Tenet (2020) Tag

I Rented an Entire Theater to See “Tenet”

I Rented an Entire Theater to See "Tenet"

I’ve been following the start-stop, herky-jerky release plans for Christopher Nolan’s Tenet from the get-go. Ordained as the film that was going to re-open commercial cinemas and save them from the ravages of COVID-19, Nolan and Warner Brothers were hellbent on giving Tenet a theatrical release—PVOD streaming be damned!—even when US theaters weren’t fully ready to reopen. So the film took the unusual approach of opening internationally prior to its official run here in the States

starting on September 3.

 

As a fan of Nolan’s creative time-twisting work (Memento, Inception, Dunkirk), I was eager to see if Tenet lived up to the hype, and seeing it in a commercial cinema was the natural consummation of my relationship with this film. Unfortunately, my wife just wasn’t comfortable with the idea of sitting in a movie theater for nearly three hours with a bunch of strangers, regardless of how much the theaters were touting new enhanced cleaning procedures.

 

The solution? Rent out the entire theater for my own private Tenet watch party!

 

Besides solving my dilemma of wanting to watch Tenet in the theater, the proposition of having the whole theater to myself for a tentpole film on opening weekend seemed like a baller-move just too big to pass up.

 

In actuality, it wasn’t that expensive. To entice people back to the cinema, Cinemark is offering special Private Watch Party pricing ranging from $99 to $175 based on location and movie selection. Renting out a theater to watch Tenet only cost me $163.24, including all taxes and fees. For that, you get the place to yourself and can have as many as 20 guests in your party. Seating starts 15 minutes prior to the show, and you even get special pricing on concessions. (A large popcorn is “only” $5, large fountain drinks are $3.50, and candy is $2.50.)

 

As you can imagine, after months in lockdown, getting 20 

friends together to see a movie in a commercial theater and have some sense of normality back in their lives took about as long as copying and pasting, “Hey, I rented out a movie theater to watch Tenet. You want to come see it?” into a text.

 

Once our party was all together, I showed the theater staff a QR code on my phone and they let us in. Our auditorium had about 45 loungers in it, and we were free to sit wherever we wanted.

 

Our showing started promptly at 5:15, beginning with trailers for Dune, Wonder Woman 1984, and Judas and the Black Messiah. Following that was a brief ad extolling the virtues of seeing big movies on big screens—a bit reminiscent of the 

ads on Blu-ray discs telling you how great Blu-ray discs are (I mean, I was in the theater to see this ad, so it felt a bit like preaching to the choir)—followed by a brief spot extolling all the enhanced measures Cinemark was taking to ensure that its theaters are clean, safe, and comfortable.

 

The messaging certainly suggested that Cinemark is doing what it can to make the moviegoing experience as safe as possible, but we weren’t there to see if they actually cleaned our auditorium before our seating and didn’t stick around to see whether they fully disinfected it after it was over. There were sanitizing stations around, and all employees—and moviegoers—are required to wear masks. They also really tout the new “3-point air-quality standard” with advanced circulation, filters, and ionization. But beyond the theater not having any odor—or ever
feeling stuffy—I really just have to take them at their word on this as well.

 

Honestly, besides literally having the auditorium to ourselves, the entire building felt empty. I don’t think we saw more than a half-dozen people who weren’t in our group. Another part of the safe opening is staggered showtimes, creating larger windows between people exiting and entering.

 

So, if you’re hesitant about being around crowds, that might not even be an issue right now. Another part of nearly every theater’s safe reopening includes limited seating in auditoriums, such as automatically blocking off the seats next to your

I Rented an Entire Theater to See "Tenet"

party. (Rows ahead and behind in our theaters are already separated by more than six feet, but I understand these are blocked as well when necessary.) And, of course, if you don’t want to be around others, the Private Watch Party is the perfect solution.

 

Then, trailers and messaging out of the way, it was time for Tenet!

I’m going to keep this totally spoiler-free for two reasons. One, Tenet is an experience you should be able to have unspoiled, and, two, the film is so complex and twisty and mentally fatiguing and confounding, I’m not actually sure I understood it well enough to spoil it! Just as no one could be told what The Matrix was, no one can easily explain and summarize exactly what Tenet is.

 

Apparently, Nolan has been crafting Tenet for years, saying he deliberated on the film’s central ideas for over a decade and then took more than five years to write the screenplay. With all of that time to weave the story, plot, and world of Tenet, expecting to unpack and process it all in one viewing is an overly ambitious goal, especially with sensory overload happening in many scenes and overlooking small details you aren’t aware are important. If Nolan’s desire was to get people to see his movie in a commercial cinema—preferably on an IMAX screen—he could truly be the savior of the commercial cinema, as it will take multiple viewings to fully take in and comprehend this film.

