Last week we were graced with a new titillating trailer for Christopher Nolan’s upcoming mind-bender, Tenet. I viewed it just as the auteur had intended, via Fortnite. (Sorry, that’s still funny to me.) I am once again fascinated by Nolan’s own fascination with time. I’d like to think that if Nolan weren’t a writer-director extraordinaire, he’d be an excellent watchmaker.
Missing from the trailer this time around is any mention of the film’s release date, instead brandishing the tag: “Coming to theaters.” It appears Warner Bros. is crossing fingers these next few weeks, monitoring economic forecasts as counties, states, and other countries slowly begin to ease restrictions. Nolan, backed by the studio and an at-risk cinema state, is doing his utmost to save his medium’s exhibition by making good on Tenet’s summer tentpole release. But with a still-rising death count, new safeguards in place, and warnings of a second wave, it’s not a question of will Tenet come out this summer, but should it?
You’re looking at someone who spends roughly a third of his social life in movie theaters. If I’m not joined by fellow film dweebs, then I am shoved into seeing Frozen II a third time by my daughter. Or I shamelessly go on my own. (Too many of you don’t know the joy of seeing movies by yourself AND IT SHOWS.) I, more than anything, miss the dim cathedral of the theater and would very much like to bask in that sweet (and borderline corrosive) smell of butter, comforted by worn-out carpet and noisy leather chairs.
I’d run to the box office in a heartbeat, that is… when it’s safe to do so.
It’s been not at all safe to do so. Studios acted swiftly and necessary since the start of the pandemic: Fast 9 being delayed a full year; A Quiet Place II and Mulan removing themselves from the foreseeable docket, with Black Widow and Wonder Woman 1984 following the dominoes. After all, the very communal viewing of movies is the opposite of social distancing.
2 months into quarantine and now facing summer, there’s been a gradual reopening of retailers, restaurants, bars, gyms, and churches, all of which have to operate under the “new normal” banner of social distancing guidelines. Movie theaters appear to be next in the reported second phase reopening.
Now, when I saw the proposed modified seating for air-travel, I saw innovation. There should ALWAYS be a buffer-seat on airplanes to discourage the phenomena of “row buddies.” (For some of us, listening to music uninterrupted on a plane IS the vacation.) Then I saw how gyms would have to be similarly modified, and restaurants shoving us into Will Smith’s I Am Legend timeline. And then I saw a priest baptizing a baby with a holy water gun. Some changes are inspired. Others CLEARLY could use more workshopping.
Perhaps movie theaters could reopen under similar guidelines: buffer seats in between patrons—or entire buffer rows, plexiglass separating moviegoers, modified lines at the concession stand, with everyone urged to continue wearing face masks. Drive-in theaters offer a semblance of a solution, but that assumes every county can effectively and safely operate the venue. The question remains: should movie theaters reopen now?
Because some of these safeguards aren’t exactly 100% safe. As businesses reopen, more clusters are emerging even with prevention measures imposed. And I find myself asking, do I really want to don gloves and a face mask, get my temperature checked at the door, and sit encased in plexiglass just so I can enjoy the theater experience? Is the sanctity of cinema worth the risks of the new normal? I can’t even fathom taking my daughter to the movies knowing that doing so could potentially put her health at risk.
The theater is everything to me, but going to see a movie should not be a risk.
I appreciate Nolan’s and Warner Bros.’ attempts to get cinemas reopened and kickstart theater chains. I know where Nolan is coming from. He’s not being callous about human life; he’s doing this to preserve cinema’s cherished space, one that is facing extinction the longer this pandemic goes on. But this continued talk of getting Tenet released as soon as possible also strikes me as a tad irresponsible. Because the reality is that it’s too soon to conduct box office business as usual, not when counties like LA have extended the lockdown order for another 3 months, and ESPECIALLY when threats of a second wave loom on the horizon.
With Wonder Woman 1984’s delay until August – an admirable target date, but still seems a slim chance – Warner Bros. had an ace-in-the-hole. By not budging on Tenet’s release, the studio gave themselves an opportunity to profit should restrictions begin to lift— and profit immensely seeing as all other summer competition has removed themselves from the equation. I don’t see Tenet being dropped on HBO Max, and I doubt Warner Bros. would consider a staggered theatrical release by way of individual counties as opposed to whole regions. At this point, believing things will return to pre-coronavirus “normal” by July 17 isn’t just wishful thinking, but dangerous to imply.
Universal Studios made the tough but right choice in postponing Fast 9’s release for a full year. Warner Bros. isn’t gonna like it either, but we’re not supposed to be liking any of this. Two months hasn’t softened much; the coronavirus pandemic remains a wholly unprecedented event that will continue to affect us in more ways to come.
Believe me, I want to order an overpriced soft drink and dip my hands in butter-drenched popcorn. I want to see Tenet, and I want to sit in a theater again. But these personal wants do not supersede the wellbeing of everyone in my community. This is not hard nor a sacrifice on my part when there are very real sacrifices made every day in hospitals, clinics, shelters, by medical workers on the front lines and the lives of those affected.
Spike Lee said it best. Unless Nolan or Warner Bros. can create a vaccine with widescale production all before July 17, I’m afraid Tenet will have to wait like the rest of us.