It’s no secret that Hollywood have either ran out of ideas, or are too scared to try anything new. Remakes, reboots, sequels and adaptations allow studios to use ideas that have previously proved successful, and already have an audience. After Christopher Nolan’s success with The Dark Knight (2008), Inception (2010) may have seemed safe for Warner Brothers, but I’m sure they hadn’t forgotten how, off the back of Barry Sonnenfeld’s Men in Black (1997), Wild Wild West (1999) sounded like a money printing machine. Yet while Nolan’s films lack giant mechanical spiders, they offer far more then most blockbusters. After being propelled into the limelight with the ingenious Memento (2000), his films have received almost unanimous acclaim. Inception is not his most concise work but, bar the excellent Toy Story 3 (2010), it exposes every other blockbuster this year so far as tripe.
Nolan’s psychological plunging of his characters, mastery of cinematic technique, and complex narratives often featuring unexpected twists have even caused comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock. While he hasn’t yet achieved the scope of Hitchcock’s oeuvre, this comparison is less surprising when we consider the current lack of inspiration in Hollywood’s other “great” directors. With its beautiful dream sequences, neo-noir tone and exploration of an unstable psyche, Martin Scorsese’s Shutter Island (2010) has been compared to Inception. But while Inception darts smoothly from idea to idea, Shutter Island drags on, becoming infatuated with its own predictable narrative. Roman Polanski also disappointed this year with The Ghost (2010), a remarkably un-thrilling thriller, and Clint Eastwood baited the Oscar board once more with his competent, but generic, Invictus (2009). As far as the new generation goes, Michael Bay’s third Transformers film happily won’t be unleashed until next year, while box office goliath James Cameron is still counting the profits from Avatar (2009).
Although not wholly original, Avatar wowed audiences with groundbreaking visuals enough to have them flocking back for repeat viewings. Combined with the premium cinemas charge for 3D films, this made for box office gold, meaning that soon no blockbuster will be presented in primitive 2D. That is, none except Nolan’s third Batman film which, if he gets his way, will be shot in 2D, purely on IMAX cameras. Interestingly, the future of IMAX may actually be safer then that of 3D cinema. If 3D TV takes off not only will we be furiously searching for our 3D specs after finally finding the remote, but the novelty of 3D cinema will be lost. Until we start living in airplane hangers, the uniqueness of IMAX seems solid. The studios will also be pleased to know that I saw Inception at an IMAX, and it was bloody expensive.
As Inception’s closing credits jolt the audience back to reality, most will begin their attempts to reconcile the plot’s subtler elements, and consider alternate explanations. It won’t be long before many resolve to watch the film again. Like Avatar, revenue for Inception is already being made through repeat viewings, yet this time the factor drawing audiences back is not spectacle, but intelligence. Fears circulating prior to Inception’s release that it was ‘too smart’ to attract high returns are happily being proved completely wrong. Proof that audiences love using their brains is all over the internet. Anybody can, and does, blog about film, while IMDB users endlessly debate every detail of a film, often in response to mischievous arseholes bluntly stating ‘Godfather is well shit’. The ridiculous speed at which this debate infects the internet means that a simplistic film will have its layers of meaning plunged within days. For a vibrant web presence, and to gain tonnes of free advertising, it’s in the studios best interests to back more intricate narratives.
Hollywood is currently investing in another massive online presence; the gaming community. Apparently concluding that video games are solely about running around shooting things, and thereby making films like Resident Evil (2002) void of the tense atmosphere, and demand for strategic thinking, present in the games, the video game adaptation is yet to be taken seriously. Perhaps Batman Begins’ (2005) redefinition of the comic book adaptation, and Inception’s success, will inspire a video game adaptation that doesn’t insult its audience.
Until more intelligent blockbusters are greenlighted, we can only hope that next year studios, and audiences, aren’t blinded by the 3D explosions in Transformers 3. Worst case scenario; we’re still almost guaranteed an annual corker from Pixar and, as long as Nolan’s profits keep rolling in, he’ll continue to write his own rules.