 

True to its palindromic title, Tenet plays with time, moving backwards and forwards, sometimes at the same time. I often found myself watching the action unfolding not totally sure what was happening but marveling at the time some of these scenes must have taken in editing and post-production to get just right.

 

After the film, our group stood in the lobby and parking lot for some time with lots of, “Why did this happen?” and “What was going on here?” and “What do you think this meant?” I don’t visit Reddit, but I can only imagine that Tenet is blowing up the boards there with deep fan-based discussion of what the film is all about.

 

It’s as if Tenet saw how deep and layered Inception was—with people still debating whether the top is spinning or not—and said, “Hey, Inception. You think you had a complex plot? Hold my beer.”

 

If you have that one friend who is always confused by film plots, asking what is happening, do not take them—their head will explode.

 

Ideally, Tenet would come with a detailed Wiki and walkthrough prepared by Nolan, to guide you through the layered world with tips on what to look for, key dialogue to pay attention to, and objects (or colors) in the background to be aware of. Having only seen it once, I can only speculate on what things would be noticed and understood on the second or third viewing.

 

Tenet is a cool, slick, fast-paced film that travels the globe to exotic locations. It features car chases, elaborate heists, massive gun battles, and huge set pieces. I’m not sure it is a fun film to watch, but it is definitely an interesting and deeply cerebral film. Nolan doesn’t dumb it down, spell things out for the masses, or try to offer any overly helpful exposition.

 

One thing that definitely didn’t help with understanding the film is the sound mix. Music and effects are often playing quite loud, even when characters are talking. Compounding that is the fact that characters are often wearing masks, making the dialogue exasperatingly difficult to understand. Removing the ability to understand lines of dialogue at key moments takes an already complex plot and puts it up on Legendary mode. I’m hoping they do some remixing for the home release, but if nothing else, you might get more out of Tenet by being able to watch it with subtitles turned on. 

 

Featuring a strong cast that includes John David Washington (Denzel’s son), Robert Pattinson (whose performance made me believe he can pull off Batman), Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh, Himesh Patel, and a wonderful (but short) scene with Michael Caine, performances are solid throughout.

 

Now that it’s finally here and showing in commercial cinemas, I’m not sure Tenet fully lives up to all the hype and expectation that had been heaped upon it, or that we’ll ever fully understand all of its intricacies, subtleties, and meanings, but it is the first summer blockbuster to come to theaters, and if you have the means to safely see it, it certainly makes for an interesting two-and-a-half hours for sure. And remember, what’s happened’s happened.

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.

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry Sonnenfeld is the undisputed master of the puckish fairytale. Anyone who knows him mainly from Men in Black might think he specializes in effects-driven sci-fi films. But the one thread that runs through his entire body of work—from The Addams Family to Get Shorty to Wild Wild West to the first live-action Tick series to Big Trouble to Pushing Daisies to A Series of Unfortunate Events—is the sense of someone standing just off camera eager to tell you a very tall, very droll, and often surprisingly bittersweet tale. That quality lends his work a sense of both irony and intimacy that super-sized space operas usually lack.

 

It also helps to explain why you can almost always find not just the Men in Black franchise, but the Addams Family films and Get Shorty playing somewhere on cable. There’s a comfortable consistency to his work that’s allowed him to always draw an audience, whether he’s creating for movies or TV.

 

Barry in person displays the same droll and sometimes acerbic tendencies as his output. More candid in his observations about the movie industry than most mainstream directors, he’s not afraid to occasionally chomp on the hand that feeds him. And, unlike most directors, he doesn’t just talk the talk when it comes to considering how people experience his work at home but has been deeply involved in the creation of his own home theaters.

 

Knowing he’d have a unique take on how Hollywood is faring during the pandemic, I was lucky enough to catch up with Barry for a few minutes as he was settling into his new hometown of Vancouver and about to begin pre-production on a new series—which we’ll discuss in more detail in Part 2.

—Michael Gaughn

Would you agree that there’s never been another time even remotely like this in the history of film or TV production?

Well, yes, there’s never been a situation like this before. What’s interesting to me is that the downfall of feature-film product actually started several years ago when the studios decided to make mainly movies based on IPs, whether they be sequels or huge books or comic books. What happened was that marketing became so expensive that if they had to spend between $50

and $100 million to market a movie, they’d rather spend $100 to $200 million to actually make a movie. Even if you make a good movie for $20 million, it’s still going to cost $50 million to market it.

 

So the movie business became a blockbuster-only business. And what that did is it sent any interesting scripts or concepts that weren’t big-budget IP, “I can only see this in a movie theater” kinds of movies to television.

 

In addition, Netflix has become so successful and has led to all these other streaming services—Amazon Prime, Hulu, Disney+, HBO Max—so fewer and fewer movies are being made for theatrical distribution. And even in those cases, it will only be very expensive, very VFX-laden movies. You see fewer and fewer small, interesting art movies going to movie theaters. Especially when you consider that the Motion Picture Academy is now accepting movies that are on streamers to be considered for nominations as feature films as long as they’ve been on in a short window in theaters.

