Will ‘Inception’ Save the Summer of 2010?

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Joseph Gordon-Levitt in Inception
Photo: Warner Bros.

I have not seen Inception yet. That said, I think the film will be great. I think it will knock the popcorn right out of my hands and onto the floor. I really do.

2010 has been one of the worst summers for movies I can remember, and nearly everyone has said something similar. Several films have failed to satisfy at the box-office, under performing critically and with the fans. It’s been a parade of stinkers so bad I haven’t even been inclined to go to the two-dollar theater to see them, and I’ll watch almost anything for two bucks. But not The A-Team. Not directed by Joe Carnahan.

There have been a handful of successes, but even those come with qualifications. Iron Man 2 wasn’t as good as the first one and is still $9 million short of its predecessor. The Twilight Saga: Eclipse failed to catch on with a broader audience despite many calling it the “best of the franchise,” which was just a kind way of saying “it’s not as awful as the first two.” Toy Story 3, The Karate Kid and now Despicable Me have primarily succeeded thanks to the sturdiest of all audiences. Families.

Now comes Christopher Nolan’s opus and the pressure is on.

You’ve read the articles already. Is there too much pressure on this one film? Can Inception save the summer? Will Good ‘N’ Plenty sales go up? Etc.

Christopher Nolan on the set of Inception
Photo: Warner Bros.

I understand the doubters. Just having Christopher Nolan’s name on the film will not guarantee success. Nolan is well known in film circles but he isn’t James Cameron or Steven Spielberg – yet. He’s made four studio films since Memento, his breakthrough indie. His two Batman flicks have done very, very well (no surprise), Insomnia did decent numbers when foreign sales are taken into consideration and The Prestige flat-out underperformed.

Next are the trailers for Inception. They’re the kind of trailers that hardcore fans rave about. Personally I love them, but I was already sold on the film and don’t need to know what it’s about to be interested. But in terms of capturing the attention of the general audience they aren’t very good.

A good trailer has a beginning, middle and end and gives the audience an idea what the film is about. The Inception trailer does very little of that – good thing for the legions of followers, bad for the uninitiated. The trailer confuses and confounds the audience. In these terms, it’s a bad trailer. I could barely remember the Inception trailer the first few times I saw it in the theater. That’s really the only thing a good trailer is supposed to do. Make it stick in your noggin like the Lady Gaga song you heard in the supermarket.

Stop callin’, stop callin’, I don’t wanna think anymore… Oh, the lyrics couldn’t be any more applicable, but even the movies that appeal to the lowest common denominator aren’t scoring with general audiences this summer. Can a smart movie like Inception do any better?

Some friends of mine who worked on the film told me they don’t think Inception will connect with mainstream audiences. According to them, the film is very dark and complex. This doesn’t sound like typical summer blockbuster fare; something that no doubt has the suits at Warners worried or at the very least mildly concerned. With a $200+ million budget and a $50+ million advertising campaign the film needs to make a lot of dough to recoup that budget and get it’s money back, and despite my nitpicking I’m convinced it will… Here’s why.

Critical support will help. So far the critics are on board. Most of them spent as much time trying to explain the ideas behind the film as explaining why it was so darn good. Not that critics mean a whole lot these days. Let’s face it, if 94% on the Tomatometer was a guarantee of success Michelle Williams would be a huge star and Sandra Bullock would be retired in Austin.

Most importantly, Inception will do well because it arrives at the perfect time. We need a good film fix and we need it bad. We’re parched. Anything approaching quality will quench our thirst. Normally I would wait on a film like Inception, but I’m going to be there at one of those 12:01 screenings. I may even try and be filmed by one of those wacky news crews asking what you thought when you come out of the theater at three o’clock in the morning. I know I’m not the only one.

This is the first original concept film Nolan has made for a studio and I’m curious what he’s conjured up. Something like this from a filmmaker like Christopher Nolan is one of the joys of going to the movies. Being dazzled by spectacle. Thrilled by the ride. Watching a film made by the very best Hollywood has to offer. The man made Memento, Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. (He also made Insomnia, but everybody has a bad day.)

I’m going to be grateful when Inception comes out, and I think others will follow my lead even if they wait a weekend or two for word of mouth to build. That’s why Christopher Nolan’s flick will save the summer. Because we desperately need it to do so.