 came saddled with a shitty 3D conversion, Nolan proved that you don’t need a special set of glasses to create an absorbing cinematic experience. In other words, Inception looked great in the theater, and it looks great on Blu-ray, with a sharp 2.4:1 1080p VC-1 transfer that retains every shred of color and detail. Buy a movie that grossed $850 million, and you expect it to look flawless; this one delivers.
Audio: More than most filmmakers, Nolan pays attention to audio details, and Inception is another example of that commitment to craft — not only with its demo-worthy DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack, but with its bonus features, which include Hans Zimmer’s score presented in 5.1. Sound is a crucial component of the movie, and it’s treated with appropriate reverence here; spin the volume knob on your home theater, turn on your 1080p widescreen, and watch your non hi-def friends go pale with envy.
Special Features: In a word, sprawling. The package includes a pair of Blu-ray discs, one for the feature and another for bonus content, as well as a DVD/digital copy disc. On the main disc, you get roughly 45 minutes in added content, viewable either as standalone featurettes or via “Extraction Mode,” which branches the clips (fourteen in all) into the film. I personally find pop-in clips distracting, but your mileage may vary, especially considering just how illuminating these segments are — plenty of old-fashioned moviemaking elbow grease went into Inception, and while I certainly wouldn’t recommend watching them while seeing the movie for the first time, they’re well worth taking in later on.
On the second disc, you get another 90 minutes or so of content, including a 45-minute look at dreams (Dreams: Cinema of the Subconscious) and a supplemental “motion comic” (Inception: The Cobol Job), plus three trailers, a handful of TV spots, and concept art — plus that 5.1 score I mentioned above, and BD-Live content. No skimping here.
Bottom Line: Almost as soon as Inception started raking in glowing reviews, the backlash started, including the usual knocks against Nolan’s work (too clinical) and complaints about the plot (all a bunch of sleight of hand to make it look more meaningful than it is). They’re legitimate complaints, to an extent, and Inception certainly isn’t a perfect film, but it’s one of the very few I watched in 2010 that actually lingered past the closing credits. Movies are supposed to transport you, if not visually then emotionally, and that’s harder than ever to accomplish today. Whiz-bang special effects aside, Inception does it by doing something incredibly old school: asking for your complete attention so it can tell a story. Send texts or check your email while it’s going, and you’ll probably come away wondering what the fuss was about, but if you really watch it — you know, the way movies are supposed to be seen — you’ll come away with something that’s becoming depressingly uncommon: a cinematic experience that not only takes you for a ride, but asks questions and trusts you to try and tease out the answers. Does it live up to the hype? No, of course not. But it treats you like a thinking adult. That this is so refreshing says more about the current state of mainstream film than it does about Inception, but it still feels pretty terrific.