[Tenet] Release Date: A Christopher Nolan Production

In case you haven’t heard, Tenet, Christopher Nolan’s new film, is now set to be released on July 31st (for now). The waffling and wavering of when Tenet will be released amidst a movie theater shutdown has been one of the few pieces of movie news worth discussing. It is either that or the sporadic release of decent VOD films, and Netflix originals.

When COVID hit and film after film was delayed until late in the year, everyone seemed to wonder why Nolan hadn’t yet delayed the release of Tenet. There was never a chance it would be in theaters on its original date of July 17th.  Only a moron would think that a movie, in this climate, could be released on July 17th. Only a fool would wait this long to delay the inevitable.

But there was the genius. Why shouldn’t he wait? This is not a time dependent problem, at least not for a big money film like Tenet with a god-sized marketing budget. When not worried about spending more on advertising, the only consequence from being last to move your movie release date, is that people talk about your movie and its release date. Oh the horror! Get behind me free advertising!

So now people are decrying that they didn’t move it back far enough. And maybe they are right… I guess we will have to discuss Tenet and its release date for another month while we wait and see. 

HOWEVER… if the naysayers are wrong, and Tenet is able to release on the 30th before everyone else, Christopher Nolan gets every movie-theater in America all to himself along with an entire country chomping at the bit for something to do. I am not a man blessed with large intelligence, but even I can see a win-win when it kicks me in the balls.

It’s a genius maneuver. Making movie fans lick their chops at the possibility of seeing a film in theaters, and making those who ‘know better’ shout from the rooftops about how it won’t happen. Either way, everyone’s talking about Tenet. So I thought I might join in the conversation with a prediction of my own.

My prediction has nothing to do with when we see the film. Instead I want to predict the reaction when we do finally get to see it. Because, to be honest, these antics for publicity, the clear desire of Nolan to have theaters showing Tenet and Tenet alone, and the trailers for the film, have me worried. I think Nolan may have whiffed… And I think he may have whiffed at the worst time.

Nolan has always had critics, but they seem to have grown in number and confidence as of late. Don’t ask me why, or what their main gripes are. I hear a variety of opinions- I understand each individual complaint but disagree with the conclusion that Nolan isn’t a top tier filmmaker right now. 

His films are original, they are well-made, they are fun, they make viewers think, they have meaning, and they are consistent. I don’t believe the frustrating expository dialogue, the time theme, and the overwrought plots are enough to overcome those positive attributes, but for some they do. And that’s cool. Stories are great because we can all like our own things.

But my fear (based weakly on what I have seen thus far) is that Tenet will be an amalgamation of all the traits people don’t like about Nolan. The confusing layering of The Prestige, the ambiguity of Inception, the hard to follow time bending of Dunkirk, the shoe-horned exposition of The Batman Trilogy all rolled into one film. And if Nolan were to make that specific Frankenstein’s movie, it would be genuinely bad.

Part of the joys of modern communication is that fans can yay or nay anything they want, and I don’t think that the collective voice of Twitter or blogs could deter Nolan from making future films of whatever type he wants, action or otherwise. But from a personal view, I don’t like the collective naying of non-masterpiece movies. Most movie-goers recognize that there is something special about a Moonlight or Parasite or Birdman that make it an award-winning masterpiece that film majors can oo and aaah about for years to come. I have done my own bit of ooo-ing and aaaah-ing myself.

However, I am not a film critic. I didn’t go to film school, I don’t consume movies like I’m Tarantino, and I get more excited for Nolan-esque films than Best Picture contenders. I like films that add an emphasis on intrigue and fun over commentary and directorial perfection. 

I treasure moments like watching Unstoppable in theaters and being surprised at how invested I got in a train as a villain. I love that I saw Superman Returns three times in theaters (even though it wasn’t amazing) because I had three groups of friends that wanted to see it at different times. I was amped while watching Avatar on opening night in 3D with a packed crowd. I remember the feeling of seeing Inception on Imax and settling in as the waves washed over Cobb. 

And as those moments accumulate, I get more excited for those types of films because they capture a spirit theater-going that I enjoy so much. The spirit that was born (more recently) out of movies like Jaws and Die Hard and The Usual Suspects. Good, quality, unique movies that we will replay until the day we die. Do they have flaws? Sure! Should they have won Oscars? Some! But we don’t need to cancel every movie that we can find a problem with. We can enjoy films that won’t be on the 2050 version of Turner Classic Movies.

So here is to hoping Tenet is good. Not so that critics won’t attack it. Because they certainly can, and there will be people who hate it no matter what. But here’s to hoping, that in a period of questioning the necessity of going to theaters, in a time when we all need the type of release a fun movie can provide, we all can make another movie moment where we went back to theaters after a global pandemic and saw this fun, original movie, and really loved it.

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