Thursday, July 22, 2010

Science Fiction/Double Feature

With the introduction of "Less-price-gougey Tuesdays" at the local cineplex, I got a chance to see both Inception and Predators one after another, and I'll try to give my thoughts on them without giving away too much.

I can't get very specific with Inception without getting spoilery, so I'll keep my critique vague. All in all, I thought it was awesome, but I do think it ran a bit long. The concept behind the film, of invading and navigating other peoples' dreams, amply warrants an in-depth treatment, yet as cool as the premise is, I didn't feel that it was explored to its fullest potential, and at two-and-a-half hours the screenplay dragged in places and at times even felt repetitive. I have the feeling that this was somewhat intentional to drive home the dreamlike aesthetic that the film does effectively convey, but I also feel that an already impressive film would have been made stronger had a few more minutes been cut, and I would likely be inclined to re-watch it more frequently. As it stands, Inception is still better and more original than the vast majority of films released, and probably the closest thing to a big screen adaption of Psychonauts we can hope for.

With its themes of what is really real, and of plugging into other realities, comparisons with The Matrix are inevitable. I wouldn't say that Inception is in any way ripping off The Matrix, but I also feel that The Matrix succeeded in a few areas where Inception fell short, particularly in terms of its action sequences. With the exception of a fantastically trippy setpiece in a hotel hallways, Inception's action falls drastically short of it's potential. This is not to say that the action is poorly shot or choreographed, but that because we are working in the realm of dreams, where conceivably anything could happen, a series of gunfights and car chases with generic goons just feels like a bit of a cop-out. Where The Matrix wowed us with its funky wire-fu and novel bullet-time effects, Inception sort of goes out with a whimper.

To be fair, Inception is meant more as an "ideas" film than an action film, and in that regard it holds up a bit better. Whereas the ideas behind The Matrix don't hold together all that well under closer scrutiny (such as the machines not having any apparent way of drawing new energy into the system they have constructed), Inception has a little more depth and ambiguity to pick at. That's not to say that the film is devoid of gaps in logic (there were a couple points I didn't get, but I won't pass judgment until I have a second viewing), but there are plenty of things that the films leaves you to turn over in your mind. But again, because so much could have been done with the concept, the result ends up feeling a tad disappointing. In particular, I would have liked to see more of the universal aspects of dreaming covered in some way, like when you're trying to run away from something and suddenly it feels like you're moving through molasses, or when your teeth don't seem to have been quite put in properly. I realize that the film is expressly trying to make us question what is and isn't real, but I can't shake the feeling that opportunities were missed.

A common complaint I've heard, of movies in general, is that the "dream-within-a-dream" is purely an invention of Hollywood and that this never happens to anyone. I can attest firsthand that this does happen in real life, and that it as trippy as balls. You wake up and say something like "what a peculiar dream that was. I'd best return to reality with a nice bowl of cornflakes. Then maybe some goldfish polo. I do hope the Queen has a spare dachshund." Later you awake in a cold sweat with the feel of scales and victory still on your palms.

Or maybe that's just me. I'm just gonna move on to Predators now.

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Predators is the first film to feature the titular character, since the 1987 original, that wasn't awful. To be fair, I never saw the sequel to Aliens vs Predator, and I remember somewhat enjoying the first AVP film, probably out of some perverse fondness for the games, but I think I wouldn't be remiss in saying that both franchises went significantly downhill when they tried adding numbers or subtitles to their names. Just adding an "s" seems empirically to work out better. For the next installment, I suggest Predators'.

This is a film that I think would greatly benefit from a lack of foreknowledge. If you were somehow able to go into this with no idea what to expect and no knowledge of the original, or even just no idea that this was the movie you were going to see, I think the film would generate a respectable degree of tension and excitement. As it is, it just sort of feels like an homage, like it's just going through the motions (♪walking through the part♫), with little by way of surprises (and a painfully obvious Chekhov's Neurotoxin).

Unfortunately, the Predators are the weakest part of the movie. There's none of the unfamiliar menace they exuded in the original, and not even any of the cheesy badassery from AVP. After all these years, we finally get a Predator on Predator fight, and it looks exactly like what it is: two guys in rubber suits wrestling. I often argue that less is more, but sometimes it's just less. The Predators also seems considerably easier to kill in this installment; I guess they adhere to the law of inverse ninjutsu.

It's weird to see Adrian Brody take up the role once filled by Arnold "Aaugh" Schwarzenegger, but I would say that the cast is probably the strongest part of the film. The personalities are more diverse than the original, and I even like Topher Grace's weirdly-out-of-place doctor character. It was pretty funny to see Danny Trejo show up at the beginning when the previous trailer had him being a badass in Machete, only for him to be pretty much the first to die (that's not a spoiler, he's ethnic). When they're all just confusedly creeping about the jungle, it feels like a good episode of Lost. It's just a shame that the Predators are less menacing than the smoke monster.

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