Christopher Nolan: A Blockbuster Auteur

“I want to know the movie, and then as soon as I know it, I wished I didn’t.” That statement, articulated by Christopher Nolan in a recent interview with New York Times writer David Itzkoff, rings true for nearly anyone anticipating a film. And when something as original and mysterious as Nolan’s Inception is the center of that anticipation, the temptation to find out anything and everything about the project is only heightened. With just over two weeks until Inception hits theaters, the concern over whether or not audiences will take a dive into something perceived to be shrouded in secrecy has become the center of debate. “But it’s an unusual movie,” Nolan contends, “and so it’s a lot harder to just put out a two-and-a-half minute trailer and everyone goes, ‘Oh, yeah, I know what that is.’ An original concept – a world the audience hasn’t entered into before – for me as a filmgoer, that’s the most exciting thing.” Itzkoff calls Nolan “a blockbuster auteur,” a label all too appropriate in a climate where summer spectacles are re-written, re-shot, and re-titled to suit studio expectations. By trying to appeal to everyone, most recent releases are appealing to no one. Summer at the movies has never felt so bland.

Inception is Christopher Nolan’s third blockbuster. Although his previous effort, The Dark Knight, grossed over $1 billion worldwide, audiences had familiarity with the material and characters to drive anticipation. Inception has to rely mostly on Nolan’s good will from The Dark Knight, the appeal of Leonardo DiCaprio, and mind bending visuals to crank up excitement. The Hollywood Reporter’s BULLSEYE forecast shows it has high interest overall, but low traction with women. And Hollywood Elsewhere’s tracking information on the film is a bit worrisome, putting awareness only slightly above Angelina Jolie’s upcoming thriller Salt. But if audiences are hungry for something fresh, will tracking or even opening weekend grosses really tell the whole story? It was less than seven months ago that Avatar opened with a $77 million weekend and went on to gross nearly $750 million domestically. Inception is not expected to pull numbers that high, but word-of-mouth has clearly proven to be effective when audiences are given something special. And early word on Inception has been glowing.

Inception’s success or failure at the box office will hold little impact on Christopher Nolan’s next project, already set for a July 20, 2012 release. Nolan has been fortunate enough to gain the confidence of Warner Bros, distributor of his films since 2002’s Insomnia. The studio, who helped bring audiences The Matrix and Blade Runner (both of which happen to be some of Inception’s influences), showed little hesitation moving forward with something as original and grand-scale as Inception. “It’s being sold on the scale of the movie, the idea of the movie, the cast, the visuals,” said Warner Bros president Jeff Robinov. “But Chris brings a lot to the party. There’s a big expectation around what his next movie’s going to be.”

In less than ten years Nolan went from a tricky psychological thriller that could not find distribution in the United States to Batman and Joker dueling in the streets of Gotham and breaking box office records. Able to direct a film like The Prestige and maintain artistic credibility jumping back into a budget nearing $200 million. “While we were doing The Prestige, we knew we were going to do The Dark Knight. While I was doing Batman Begins, I knew I was going to do The Prestige. That’s basically five or six years that you’re completely locked into a creative path. For the first time I was able to step back and go, O.K., what do I want to do now? I’d always wanted to do Inception. I took six months to finish the script, and I found I could.” Inception represents something unique in Nolan’s filmography: an original and personal action film told on an epic scale. What more could audiences ask for?

by George