[Image: A still from Inception, directed by Christopher Nolan, courtesy of Warner Brothers].
An article I meant to link to the other week takes a look at the architectural design of Christopher Nolan’s forthcoming film Inception. Being a longtime fan of Nolan’s work, going back to his debut feature, Following (which I first saw at the Edinburgh Film Festival in 1999 and which, oddly enough, starred emerging architect Alex Haw, now of Cloud fame), I have to say that I am very much looking forward to seeing this movie.
Geoff Boucher of the Los Angeles Times describes it as “Hollywood’s first existential heist movie,” offering us a preview of some of the film’s sets and spaces in the process.
[Images: A rotating hall and fight scene from Inception, courtesy of Warner Brothers].
He specifically highlights the contributions of “special effects guru Chris Corbould (the man who built the Batmobile and has worked on a dozen James Bond films),” who helped to “put a premium on an old-school approach to movie magic” in the physical production of Inception:
Corbould’s teams, for instance, built giant rotating hallways and a massive tilting nightclub set to film the startling Inception scenes when dream-sector physics take a sharp turn into chaos. One of the film’s stars, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, spent long, bruising weeks learning to fight in a corridor that spun like a giant hamster wheel.
The idea of athletically training inside “giant rotating hallways” on a film set is pretty awesome; it comes with the implication that certain combat scenes are less demonstrations of a specific fighting style than the architectural revelation of a whole new type of geometry, an unprecedented way of filling, and thus dominating, space. On the other hand, of course, Boucher is quick to point out that it wasn’t all analogue set construction and advanced balance-training:
Inception does have major computer effects: Several vivid sequences show a dream metropolis in churning calamity, a city skyline seems to fold in on itself as a dream begins to lose its shape and, unlike many Hollywood versions of dream surrealism, the scene has the look of a massive mechanical failure, not a morphing, liquid calamity. Nolan’s dreams have the sharp edges of Escher, not the syrup drips of Dalí. Architecture is a major influence on the culture of the film too with dreams that are more like blueprints than poems. That speaks to Nolan’s longtime interest in architecture. A key scene in Inception was filmed at the architecture school at University College London, where Nolan was an English major and also met his future wife and producing partner, Emma Thomas.
You can see one of those “massive mechanical failures” in the image, below, where we watch Paris rear up and crease back over on itself like some fine-tuned, mathematically exact introduction to a new, urban-scale baroque.
[Image: From Inception by Christopher Nolan, courtesy of Warner Brothers].
Dream-sector physics meets The Fold.
In any case, check out the trailer when you get a chance—while I try to work some media magic to score an interview for BLDGBLOG with Nolan and Corbould.
(It’s interesting to note, meanwhile, in the context of this post’s opening image, that Nolan grew up in Chicago—which, in tandem with that image, makes me wonder if some very, very minor part of Nolan’s architectural and stylistic interest in Japonisme—i.e. Batman as ninja in a wood-paneled dojo—wasn’t at least partially inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright buildings scattered in and around the Chicago area; in fact, the set featured in that opening image could very well have been inspired by Wright’s Imperial Hotel in Tokyo).