Christopher Nolan and the “Do-Whatever-you-want”-Syndrom

What a run! When I think back of my doubts that Inception might not connect to a mass-audience, I can now gladly relax that Christopher Nolan’s movie still prevails.

This weekend in American boxoffice we have a massive start by Sylvester Stallone’s testosterone movie that unites a whole lot of action stars from the 80s and the likes of Jason Statham. Second place we have the Julia Roberts driven Eat Pray Love, the Expendables’s main “antagonist” (there was a fancampaign calling men to arms to beat Eat Pray Love opening weekend and stuff like that).

Last week’s number 1 The Other Guys staring Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg dropped 50%. Despite very positive buzz Scott Pilgrim vs. The World only took 10.6 million dollars this weekend, finishing after Inception, which dropped 39% to 11.2 million dollars.

Before I get to the Inception stuff, there is another great reward for quality cinema: Toy Story 3 passed the 400 million dollars mark in America (the eleventh film to do that), but we should again remind ourselves that 3d pushes ticket prices up. Finding Nemo is still the highest grossing Pixar film adjusted to inflation with 447 million dollars and The Lion King’s adjusted 613 million dollars are a bit out of reach for Toy Story.
Worldwide Toy Story stands at 940 million dollars and will for sure break the 1 billion dollars mark (hopefully surpassing the horrible Alice in Wonderland).

Now, let’s get back to Inception and what this might mean to Nolan’s upcoming movies.
Right now Inception’s total is 564 million, which puts it to rank #6 in the worldwide chart:

1. Alice in Wonderland with a 3D, Johnny Depp and nostalgia powered $ 1 024 million
2. Toy Story 3 with $ 940 million
3. Shrek Forever with an incomprehensible $ 677 million – seriously?
4. The movie that claims it’s about “vampires” $ 652 million
5. Iron Man 2 with $ 621 million
6. Inception with $ 563 million

With the international market still going strong it is a given that Inception will pass Iron Man 1’s $ 585 million and Iron Man 2 doesn’t seem out of reach either.

Is that good news?
No.
That’s reaaally good news. America-wise the movie is still about 30 million dollars behind Matrix Reloaded’s $ 281 million. Those are the two milestones this movie can still break:

To domestically beat out the insanely anticipated sequel to a surprise movie similar to Inception (though it will next to impossible to surpass Reloaded’s worldwide $ 742 million)

And to beat out the sequel to a highly regarded comic book movie. Though we should note here that Iron Man 2 could have easily crushed everything in its way if they would have given the director more time and creative freedom.

What does this mean?
Well let’s not get to overexcited. Even though many people hope for a little change in cinema landscape now, I doubt it. Even though Inception repeatedly proves that we can handle big complex plot and the studio is still making money (without 3d), I guess studios won’t have a sudden change of heart. But maybe there will be a change for big name directors. Maybe Chris Nolan has shown us that if you let a great director free reign he might surpass everything else.

Jon Favreau, the director of Iron Man and Iron Man 2, has voiced his unhappiness about Iron Man 2 and he is just the most recent example of stupid studio decisions. Iron Man 1 was a great fun movie, where a director could experiment and gave a unique spin and heart to a story that was not the most original to begin with. Surprisingly the worst thing about Iron Man 1 is the final fight at the end, since it looks so generic and not at all like therest of this well-acted and directed movie.

With Iron Man 2 Marvel pushed Favreau to bring out the sequels 2 years after the first one and we can see the studio’s influence all over the place. Iron Man 2 is the very definition of “playing it safe”. Nothing that is remotely challenging a plot that can be seen in every other action movie, a generic villain, special effects overkill and a big commercial for another Marvel movie. We can only retreat into our imaginary happy place and imagine the possible Iron Man 2 alongside with a Star Wars Episode 1 that doesn’t suck.

Another victim of Studio control would be Sam Raimi, who had to direct Spider-Man 3 the way the studio and the fans wanted him to. Spider-Man 3 is the prime example of comic book movies gone wrong: too many villains, to many characters. Everything because Raimi originally wanted to make a movie with one villain (Sandman) but the studio forced him to insert the villain Venom because fans (sadly myself included) demanded it and they also had to deal with a third villain that was set up in the previous part.
And Raimi repeatedly stated that he found Venom uninteresting because he was just a dark version of Spider-Man. The disjointed, all-over-the-place third Spider-Man was a creative disaster.

When Raimi returned and offered Sony to make a fourth part he wanted to do it with an unknown villain (The Vulture if I remember correctly), probably a very unconventional take. Sony did the only reasonable thing when a skilled director that made three boxoffice hits in a row offers to bring something new to the table – they fired Raimi and the entire Spider-Man cast and now we will get a teenage Spider-Man reboot… great.

Now with Inception’s success things might change
Maybe Ridley Scott can make a creative Alien Prequel instead of an average 3d sci-fi flick.
Maybe Sam Raimi can ignore the fans when making a World of Warcraft movie.
Maybe the Green Lantern sequels will be bolder than other comic movies… maybe… just maybe…

But dreaming aside, what’s about Nolan?
Well, it’s safe to say that Inception was his best career move. After The Dark Knight grossed a billion dollars at the Boxoffice and the amazing ending that left everyone content while simultaneously wanting to watch a sequel Warner Brothers had one priority: get Christopher Nolan back for Batman 3.
And we can see how much they wanted him back – whereas Iron Man 2 was pushed two years after the first there is a huge 4 year gap between The Dark Knight and Batman 3 – an awfully long time for a franchise, but again this proves confidence in the material. Twilight has to churn out the movies within 6 months to 1 year periods because it will die out soon. I bet if Nolan would wait another 4 years we would still eagerly await this movie.

