In response to the ongoing covid-19 pandemic that, to date, has killed over 250,000 people in America alone, and kept most cinemas closed, most films skipped theaters in favor of a digital launch. In the months leading up to (and after) Tenet’s original intended release date in July, Warner Bros., IMAX, and director Christopher Nolan himself all insisted that the movie could not skip a large scale theatrical release.
Nolan and the studio’s messaging primarily pushed the idea that Tenet needed to be seen in theaters in order for audiences to get the full effect of the visually dazzling story the movie’s attempting to tell. But it was difficult not to interpret the theater push as an attempt to sure up Tenet’s box office at a time when people simply aren’t willing to risk exposure to a deadly virus to see a movie about people messing with time.
Now that Tenet’s about to be launched for digital download, and with the pandemic showing no signs of slowing down, it’d be easy to see why Nolan’s tune might have changed somewhat. But a recently-published interview from Tom Shone’s book, The Nolan Experience (via Indiewire), makes it seem as if the filmmaker might never have had all that much of an issue with people consuming his films on devices like phones and tablets.
While rhetorically asking himself whether he took issue with people watching Dunkirk on a phone, Nolan admitted that he didn’t because regardless of how a person watches a movie, assuming they’ve been inside a movie theater before, they have the ability to envision in their mind’s eye what seeing his work on the big screen would be like.
“No, I don’t. But the reason I don’t is because it’s put into these big theaters as its primary form, or its initial distribution. And the experience trickles down, to the extent where, if you have an iPad and you’re watching a movie, you carry with you the knowledge and your understanding of what that cinematic experience would be and you extrapolate that,” Nolan said. “So when you watch a TV show on your iPad, your brain is in a completely different mindset.”
Of course, digital-first releases directly cut into theater owners’ profits, and a tentpole like Tenet could have been a massive boon to the struggling industry had it actually been a box office smash. But it’s also worth noting that Nolan stood to rake in 20% of Tenet’s initial dollar gross from its theatrical release, and given the buzz around the film, that penny would have been particularly pretty.
But again, there’s still a literal pandemic ravaging the world right now, and, frankly, people prioritizing dealing with it over trips to the cinema is the right thing. You won’t have to prioritize, at least, when the film becomes available next month digitally and on Blu-ray and DVD.
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