Saturday, July 31, 2010

Will Christopher Nolan's 'Inception' become a phenomenon?

"Inception's" stellar opening weekend is reassuring news for Warner Bros. and ardent Christopher Nolan fans. But it's not, given the film's pre-release interest, a huge surprise.
The bigger question, both financially and culturally, will be how the Leonardo DiCaprio movie holds up in the coming weeks. Getting Americans excited about seeing the puzzle-heavy acton movie was one hurdle, and the studio jumped over it nicely (with the help of many of the online pundits to whom the studio showed the film early and who went gaga for it). Maintaining strong word-of-mouth, however, will be trickier, especially since many of the opening-weekend impressions were mixed.

Critics, for instance, were lukewarm, as many in the mainstream print media piled on the movie as a triumph of the technical and conceptual over the narrative and emotional. (More on the two waves of interest -- the flattering early hosannas and the decidedly cool critical reaction, one of the sharpest swings we've seen in a long time, in our article "The Rise and Reassessment of 'Inception.' ")
And the overall reaction from filmgoers wasn't effusive; the movie's CinemaScore, a kind of exit poll of opening-weekend audiences, came in at B+, solid but hardly the stuff of which long-running phenomena are made. In fact, older filmgoers — the demographic that usually carries a movie beyond its opening weekend — were noticeably chillier to the film, grading it a B-, compared with the A given to it by filmgoers younger than 25. (That, incidentally, is a mystery in its own right, since the early talk about the film's complexity had it that "Inception" may play better to audience members in their 30s and 40s than to, say, teenagers.)

What all of this adds up to is still, well, a puzzle. The threshold for a big-budget summer movie to be considered a domestic hit is probably a gross between $150 million and $200 million, a figure that’s within reach for “Inception,” even if it may take some stretching to get to the higher end of that range.

But that's only part of the question. Several of Nolan's previous films, including "Memento" and "The Dark Knight," became full-blown cultural phenomena, with op-eds about the topics they engaged with, buzz about awards and a life that extended far beyond their run in the theaters. "Inception" had a nice weekend, and it's certainly a hit with the young and the fanboy, but there's little evidence at the moment to think it will become more than that.

— Steven Zeitchik

SOURCE: Los Angeles Times