Many of the concepts, ideas, and themes explored in 'Inception' are neither novel nor wholly original. We've seen several films feature plots involving dreams-within-dreams and questions about differentiating reality from illusion. David Lynch ('Mulholland Drive') and David Cronenberg ('Videodrome') have essentially and effectively cornered and mastered such intellectual activity into a genre unto itself. What's truly impressive and extraordinary about Christopher Nolan's latest action feature is that he makes the entire thing feel like something new and innovative, as if the story were a highly complex and puzzling labyrinth meant to confound and mystify the imagination. But it's not, and it doesn't. Actually, it's deceptively simple and stylishly elementary.
In his relatively short career as a feature-length director, Nolan has surprised and amazed audiences with one excellent film after another, almost topping himself every time. And with 'Inception,' he creates another stirring and dramatic action movie, successfully delivering a rather unoriginal plot in a highly entertaining, powerfully spellbinding and visually striking motion picture. He does this by merging different genre elements in one coherent story that sweeps up the imagination into a wicked experience about dreams and subconscious desires. Most immediate — besides the fantasy and phantasmagoria — are the science fiction and mystery-thriller aspects driving the narrative and making it intensely engaging. But at its core, 'Inception' is one of the coolest heist films we've seen in quite some time.
Like any good story, Nolan throws his audience right into the thick of things as if we missed the beginning and the conversation had been going on for hours. Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his partner, Arthur (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), are already in the middle of a job within the dream of Japanese businessman Saito (Ken Watanabe) and are about to botch it. Once they're awake, we realize this is a world where the technology to invade the dreams and the subconscious of others is possible. How exactly this is done is never explained, the particulars are never fully disclosed or ever clearly demonstrated. Nor does it ever need be, because such trivial details would miss the point. We just need to know that it can be done and is used to commit corporate espionage. The equipment is kept in a metal briefcase, involving sedatives and requiring all participants to be in the same room.
Later, when Saito returns with a lucrative business proposition which would allow Cobb entry back into the United States, viewers are finally given an in, an opportunity to discover what Cobb and Arthur do best. The morose but highly-skilled thief is forced to recruit an inexperienced outsider, a student architect named Ariadne (Ellen Page), into his trusted crew, which includes Eames (Tom Hardy), a forger, and Yusuf (Dileep Rao), a chemist. Their mark is the son of Saito's powerful competitor, Robert Fischer (Cillian Murphy). But rather than extract secrets for commercial gain, they will implant an idea to ruin an empire. Through Ariadne, Cobb and Arthur explain the possibilities and dangerous risks within a dream state and what's required for a successful heist. We also find out that fears and painful memories can manifest themselves in shared dreams and can undermine an assignment, like Cobb's deceased wife, Mal (Marion Cotillard).
Ariadne serves not only as our guide into this involving tale of industrial intelligence, but she's the character we empathize with while sympathizing with Cobb. We learn about dream sharing along with her. More importantly, she gives filmmakers an excuse to fill-in the gaps of the story and explain the tricks of the trade making up this brilliant heist drama. And like any really good crime caper, the show is all about the extraordinarily elaborate set-up and the big, gratifying pay-off, which in this case is inserting the valuable property instead of removing it. In fact, the entire first half of the film concerns detailing the convoluted set-up while the second half is seeing it accomplished. One could easily argue that Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' is mostly made up of exposition — it's all middle, but no beginning or traditional ending. There's a climax, and even a denouement to be sure, but the final scenes are open for interpretation. And I definitely have my suspicions and judgments.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Warner Home Video brings 'Inception' to Blu-ray in a three-disc, Region Free combo set. The first is a BD50 disc featuring the film while the second is a BD25 containing all the special features. The third disc is a DVD-9 that also functions as a Digital Copy of the film. The package also comes with a cool cardboard slipcover that has 3-D hologram glued on the front. After a skippable promo trailer for WB Rewards, viewers are greeted with the standard set of menu options while full-motion clips of the film play in the background.
Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' debuts on Blu-ray with a gorgeous, demo-worthy 1080p/VC-1 encode (2.40:1) that makes the fantasy aspects mesmerizing. The picture comes with an amazing array of bold, vibrant colors. The elegant, polished photography of Wally Pfister ('The Dark Knight,' 'The Prestige') benefits greatly from the higher resolution, displaying a beautiful, warm palette. This allows for terrifically accurate and precise primaries and strong, brightly varied secondary hues with some of the best renderings of flesh tones, which are attractively healthy and natural. During certain sequences, the colors are slightly subdued for effect, but they remain stable and attractive. The entire presentation as whole possesses a lovely, sophisticated and appreciable cinematic quality.
