Saturday, August 20, 2011

Earthsea and Inception: Film Platypus

After the herculean task of blogging through "The Mammoth Book of Fantasy," it's been good to take a bit of a breather.  I'll have to ponder a bit more before I can definitely say what I learned from the experience.

Meanwhile, I have not been idle.  My wife and I have been working through some of the Tolkien Professor's lectures with all the accompanying reading that entails.  We've also started re-reading the Harry Potter books.  In addition to that, we've been making use of our Netflix account.  With that, we come to the real purpose of today's post.  This week, we've had the fun of watching two recent visually rich films; real treats for the eye.  The are studio Ghibli's "Tales From Earthsea" and Christopher Nolan's "Inception."

"Tales From Earthsea" is actually the directorial debut of Hayao Miyazaki's son Goro.  In that respect, the film is just a fun chance to see the next generation of studio Ghibli directors strut his stuff.  I also happen to love Ursula K. LeGuin's Earthsea books.  Put those together, and how could this not be a movie to watch the instant I became aware of it?  So, watch it we did.

Now, what do I think?  This is an adaptation of several Earthsea stories, so don't expect to see "The Wizard of Earthsea."  However, the screen play is done by Hayao himself and shows all the marks of his own peculiar genius for adaptation.  If you like the work Hayao Miyazaki has done with other adaptations like "Howl's Moving Castle," the adaptation itself should be right up your ally.  If you're an Earthsea purist, don't waste your time.  Questions of adaptation aside, Studio Ghibli does a wonderful job of bringing the world of Earthsea to life visually.  Every panel has that wonderfully rich touch we've come to expect.  The overall effect of the movie is somewhere on par with "Castle in the Sky" or "Naussicaa of the Valley of the Winds."  If you go in expecting to see "Spirited Away," or "Princess Mononoke" you'll be disappointed.  Of course, this only makes sense if you remember that those two movies are products of the elder Miyazaki at the height of his career.  This is still definitely a "first movie."  That said, Goro seems to have some real talent, and it will be worth watching his own style evolve over the years to come.

Moving on, we just finished watching "Inception" last night.  I have to say that it was worth watching this one at home if only so my wife and I could keep stopping the movie and dialog about what was going on and how we guessed it would turn out; sort of like reading a mystery novel together.  Nolan has a passion for playing around with cognition and it was nice to see him return again to his first love.  It was also enjoyable to watch Nolan take his talent for coming at a genre "sideways" and totally reinvigorate the "heist" movie.  The overall effect of the movie is so masterful that I'm sure this will be the new "Matrix" on college campuses for the next few years.

This, of course, brings us to the question of whether "Inception" is really just an action flick with fancy window dressing.  I'm not sure what I think about that question.  Christopher Nolan isn't Terrance Malik, nor does he claim to be.  However, his ideas seem to have more urgency and coherence than those of the Wichowski brothers.  If there is something that Nolan is toying with throughout the movie, I'm going to guess that it's the idea of "the thought that stops all thought," ala G.K. Chesterton's "Orthodoxy."  There's also the obvious idea that art can plant memes in people's minds, but I think this Chestertonian angle is actually the deeper thread.  I think that's all I'll weigh in with for now.  We'll see what I think after more time and reading a few reviews.    

1 comment:

vespreardens said...

I haven't gotten to the Earthsea movie yet. LeGuin is one of the first writers of adult fantasy I ran into growing up (my brother and I reread some of her kids' books over and over and over again). I even directed a one act play written by her when I was in high school. But when I got to Earthsea, I *just* didn't care for it, and that has kept me from picking up that film.

Inception, on the other hand, I loved. Loved, loved, loved. I will say it's worth a second watch, easily. There are so many little clues and hints Nolan puts in there. Also worth paying attention to in Inception is Zimmer's masterful score, which weaves into the movie so seamlessly that on a first viewing, you don't quite realize that some of it is being used as sound effects rather than just background soundtrack music. I can probably dig up some links demonstrating this, if you'd like to look into it more.

One theme that Nolan continually comes back to in his films is perceptions of reality. You see this in Mememto, The Prestige, and even somewhat in Batman Begins. If you dig up his short film "Doodlebug" on YouTube (it's about 10 minutes, with credits), you see the theme again. It's a tricky theme to portray correctly, because you have to be able to pull your audience into a mindset that often times is somewhat foreign to them. You have to make illusion, madness, and dream become real enough for them to buy it, and Nolan has proven to be masterful at this.

A good companion movie to Inception is the anime movie Paprika by director Satoshi Kon. Kon plays with very similar themes of perception and reality in all his works, but Paprika's probably the one that lines up closest with any of Nolan's work. There was even some speculation on the web that Inception borrowed from it/was a tribute to it/was somehow connected to it. I don't think this is true, but these theories aren't entirely without basis. Paprika again deals with entering the dream world and blurring the lines between dreaming and waking, and does so very well... though I would argue not as well as Nolan.

Though, I also have a theory that if you watch Inception and Paprkia back to back, you may have trouble distinguishing reality from dreaming for a bit afterwards, so proceed at your own risk. :D