Christopher Nolan Tag

Let Them Watch Bootlegs

Let Them Watch Bootlegs

So, Christopher Nolan—which also means Warner Bros., which also means IMAX (but I’ll get to all that in a second)—has decided to release Tenet overseas next month and then in the U.S. (at least theoretically—but I’ll get to that in a second) in September.

 

By writing about this two posts in a row, it’s going to sound like I’ve got it in for Nolan. Not really, but it wasn’t my decision to make this year’s entire film market—and potentially the fate of the entire current approach to film production and distribution—

hinge on the release of his film. That seems like a situation it might be kind of important to understand.

 

Now, I don’t claim to be an expert on film distribution, and I’m assuming that all involved thought this decision through the best they could. What I do know is that we’re currently living in a world where all bets are off and where traditional expertise in any area can buy you a cup of coffee and not much else.

 

Because figuring out how to parcel out films to the masses really isn’t my métier, what follows doesn’t qualify as much more than a thought experiment. But that doesn’t mean there’s not a little bit of meat on its bones.

 

In “Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our Own) Good?” I tried to think through the implications of launching Tenet into foreign markets before the film makes it, one way or another, to American shores. At the time I wrote that piece, the “overseas first” idea was mainly just being floated as a “what if?” but it had a feeling of inevitability to it. The common response I heard was, “No 

way Tenet doesn’t get shown both here and there at the same time,” but Warner and IMAX had to have looked at the current state of the pandemic, considered the contractual obligations that said the film had to be released in theaters first, and decided to try to grab the 50% or more of the projected total gross they could reap in foreign lands.

 

There are many, many implications to all this, but there are two I want to highlight here: As I pointed out one post ago, this makes it not all but inevitable but inevitable that the U.S. will be awash in a tsunami of Tenet bootlegs the second the very first theatrical screening of the film ends. To repeat myself, this means that, with the nation savoring his opus at 360p from a proper-aspect-ratio-be-damned file surreptitiously captured off some movie screen in parts unknown, Nolan will have completely undermined his conviction that people first had to see his film in a movie theater or not at all. (Actually, they will be experiencing it in a theater first, but virtually and in the worst possible way.)

 

And—as if there wasn’t already more than enough irony here to go around—by bestowing his masterwork upon foreign theaters first, he could be primarily responsible for generating the greatest boon the piracy market has ever seen.

 

Here’s Point No. 2: I could be utterly wrong about this, but the whole “We’re going to release Tenet in the U.S. in September” part of the announcement smells like a massive exercise in butt covering. Unless the Tenet forces have access to scientific data the rest of us aren’t privy to, there is no way the virus is going to be sufficiently under control a month from now to justify opening movie theaters on any meaningful scale. Even the New York metro area, which pretty much has the situation under control and would be responsible for a large chunk of Tenet’s U.S. take, isn’t in a big hurry to reopen its theaters out of concerns they could help spawn a second wave.

 

So my potentially meaningless reading of the announcement is that they’re dead serious about releasing Tenet overseas but are being something less than truthful (now there’s a euphemism we should all learn to hate) about the prospect of the film being shown here anytime soon.

 

At the time of writing, Nolan/Warner/IMAX had, once again, decided to release Tenet to theaters. What I don’t think any living soul honestly knows for sure is when, or if, American theaters will ultimately end up being part of that equation.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our) Own Good?

Is Christopher Nolan Too Much of a Purist for His (& Our) Own Good?

Since the fate of the summer box office is hanging on it—and possibly of the box office for the foreseeable future, and maybe of the movies as we know them—most of you are probably already well aware of the ongoing saga of the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet. (If you’re not, go check out John Sciacca’s brief and to the point “Is Tenet to Die For?”)

 

Well—the date of its U.S. release has now been put on indefinite hold. Which of course creates a hell of a pickle for the other studios, who are itching to get titles like Wonder Woman 1984 into theaters, hopefully before Summer 2020 is nothing more than a troubling memory. Disney is likely to go its own way with its live-action Mulan, even though trying to lure people back into theaters any time soon will inevitably have a serious Hansel & Gretel feel to it.