The freshly-minted transfer shows a highly detailed picture with incredible, clearly outlined objects in the foreground and background from beginning to end. There are a few moments of softness, but they seem related to the intentional look of the cinematography. Nonetheless, the fine lines in the architecture and various other items are distinct and unmistakable throughout. The video exposes every trivial nuance and nicety of the exterior buildings as well as the warmly-lit interiors of rooms with striking, discrete definition. There is one noticeable concern worth mentioning, which some will surely view as a trifling, negligible issue. During scenes of high contrast, minor ringing and low-level noise suddenly appear, although it strangely never happens in the final dream sequence in the snowy mountains. It's not terribly distracting, but discerning viewers might pick up on it.
All the same, the high-def image remains jaw-droppingly splendid and dazzling with impressive clarity and dimensionality. The soft textures in clothing and furniture are plainly visible and surprising while life-like facial complexions reveal the small pores and superficial defects in the actors. Contrast is pitch-perfect and terrifically balanced with crisp, brilliant whites throughout. Though not as dramatic and affecting as in the 'Watchmen' Blu-ray, black levels are still stunningly inky and penetrating while shadow details maintain strong with excellent perceptible delineation in the darkest portions. Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' makes its Blu-ray debut with an outstanding and spectacular video presentation that will have fans cheering from beginning to end.
As if the amazing picture quality weren't enough, Warner Home Video also offers an astounding DTS-HD Master Audio soundtrack that's nothing short of reference level. This is a demanding and aggressive track that will give the sound system a thorough workout and a strong competitor for best audio of the year, one meant to be played loud. When the action explodes on screen, viewers will enjoy a thrilling aural experience that will leave them wanting more.
Whether it's the subtle ambient sounds of rain fall in the city or bullets whizzing by, rear activity is at a near-constant with marvelous atmospherics filling the entire room. Pans and directionality of discrete effects are flawless and convincing, creating a fully immersive and wonderfully engaging soundfield. Hans Zimmer's musical score extends deep into the background and envelops the listener terrifically at any given moment. The front soundstage displays a very wide and spacious presence to keep things incredibly exciting and gripping. While dialogue reproduction remains clearly lucid and precise during the loud sequences, dynamic range exhibits superb and extensive clarity detail without the slightest hint of distortion. The ambush in the city where the dream team breaks out in gunfire is a remarkable example of the track's quality to deliver the goods.
Likely the best and most striking aspect of the lossless mix is the phenomenal, earth-shattering low-frequency output. Along with 'War of the Worlds,' this high-rez audio track will serve as a terrific demo disc, because the low end during certain action sequences is uniquely exceptional, reaching for some breathtaking depths of infrasound. At the beginning of the film, when Cobb runs around Saito's dream, particular segments emit a powerful, chest-pounding bass line that feels omnidirectional and encompassing, serving as the new go-to scene. For the rest of the movie, bass remains highly responsive and intense. Overall, 'Inception' arrives on Blu-ray with a sensational lossless mix that will have home theater enthusiasts applauding for an encore.
Warner Home Video brings 'Inception' to Blu-ray as an impressive three-disc set, where nearly the entire package is exclusive to the high-def format. The only supplements shared between the combo set and its DVD equivalent are four focus points which are further detailed in the next section. Those featurettes are "The Inception of Inception," "The Japanese Castle," "Constructing Paradoxical Architecture," and "The Freight Train." On the Blu-ray, they can be accessed through the interactive "Extraction Mode" or the "Jump Right into the Action" section.
Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' is a visually striking experience with an engagingly thrilling story involving dream sharing and the subconscious. At its forefront, the film seems overly complex and convoluted, but ultimately, it's a highly dramatic heist picture presented in a way that feels original and innovative. The Blu-ray does the movie's imaginative spectacle justice with an absolutely gorgeous video presentation. The high-resolution audio is pure reference quality with a phenomenal low-end that will have fans clamoring for more. The supplemental package is nearly all exclusive to the high-def format, offering hours of further enjoyment once the main attraction has ended. Overall, 'Inception' is a brilliant thrill-ride of excitement and action, and this Blu-ray is really the only way to go when enjoying this summer blockbuster. For fans, this is a must own.