By Dr. Craig D. Reid
As an award winning screenwriter as well as a filmmaker, I’ve learned how difficult it can be for the final draft of the screenplay to be anything like the screenwriter’s original story and vision, so I’m more sympathetic to the screenwriting knowing that as is common, too many cooks spoil the broth. Of course most writers will never complain to the press about it because that would black list the writer from other job opportunities.
Although there are some fantastic sight gags in this film, not the cheaper looking attempts of mimicking the crumbling buildings as it was so eloquently FX’ed in 2012 (2009), at the end of the day the screenwriting was trying too hard to say, “Look how cool the story and mind bending this film is, we even decided to do a dream, within a dream within a dream motif and everyone will freak out and love it.”
Inception is one of the biggest films of the summer, as its logline boldly tweets, “This summer, your mind is the scene of the crime.” But if you are truly linked-in and you can read a face like a book, your my-nd space will coolly figure out that this summer, the crime that is seen is the wallet emptying, and that is no dream.
Inception means the origin, an event that is a beginning, a first part or stage of subsequent events. Directed and written by Christopher Nolan, Inception stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Dom Cobb, a skilled thief, the top man in the dangerous art of extraction; stealing valuable secrets from the inner depths of someone’s 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. No kid…ding.
But 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, put together Ocean’s Eleven style, 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 dream coming…I mean seen coming.
The story is actually very confusing and it takes some great patience to stay with it, not unlike the old style wu xia Chinese films that Shaw Brothers used to make in the 1970s. If you lost your concentration for just a few seconds, you’d be lost and there was no way to catch up. Red herrings are an integral part of the screenwriting process, and without giving anything away, but too many of them make the story look fishy.
As I was sitting in the theater, the audience let out this incredible groan and it was not one of pleasure where the genius of say The Sixth Sense (1999)took you by shock and then everything made sense, but it was more like, “What’s the point? There’s no resolution.” Again, I imagined screenwriter Nolan patting himself on the back saying how glorious this moment would be.
For those of you old enough, the biggest TV show during the late 1980s was Dallas (1978-1991), where the big question that lingered on everybody’s mind was, “Who shot J.R.” When they finally had the big reveal it went down as one of the biggest flops in TV history as the same groan heard around the country was the same groan I heard at the end of the Inception screening.
However, every film has its moments and to me the saving grace of Inception was the hotel corridor scene. I started off in film during the 1970s as a fight choreographer in Chinese martial arts films and learned the Hong Kong style of wire-work in 1992 while on the set of Tsui Hark’s Once Upon a Time In China V (1993) and began working in Hollywood in 1996. I was thoroughly impressed with the skills and especially the stunts performed by actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt as Arthur, where he had to fight a rogue dream-image in a long hallway. As it turns out it was also one of the most complicated sets built for the film.
Originally envision to just being a 40-foot corridor, as the action plan grew so did the hallway’s length, 100 feet. The built set was able to rotate a full 360 degrees to create the effect of zero gravity. The corridor was suspended along eight massive concentric rings that were spaced equidistantly outside its walls and powered by two giant electric motors, in which the corridor could spin up to eight revolutions per minute.
Gordon-Levitt and the members of the stunt team spent a lot of time negotiating the dizzying set for a major action sequence. Prior to filming the action, Gordon-Levitt spent weeks in training and rehearsing the action with stunt coordinator Tom Struthers and his team. Struthers shares, “Normally, we would have to use a double for this kind of work, because when a set is revolving like that it can throw you around like a washing machine and be pretty disorienting. But Joe was strong and flexible, and we trained him to develop his upper body and core muscles. He worked really hard and did exceptionally well.”
“I definitely got in better physical shape than I’ve ever been in my life,” Gordon-Levitt reflects. “I had to be fit enough to pull it off, and I also had to learn to keep my balance and carry out a fight scene while jumping from surface to surface. In order to get it done, I couldn’t think of the floor being the floor and the ceiling being the ceiling. I had to think of it like, ‘This is the ground. Okay, now this is the ground. And now, this is the ground.’ It was just that the ‘ground’ was always moving under me. That was the mind game I had to play to make it work. That was also the most fun because no one else was controlling me; it was up to me to keep my balance.”
It is also shot in a way that guarantees you it is Gordon-Levitt doing his own stunts and wire-work. Cheers to you man. You’ve come a long way from playing Tom in Third Rock from the Sun (1996-2001).
A final slight gripe about the film, but was it me or did anyone else have a difficult time understanding the English of actor Ken Watanabe? If I was the producer I would have cast Watanabe’s Japanese co-star from The Last Samurai (2003), Shin Koyamada, a Japanese born actor who is a better actor and clearer English speaker, even when he has to do the stereotypic Japanese-English accent. But of course Hollywood is a city of nepotism, and so Nolan hired Watanabe as they had worked together on Batman Begins (2005). It’s the old Hollywood adage, it’s not how good you are but whom you know.