 

COVID obviously has exacerbated this massive shift by a factor of 10. I think AMC and all of these other theater chains are basically going to have to go into the real-estate business and find ways to sell off their properties, because I don’t see that they’ll continue to need nearly as many theaters as they presently have.

 

Did you see the recent announcement from AMC and Universal?

Yes. AMC is cutting their exclusive-release window down to 

19 days, which favors only those movies that people want to see on the big screen instead of in their homes—the ones that require them to see them immediately so they can brag to all their friends that they saw the new Star Wars or Marvel movie or whatever.

 

Now, the theater chains hadn’t done a good job for the previous 20 years of maintaining their theaters, of creating an experience worthy of getting a babysitter, going to the theater, paying for parking or paying for a subway or a cab. So, until half a dozen years ago, the theaters could be blamed for their own decline because they didn’t realize they needed to not only make it an experience based on the size and scope of the movie but also on the experience of actually being in a movie theater. They overcharged for popcorn, they didn’t clean the theater between shows. They’ve started to come around; they’ve

just been very late. But now there are those draft-house and art-house theaters that have food delivery and waiter service.

 

But theaters have been in the candy store business as much as the theatrical release business. They probably make a higher percentage of their income from selling food, water, etc. than from ticket sales, because right off the bat, the theater gives half of 

Barry on home theaters vs. movie theaters

the money back to the studio. A $10 ticket only grosses them $5. So it’s not a great business, and I think COVID is going to really change that theatrical experience for, at a minimum, the next 18 months. I don’t know how theaters stay in business with their massive real-estate investments until then.

 

Do you have any thoughts on the whole situation with Christopher Nolan and Tenet?

I haven’t been following it that much. Is it Warner Brothers?

 

And IMAX. The claim is that they’ll be able to make the film available in theaters to 80% of the U.S. population by September 3rd, even if they can’t open in California or New York.

I’ll be frank with you, I don’t understand how they think they will be releasing Tenet in three weeks to all those IMAX theaters. Second of all, unless IMAX has changed, I don’t particularly like the format. The screen seemed to be 1:66 in ratio—they’re not 1:85, although you can crop them for 1:85. Also, I never thought the IMAX sound system was particularly good. For me,

RealD—they’re high-end, premier theaters—are a better movie-going experience than IMAX. They have better sound, their screens are the right aspect ratio.

 

I think a lot of the Tenet thing is hype and perception more than reality. I don’t see how Nolan’s movie could be released to 80% of the country. But what do I know?

 

Beyond Tenet, you’ve got Wonder Woman 1984, the Fast & Furious sequel

Top Gun.

 

Right. There are probably a dozen tentpole or nearly tentpole films they may not be able to release until next spring at the earliest. Is there a risk that these will just feel over-hyped and out of date by the time they actually put them out there? Are they missing an opportunity by not just going PVOD with some of these titles?

There are several costs, including the interest costs on all these movies. The longer they hold a movie, the more they’re paying in interest on it because they’ve already laid out $200 million and they’re not getting any of that money back in. Perhaps there will be either a COVID vaccine, or rapid testing where for 15 minutes while you’re waiting on line, you do your tests and then you’re allowed into the theater. I wish there was some other venue.

 

What’s really funny is it’s bringing back drive-in movie 

Barry Sonnenfeld on Pause, Pt. 1

Barry recently published his autobiography, which describes his journey from shooting movies for
the Coen brothers, Penny Marshall, Rob Reiner,
and others to creating his own hit films

theaters. The problem with drive-ins used to be the sound more than the picture—although they never could get the image bright enough. In fact, I don’t think they could ever show The Godfather at drive-ins, or any movie shot by Gordon Willis, because they couldn’t get the print bright enough.

 

But the biggest problem used to be terrible sound, with those wired speakers that you hung on your car window. Now they’ve gone to broadcasting the sound on a narrow FM channel.

 

I don’t know how you get 400 people into a movie theater. And I do question whether or not in a year from now when Top Gun is released and everyone’s had a year to pirate it and find other ways to get copies of it, if it will have the same sort of cachet.

 

They’re going to release Tenet overseas this month before it opens here in September—if it opens in September. That means the entire planet’s going to be awash in bootlegs before it ever gets near the U.S.

Well, I don’t know what percentage of the U.S. market will want to see movies like Tenet, etc., etc. on a bootleg copy with Italians coughing in the foreground. Unless it’s good bootlegs done by projectionists or that kind of stuff. I think that’s a small problem, but, again, if the movie is already out there, it’s sort of damaged goods to a certain extent. That’s why the streamers are in a really great place right now because people don’t want to leave their homes yet, unless it’s for political reasons.

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.

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.