Nolan’s Big Movie, DiCaprio’s Insane Shoot

“You periodically felt like you were a part of something truly insane, but it was all in a day’s work,” Leonardo DiCaprio told me during a junket for the movie “Inception.” Even if that day’s work includes shooting on a mountain in the middle of a blizzard.

Based on an original script by director Christopher Nolan, “Inception” is a film that defies easy sound-bite descriptions. Its Russian nesting doll-like structure of a dream enclosed within a dream enclosed within another dream virtually demands multiple viewings. Think Philip K. Dick meets “The Italian Job.”

Nolan’s previous silver screen venture was a little movie called “The Dark Knight” — the highest grossing non-James Cameron movie in American history. So for this go-around, the director’s vast, ambitious vision seems to have been utterly unfettered by financial constraints. And it shows.

“Inception” was shot in Tokyo, Los Angeles, Morocco, London, Paris and the Canadian Rockies. It features shots of the French capital folding in on itself M.C. Escher-style, a zero-G fist fight, and a freight train blasting through the streets of downtown Los Angeles.

And in one sequence, Leo and the gang stage a raid on a snow-bound Alpine fortress — the aforementioned shoot in the blizzard.

Leo describes an exchange he had with an assistant director during production. “When we started shooting one of the ADs said, ‘Before you get to lunch we want to do some of the avalanche shots.’ ‘OK, how is that going to happen?’ ‘We’re going to blow up a couple mountains and we’re going to start a couple of avalanches and you’re going to get in there and be a part of it and then we’ll take you to lunch.’ And this is kind of what you expect on a Chris Nolan set.”

Co-star Ellen Page agreed. “It was definitely the most extreme environment I’ve ever filmed in.”

And if you thought that cast worked hard, try the production crew. That fortress had to be constructed out of wood and plaster — carried straight up the mountain — without the use of normal construction equipment. It was so cold up there that paint froze on the brush.

For a summer movie season that has proved to be easily the lamest in recent memory, filled with tepid adaptations and tired ’80s retreads, Christopher Nolan’s brand of cinematic insanity might just be what the doctor ordered. “Inception” opens this weekend.

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