All of the above could have been predicted. What’s more interesting—and telling—is that Warner Bros. is now considering releasing Tenet overseas while it continues to brood over what it wants to do about it in the U.S.

 

(Before I proceed, and in the interest of full disclosure, I should say that I’m not a Nolan fan. I find his films cold, manipulative, brutal, and condescending and think he’s the second most overrated director in Hollywood. [Actually, he and James Cameron are jockeying for the No. 2 slot.] None of that is really relevant to what I’m about to say—it just felt good to say it.)

 

Anyway—Nolan might have painted himself into a huge corner with his “My great piece of cinema called Tenet shall be released to movies theaters first or it shall not be released at all” position. If we’ve all learned one thing from the current series of rolling crises, it’s that no one can afford to cling to a single, intractable position, no matter how seemingly well founded, because unforgiving forces beyond our control will chop you off at the knees.

 

The stakes are too high, and the situation too perilous, to put your faith in any kind of orthodoxy. Only the nimble, innovative, and open-minded are likely to survive all of this relatively intact.

 

To return to the possibility that Tenet could be released in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere before it sees the light of day in the U.S.—I floated that idea a couple of months ago and was immediately shot down, being told the U.S. box office will always be No. 1 and it was inconceivable a movie that big would find a home everywhere but here. But the foreign box office can add up to at least half of a tentpole film’s haul, and better to take that and run than let what many expect to be the movie of the year sit getting moldy on the shelf.

 

And here’s where Nolan’s “A movie theater is the only 

proper place to see my film” position could become untenable. If, for the sake of honoring that position—or any contractual obligations that might be attached to it—Warner Bros. does decide to launch the film overseas first, we all know it will be bootlegged the second it hits the screen, and in the very next second will be sent streaming around the world.

 

And that means thousands and thousands of people—maybe millions—in the U.S. will first experience Tenet as a crappy illegal dub, with no possibility on the immediate horizon of seeing it under any better circumstances. Unless I’m missing something here, wouldn’t that completely undermine Nolan’s purist stance? Now, he could decide to compromise his self-anointed position as God and have the film released immediately to the U.S. home market in 4K with an Atmos soundtrack and have the vast majority of people who can appreciate the difference see it in better quality than they would experience it in a movie theater.

 

If he actually did care about the quality of the moviewatching experience and the future of the movies, Option 2 would be a no-brainer. But since he appears to be little more than an ego-driven Hollywood poseur (which I realize is a completely redundant description that could apply to practically any contemporary big-budget director), it’s more likely he’ll now just dig in the heels of his imported handmade brogues even deeper.

 

I’ve got to wonder how he feels about wearing a mask.

Michael Gaughn

Michael Gaughn—The Absolute Sound, The Perfect Vision, Wideband, Stereo Review,
Sound & Vision, The Rayva Roundtablemarketing, product design, some theater designs,
couple TV shows, some commercials, and now this.

Is “Tenet” to Die For?

Is "Tenet" To DIe For?

Christopher Nolan’s Tenet routinely gets bandied about as the tentpole to officially launch the 2020 summer movie season and herald the reopening of movie theaters. AMC initially said it would have its 1,000 theaters around the world back in operation in time for its July 17 release, but as additional waves of the virus hit, it was pushed back until July 31 . . . and then just days ago to its latest official date of August 12.

 

Disney has been keeping an eye on Tenet, and has been shuffling its own summer tentpole, the live-action version of Mulan, back to be the second major film scheduled to hit big screens, moving from its original March 27 date to July 25 and then to August 21.

 

We can glean a couple of things from this.

One, we know Nolan is a huge advocate of the theatrical experience, specifically IMAX. Remember all of his calls practically begging people to see Dunkirk in full 70mm or IMAX if at all possible? He even wrote an impassioned opinion piece for The Washington Post back in March describing how movie theaters are a vital part of American social life.

