Does ‘Inception’ Face Unfair Expectations?

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Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception
Photo: Warner Bros.

Invariably after many posts where I’ve discussed upcoming movies or the lackluster box-office many people bring up their continued anticipation for Christopher Nolan’s Inception. Movie blogs seem to be suffering similar impatience as they post anything Inception related, even ugly bootlegged behind-the-scenes featurettes, as they do their very best to figure out the secrets the movie holds before they even see it. Over at Hollywood Elsewhere, Jeff Wells puts his impatience into digital ink writing, “Enough with the Inception-is-coming clatter. We’ve all been sold on the idea that it’s the only decent summer flick on the horizon, and now it’s time, dammit…time to quit farting around and show it to somebody somewhere.” Warner Bros. must read that and just drool, but could this anticipation also backfire?

Inception is due in theaters on July 16 and so far it has yet to be screened for an audience of any sort, but the minute it is you can almost assure yourself a couple of hours later there will be online reports. While, good or bad, those reports won’t necessarily persuade or deter anyone that was already planning on seeing it opening weekend from going, it could start the buzz train in one direction or another.

This last weekend was yet another muted bleep on the summer box-office radar as Get Him to the Greek didn’t do too bad, but films like Marmaduke and Splice weren’t busting the doors down. So far this year we have the surprise hit in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, which wasn’t necessarily a surprise in terms of making a healthy amount of money, but I don’t think anyone expected it to be the only film of 2010 so far to top $300 million domestically and then become only the sixth film to top $1 billion worldwide. Behind it we have Iron Man 2, which should pass $300 million by the end of next weekend and then How to Train Your Dragon is the only other film over $200 million so far, with Shrek Forever After closing in and Clash of the Titans ending its run shortly with a little over $160 million.

The most noticeable aspect of four of those five films is they are in 3D, which means a healthy bump in box-office dollars and the only reason Alice in Wonderland became the monetary monster it became. So, while some of the grosses may not be too bad, seasoned movie watchers realize the theaters have not been bustling as per normal. It’s a down year in terms of movies as last year 11 movies that opened prior to June 1 managed over $100 million, and of those 11 only two (Up and Monsters vs. Aliens) benefit from 3D ticket sales.

While I see some box-office promise on the horizon I can’t help but feel everything is filler until Inception hits, that is, other than Toy Story 3. There are films that will fill the entertainment void, The A-Team and Knight and Day look like a blast. The Karate Kid I have seen and young boys are certain to fall in love with it, the 12-year-old I was sitting next to at my screening ran out of the theater saying, “Oh man, I can’t wait to tell my friends at school!” He was certainly won over. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse will satisfy its followers as will The Last Airbender and Predators. Grown Ups will be another Sandler hit and I’m not sure what kind of love Salt and Dinner for Schmucks will receive, but I can’t help but feel they better be exceptional if they expect to earn the attention of this year’s moviegoing crowd. August brings The Other Guys, The Expendables, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Eat, Pray, Love. But do any of these titles have avid moviegoers as excited as Inception does?

Even though I avoid trailers as much as possible, I couldn’t help but learn a little about the story Inception follows and I want to see it before I learn any more. I want to see it before a single review floats in. I don’t want hype or letdown surrounding it.

Photo: Warner Bros.
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2010 has been a year of let downs. Not even Cannes delivered any real surprises as I expected Mike Leigh’s Another Year to be good. After almost five-and-a-half-months I remain relatively bored. By this time last year films such as Star Trek, Up, Drag Me to Hell and Sunshine Cleaning had me really excited. By June 5, The Hangover had been released and June also offered the release of The Hurt Locker, which is to say by the end of June last year not only had a Golden Globe winning comedy been released, but so had the year’s Best Picture.

So often, people examine critics and think they love to write bad reviews and aren’t in tune with what audiences want to see. Whether you think that’s the case or not, I can tell you right now audiences and critics are in the same boat, we are all desperate for a hit. Something we can cheer for and discuss with joy. The love most people shared for Avatar has disappeared and we are now ready for something new to champion and Inception is the most likely candidate based on previews and perceived online anticipation. However, will it work to its advantage or have expectations been set too high?

I’d say it’s certainly too much to expect of any movie to make up for the six months that preceded it so hopefully a couple of these June action-comedies — mainly The A-Team and Knight and Day — will fill the void where most others have left us wanting. While I think I may end up seeing Get Him to the Greek again, marking the first film I will have seen twice in theaters this year, I still am looking for that film that will hit me in the chest and wake me up. A film that will have me wanting to go see it again as soon as it’s over, will Inception will be that film?