Updated: Aug 28, 2020
Let's talk Tenet. Christopher Nolan's newest passion project starring John David Washington and Robert Pattinson has a seemingly inevitable hype and a sky-high budget with aspirations for breaking every box-office record on the planet. It's been 10 whole years since the mind-boggling and epic vision of Inception blew audiences away with a very original and thrilling concept on top of a stellar cast and great eye for direction. I stress the ten years as important because he continued with interesting and genre-defying projects after but not to the same critical or financial acclaim. . In 2014, Nolan filmed Interstellar which in my opinion is one of the greatest sci-fi projects of the last ten years. However, not everyone felt the same with a lower than normal 72% rating on Rotten Tomatoes and a margin of profit at 47.2 million, (small potatoes compared to it's massive budget). It's a long film, just short of three hours, and its pacing is troublesome, its ideas very bold and theoretical. I think in the future it will go down as a more significantly intelligent project of his, but for now, its easier to view as a "meh" final product.
Dunkirk (2017) was a great period piece with a confusing but not frustrating timeline that deserves multiple viewings. That being said, it's a war movie, something Christopher Nolan hasn't tackled before, and a project that may seem unoriginal to most. It's shorter, under two hours long, and it has a more humble cast of mostly new faces. He still went for the scope of Interstellar and promoted a 70mm Imax release of this feature, something that is common for him throughout his career.
Welcome to 2020, one of the worst years I have ever experienced and I know I'm not alone. Outside of myself this year has been a financial bust for the entertainment industry, shutting down bowling alleys, public pools and most importantly movie theaters! How are we supposed to get by without the summer promised Marvel vehicle or the rom-coms or those rascally Minions! It's unprecedented. I don't need to go into detail as to what happened or the fallout financially or the impact this has had on the future of digital media (actually I may lightly touch on that later). There was no work around, there was no soft open for months, it was truly sad to see those barren parking lots reflect our lack of mega-media.
Today as I write this, I am truly astounded by some decisions made by the major movie theater chains in the U.S. We are ONLY ONE DAY before the release of a BRAND NEW movie in the THEATERS. This is great! The world must have healed right? Well on that note, not so much. That being said, money makes the world go round and the modern movie viewer is getting bored re-running the John Wick marathon. It's still not CDC recommended to go to the theater, and that's as far politically as I am going with that argument, but I know I am not alone in that perspective.
Listen. I love the movie theaters! I love expensive popcorn, I love the big screen and loud noises and honestly listening to people organically react to the things on screen. That being said, I love the idea of home media right now, movies are releasing on digital formats at a surprising rate. I have a nice TV and a good soundbar and a little dog to watch films with. So when am I going back to the theaters? I honestly don't know.
So lets get back to Tenet which seems, despite a shroud of Nolan's trademark ambiguity, to be a time-related twisty reality film. Cool, but its coming out on September 3rd. A week from tomorrow. Why is Christopher Nolan releasing this movie in the fall, the early fall for that matter, when the theater climate is a very scary unknown. Delayed movies aren't always unsuccessful and the hype for this movie could potentially run into 2021. The decision to release now is dependent on the idea of the big return to theaters and the hope that audiences will stream (Safely?) into the aisles to see a movie again. I can understand the optimism but also am confused by some of the approach.
First and foremost, it is to my understanding that the appropriate rules of social engagement are reflected in the theaters, with mask mandates and distancing. I am all for the mask mandate and am not in the field of those who consider them a nuisance. The distancing is interesting, because a friend of mine shared with me the discovery that each seat is going to be buffered by the amount of empty seats to put space in between each audience-goer. This is a good safety approach but it makes me wonder a few things. One, how many people per group are going to affect the overall max capacity per theater. Are people going to like this accommodation? I've already seen comments on social media complaining about wearing a mask throughout the duration of the movie.
Two, and most curiously to me, is how is this going to affect the overall success of this movie? This distancing is going to be a big change to ticket sales, and theater capacity overall. I'm not doing the math, but if a theater has 10 screens and opens 7 of them up in this rule set, will it be the same as if it had opened up on fewer screens with no mandate in effect? This is an unknown I'm surely not the only one on, and it honestly could affect the box-office success of a massive project like this one. Will people go see this again like they may have done with The Prestige or Inception? Curiosity may bring people through those double doors but will it bring them back again given the overall watching experience?
I'm spending a lot of time speculating from my own thoughts and personal decision to avoid the movie theater experience until maybe 2021. I told you I would not make this a political or safety conversation, but that being said I think its important we all decide how comfortable we are with re-entering a crowd for the sake of entertainment. Christopher Nolan may be brilliant, or an auteur, but he's making a very deliberate and timely decision here. Whether its a success or a failure is in the movie-goer ballpark. Its a risk he's clearly willing to take.
Are we ready to re-open theaters? How do we feel about drive-ins or streaming alternate options? Feel free to discuss, debate or deliberate below!