 

He is also one of the few modern directors with the clout to bend a studio to his will, and perhaps it is even in his contract that his films will debut initially in a commercial cinema—or even on IMAX screens—before any other release. Warner Bros. certainly seems willing to follow Nolan’s desire. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a studio spokesperson said, “Warner Bros. is committed to bringing Tenet to audiences in theaters, on the big screen, when exhibitors are ready and public health officials say it’s time.”

 

Second, it seems the studios have drawn a line in the sand (for now) for their major properties, and will stand firm on

releasing them theatrically . . . whenever that will be. Even it it means pushing them back a year or more.

 

Sure, we’ve seen lots of movies coming directly to home, whether as premium video-on-demand rentals or available for sale, but those have all been relatively small titles that didn’t have the revenue potential of a Tenet or Mulan (or Wonder Woman 1984, Top Gun: Maverick, the next Fast & the Furious installment . . .). A couple of notable exceptions are Disney/Pixar’s Onward and the decision to launch Hamilton on Disney+ a year ahead of its planned theatrical release date.

 

It seems unlikely we could have theaters responsibly opening by July 31, the current date planned for the Russell Crowe thriller Unhinged, let alone just a couple of weeks later for Tenet. And we don’t even know what things will look like when theaters do reopen, whether it will be to greatly reduced capacity and mandatory distancing in auditoriums, temperature checks at the door, requiring masks, limited/no concessions, etc.

 

As much as I love a night out at the movies, and want to see Tenet in the best presentation possible, I’m not ready to bet my—or your—life on it.

John Sciacca

Probably the most experienced writer on custom installation in the industry, John Sciacca is
co-owner of Custom Theater & Audio in Murrells Inlet, South Carolina, & is known for his writing
for such publications as
 Residential Systems and Sound & Vision. Follow him on Twitter at

@SciaccaTweets and at johnsciacca.com.

Dunkirk, IMAX & the Power of the Image

Since Christopher Nolan’s new movie Dunkirk is just playing in theaters, it’s going to be a while before it makes it to video. But because the movie puts tremendous emphasis on the proper presentation (which is what Rayva is all about), I thought it would be worth catching on the big screen. I wanted to see for myself what Nolan is talking about in the video clip above.

 

“I wanted to give people a really intense ride,” he says, and he accomplishes it in two waysfirst through superb storytelling, with the viewer placed front-seat center during the tragic evacuation of the Allied Forces from the coast of Dunkirk. Second through shooting the movie in the IMAX format, resulting in breathtaking cinematography.

 

About 70% of Dunkirk was shot in full IMAX while 30% was shot in 70mm, so it gave me an interesting opportunity to compare the two formats. The IMAX aspect ratio is 1.9:1 while 70mm uses the slightly wider 2:1. But the main difference between the two formats is that 70mm has 5 perforations per frame, while IMAX has 15.

 

The difference in picture quality between the formats was very noticeable. The full IMAX image was impeccably smooth and sharp, delivering long shots of stunning clarity. The 70mm was impressive but less overwhelming, with less dynamic range in the dark scenes and with a subtle grain that was completely missing from the IMAX segments of the movie. If you haven’t seen Dunkirk yet, do yourself a favor and see it in IMAX, not just in 70mm. You’ll be glad you did.

 

It will be interesting to see how the movie translates to video. I know it will be sharp. It will probably set new standards for home theater presentation. But will it have the emotional pull of seeing it on the huge screen of an IMAX theater? Maybe, if your home theater screen is big enough.

 

But the truth is that Dunkirk is so emotionally involving that after a while you’ll probably forget you’re watching a movie on video. That’s the power of great storytelling combined with brilliant technology.

—Theo Kalomirakis

Theo Kalomirakis is widely considered the father of home theater, with scores of luxury theater
designs to his credit. He is an avid movie fan, with a collection of over 15,ooo discs. Theo is the
Executive Director of Rayva.