I see that Inception is now No 3 on IMDB’s all-time hit list. I guess it is good that the only Summer blockbuster so far this year to offer a story for grown-ups has indeed attracted so many fans. Like everybody else, I’m not sure what all of it meant but I was impressed by the casting, the performances and the production ideas. I could do without about an hour of the action sequences – which I now realise are supposed to represent a videogame (especially the last one in the snow). I’m too old for all that and just get bored. But the ideas behind the film are interesting and for once I’m not pissed off by another poor rip-off of Phil K. Dick. I’ve seen various possible Dick novels/stories mentioned as inspiration with Ubik as frontrunner, though I think that there is another one as well. I’m sure Dick wrote about a drug you could take that had an effect on other people when you dreamed about them – but possibly my brain is frazzled!
There must be so much written about the film already and I don’t want to repeat it all, so I’ll just pull out a few observations, most of which refer to its status as ‘global film’. The first thing I noticed is that we get Ken Watanabe and a Japanese-set sequence and I wondered how deliberate this ploy was from a Warner Bros perspective. A few years ago, Warner Bros after a disappointing Batman pic in Japan started to hold premieres there with Japanese stars like Watanabe.
The film felt ‘not American’ in many ways. Apart from DiCaprio and Gordon-Levitt, the other leading cast members are Canadian, British, Irish, Japanese and French – and Asian-American. The writer-director is British. The locations were all outside the US and the ‘feel’ was ‘international’. So, here’s my first question. Why choose a setting to be Mombasa when you know that you are actually filming in Morocco? Why not just name it as Casablanca or Rabat or Marrakesh? Perhaps because it isn’t meant to be a ‘real’ location? Mombasa is the setting where the South Asian character is introduced – which makes sense because there is an Indian diaspora population in East Africa, but this raises a number of other questions. Why not shoot in India and use one of many Indian actors who could handle a blockbuster shoot? My guess is that Hollywood style shooting is too difficult in interesting Indian city locations (unless it is a Hollywood film directed by Michael Winterbottom or Danny Boyle). And why not an African actor for a Mombasa shoot? Again I’m guessing that the casting director was unaware of African talent – it is certainly there but Hollywood tends to take African-Americans to its productions, often based in South Africa.
I’m not criticising Dileep Rao, the American-Asian actor in Inception (I haven’t seen Avatar, which I think he was in), merely noting that global film production only tends to go so far. I blame CGI and I do rather hanker after the 1950s and 1960s when shoots would move to Kenya for a month or so and show us something of a ‘real location’.
Inception has been released in India. It has been the Number 1 film in the ‘International’ film market (i.e. outside North America) for five weeks now but I wonder how the complex plot goes down in territories like India? The usual film industry assumption is that the Hollywood blockbusters that do well in India are action films with little dialogue or culturally specific knowledge required. Of course, there is a significant slice of the Indian audience that has the same viewing habits as American and European audiences and the reviews in the Indian Press reflect this with a generally high regard for the film. But I did come across one Hyderabadi poster suggesting that half the audience were asleep during the film.
The other interesting aspect of the film’s success is that is a 2D film able to compete with the 3D offerings. On the other hand it is also an IMAX film and I’m wondering what difference it makes to re-imagine the scenes for a much squarer albeit larger image. My own preference is to stay with ‘Scope.