The Unusual Success Of 'Inception' As Everything A Hit Movie Isn't... Anymore

"Inception" finished out its third weekend in a row at the number one spot in the box office. An admirable feat for any film, but especially so for a summer release, what with all of the other studio tentpoles traditionally being erected between June and August. More impressive is the 30% drop in ticket sales week to week, which points to strong word of mouth and a lot of repeat viewings. I've seen it twice myself-- how about you readers?

It's an unusual success, what "Inception" is seeing. And it's not even the latest example. "Avatar" finds many comparisons with director Christopher Nolan's movie. Not so much in terms of the story (like, at all), but more in terms of what these films are in comparison to the rest of what's been attracting the large crowds lately. Beware non-believers... spoilers ahead.

Like "Avatar" before it, "Inception is, in a word, original. Dream exploration isn't a new motif of course, but Nolan's story offers a fresh sci-fi universe with some interesting ideas that don't have any roots in popular culture outside of the filmmaker's own imagination. I think a big reason for the repeat business has a lot to do with that. For all of the talk of layers and keeping track of the movie's science, it's not a terribly complex story. It does, however, give viewers a lot of information to process, information that they have no other background on. There's something immediately refreshing about going to the movies and walking out with questions about the fictional world that can't instantly be answered by Wikipedia or a fan-managed equivalent.

Unlike "Avatar," "Inception" also makes pretty minimal use of high-end digital effects. They're there to be sure, such as watching a city fold in on itself or the crumbling, failed utopia that is the movie's Limbo. But by far the most memorable moments, at least for me, rely almost entirely on practical effects. The standout zero-G hallway fight is movie magic that was achieved with the help of multiple, movable sets. And the equally entertaining snowy climax was really just a whole lot of guns and stunt shots, along with Tom Hardy being a total badass.

That's why "Inception" is a rare achievement. It's something out of Hollywood that feels fresh, new. Like "Avatar" it's something we haven't seen before, and it's all the more impressive for having none of the technical bells & whistles that James Cameron's movie did.

Remakes, sequels and adaptations are almost as old as cinema itself. They're not going anywhere, nor should they. People are going to see "Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World" next week and be simply blown away by Edgar Wright's achievement in bringing the world created by Bryan Lee O'Malley to life.

I can't help but shout out the achievement here though. Partially because it's deserved and partially because I hope that calling attention to the feat will encourage more top-level filmmakers to take chances with their work. It might not always work, but it always pushes the medium forward just a little bit more. What do you all think?