But instead of jumping into Batman Nolan wanted to make “a smaller project” like he stated in earlier interviews. This smaller project turned into a 160 million dollars project full of A-list actors.

In many ways Inception is a big call for attention, that gets the spotlight to Nolan. His highest grosses were Batman movies, the latter one catapulted by Ledger’s phenomenal performance (though we should note that without Nolan no one would have thought of Ledger as a Joker) – so we could always say that he was successful because of Batman. To the audience Chris Nolan is no brand-name like Spielberg or Cameron. So by delivering a movie that was written and directed by himself, based on his ideas, he has established himself as “that director that makes original movies that are still cool and exciting” if he continues this trend he might get down as one of the leading contemporary action/sci-fi directors that doesn’t sell out and delivers his best work every time.

Inception was a big gamble, it could have turned into a movie nobody watches and the studios would say “o.k. now go back to Batman and we tell you what to do”. But nope, if anything this movie cemented Nolan’s “do whatever the fuck you want”-status.

Batman 3
If Inception can crack 600-700 million dollars it is possible that Nolan can defend his 2d movies because right now he is one of the few (next to John Favreau) big directors who refuse to give in to the 3d stupidity. When asked about Inception and 3d he mentioned that they tried post-conversion (as done with many films, for bad examples see Clash of the Titans and Alice in Wonderland) and he said that if the audience demands it he will adapt, but I guess this will be his last resort. If the studio wants to make Batman 3d, it will be shot in 2d and post-converted, that way Nolan can still shoot his film the way he wants and the 3d won’t bother his creative process. I’m pretty sure Nolan views 3d as a gimmick that doesn’t add anything to his storytelling.
So if Batman turns 3d there will be a great 2d version to watch in an empty theatre because everyone will be buying 3d tickets for an effect that wears of 10 minutes in the film.

Casting- and story-wise Nolan will have next to unlimited control. So don’t expect Johnny Depp playing a role in Batman 3 and if you read something about it, it’s not a fact. That rumour is around since 2005. With Inception he showed us that he can tell any story he wants and with David Goyer being the comic-nerd-council the team will be perfectly balanced: Nolan will bring in the wild ideas, Goyer will fit it to the Batman world and Nolan’s brother Jonathan will polish up the script like in Dark Knight.

But why does he need to make a Batman 3?
After Inception I myself can’t wait for the next original Nolan movie. Even though I love his Batman movies I want him to bring on more original work. But that’s the thing about great directors: they will challenge themselves every time.

Nolan delivered the best origin story for a superhero with Batman Begins.

Afterwards he had to face the “impossible task” to reimagine the Joker, a role so cemented into our consciousness by Burton and Nicholson. The result: A movie that just blew everything away comic book movies have achieved until then.

The next task: completing a successful comic book trilogy.

Every comic book trilogy has one thing in common: the third part is mediocre to really bad. This curse has not been lifted, so that’s a gigantic challenge for any director. Most of the time it’s because the story has been told in the first part, the second part was still good but the third time the series has nothing new to tell except featuring a new villain.

And this is where Batman is the exception: Dark Knight while arguably being the best comic book movie to date had a great arc for Batman and can be seen as the definitive standalone story, yet at the end it opens the can for probably the most interesting plot, Batman being on the run, willingly taking the blame for a crime that he didn’t commit.
This conflict is so big that it just screams for a man like Nolan to do a fitting sequel to end the Nolan Trilogy and not only deliver the best superhero movie (Dark Knight) but also end a trilogy that (like Toy Story) will stand as the prime example not only for comic book movies but for all trilogies to come.

What after Batman 3d? Inception 2?
NO! Big no, no.
Whatever happens, no sequel to Inception. Inception should become Nolan’s trademark movie like Memento and a sequel would do no good. With Batman it’s different since there is still a vast source material, but Nolan always fires all his cylinders when making a movie. He is no director that holds stuff back for a sequel. The best example is Two Face in Dark Knight. Instead of saving it for the sequel and ending with a cheesy appearance by Harvey Dent after the credits he gave Harvey a full story arc that fit in with everything in the movie making Knight much more satisfactory.
So whatever he wanted to tell about dreams, he told us in Inception, now move on to more awesome concepts!

Somewhere in the future – James Bond
With Batman Begins we got Nolan’s Bond Easter eggs: Lucius Fox turned into the Q for Batman. In Dark Knight this got expanded (Perhaps you should read the instruction first) and the Sky-hook concept Batman used in Hong Kong was another homage. The snow chase in Inception was a direct homage to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Plus Nolan stated that he would love to do a Bond film in an Inception interview.

Hey producers!
The guy who made two movies that together grossed around 1.6 billion dollars (estimated) begs for a James Bond movie!
The guy whose action sequences are getting more thrilling all the time!
The same guy who can sell all his visions as both awe-inspiring yet plausible (in movie terms)!
Isn’t that the same realism your Daniel Craig Bond strives to achieve?

Plus he doesn’t use those frenetic camera moves that make you seasick, you know, the ones where you can actually see what’s going on!

Need I elaborate further?

Well whatever comes ahead it will be a bright future for Nolan!

Links for things mentioned in this article:

http://www.comicbookmovie.com/fansites/MarvelFreshman/news/?a=21139
http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Christopher-Nolan-Speaks-Brilliantly-Against-3D-19006.html
http://www.nolanfans.com/2010/07/09/christopher-nolan-would-love-to-do-a-bond-film/

P.S.: Two free Inception tracks are available on the score’s site:

http://www.inceptionscore.com/

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Wolfgang Verfasst von:

Der Host des Flipthetruck Podcasts. Mit einem Fokus auf Science Fiction und Roboter sucht er ständig jene Mainstream Filme, die sich nicht als reine Unterhaltungsfilme zufrieden geben.

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