If you’ve been following Christopher Nolan’s work for any amount of time, you’re well aware of how his films are about the concept of time itself and how that weaves into the way the story is told. To save you a headache, think of Tenet as a James Bond spy movie, following an unnamed CIA agent (John David Washington) who, following an undercover operation gone wrong, is nearly killed. During the operation, his life is saved by a backward-firing bullet, and after hours of torture by his captors, the agent chews on a CIA-issued cyanide tablet. However, he awakens to his superior (I think?), telling him of an imminent threat that hasn’t been invented yet but will destroy them if it falls into the wrong hands.
After this, he, along with his handler Neil (Robert Pattinson), embark on a world-spanning mission to track down a Russian oligarch named Andrei Sator (Kenneth Branagh) through his wife Kat (Elizabeth Debicki) and arms dealer Priya Singh (Dimple Kapadia). Avoiding spoilers, it turns out that Sator is not only sharing this tech but making it himself, and more than bullets can travel backward in time.
So, you’re probably wondering where you see the Nolan influence in this overly-formulaic spy movie. Well, I think the closest way to explain that would be is to think of it as diving into theoretical physics that we came to expect from Interstellar mixed with the action of Inception. While that action starts small with backward-firing bullets, the film soon dives straight into inverted car chases and full-scale warfare in a twilight world, with the main highlight being when we finally see the unnamed protagonist enter that world, blowing my mind in the process.
Speaking of blowing my mind, Tenet is very heavy on exposition and people existing only to explain why something can or cannot happen yet. Thus, Tenet makes itself a hard watch the first time, encouraging the viewer to watch a second, third, fourth, or even a fifth time even to understand what was going on in the film. It took me two times to even understand what Nolan was going for here, and that’s after about a dozen YouTube videos explaining what happened. So, for the average viewer, this creates the highest barrier to entry that I’ve seen in any Nolan film.
That said, Nolan’s production team is on their a-game here. As discussed in the documentary included on the Bonus Feature disc (more on that later), every part of this film is masterful on a level I haven’t seen in a movie for a long time, engineering specific processes specifically for this film, with almost all of the effects achieved in-camera.
Regardless of the technical aspects, Tenet shows a director’s strain whose obsession with a singular concept in mind. I would love it if someone at Warner Bros. Pictures or Syncopy can reign in his next project enough to the plot is simple enough to be understood the first time over but still rewards viewers on a rewatch.
Warner Home Video impresses with what I would consider the best looking Blu-ray film I have ever owned. The Blu-ray’s 1080p presentation uses every detail of the IMAX & Panavision 65mm footage with true-to-life image detail.
Even if you don’t own a 4K television, Tenet represents the same image quality you would expect to see at your favorite movie theater, with no noticeable transition from Panavision (2.20:1) to IMAX (1.78:1) aspect ratio. The only upgrade you might consider making is investing in a stupendous 4K television to watch the 4K Blu-ray.
Without the chance to compare the theatrical experience, the only experience I can give you on the audio front is the experience of watching on two completely different AV sets (the first watch was on a TCL 1080p HDTV screen with the Blu-ray being played through a 2014-era Xbox One, which had to have the 24Hz option disabled for audio to even work and the second was through a Panavision 1080p HDTV screen with the Blu-ray being played through a Samsung Blu-ray player hooked up to 4 external speakers). The best way I can describe the difference between the two is that the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio mix was balanced through the TCL HDTV, and the Samsung home entertainment system required subtitles, as well as one hand on the volume to balance out the unintelligible dialogue combined with the near-ear splitting action mix.
I would have preferred Dolby Atmos or even a 7.1 mix here. I know I only have TV speakers, headphones, and four external speakers to test it against, but any little bit helps. The highlight of the mix is composer Ludwig Göransson’s bombastic score, mainly focusing on the low-end.
Thankfully, Warner Home Video included English SDH, French, Portuguese, and Spanish subtitles as well as the occasional foreign dialogue subtitles in case you can’t make anything out.
Inside the eco-lite Vortex Blu-ray case, there is one DVD, one Blu-ray that includes the movie, and one Blu-ray with the special features (with the Blu-rays being stacked on top of each other) with unique cover art for each disc, and a slipcover based off of one of the film’s theatrical posters. The aforementioned second Blu-ray includes an hour-plus long documentary looking at Tenet’s production and all of the film’s trailers.
- Looking at the World In A New Way (1 hour, 15 minutes, and 22 seconds long) – This thirteen-part documentary provides looks at the screenwriting process, pre-production, casting, location scouting, special effects, the sets, how much of the film was shot, the editing bay, the score and sound design, and other pieces of the production. The documentary interviews director Christopher Nolan, production designer Nathan Crowley, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, producer Emma Thomas, John David Washington, Kenneth Branagh, Robert Pattinson, stunt coordinator George Cottle, special effects supervisor Scott Fisher, VFX supervisor Andrew Jackson, and many, many more. The documentary is excellently produced and provides some great insights into the film without feeling like it overstays its welcome.
- The Principle of Belief
- Mobilizing the Troupe
- The Approach
- The Proving Window
- The Roadmap
- Entropy in Action
- Traversing the Globe
- How Big A Plane?
- The Dress Code
- Constructing A Twilight World
- The Final Battle
- Doesn’t Us Being Here Now Mean It Never Happened?
- Theatrical Teaser (1:08)
- Theatrical Trailers (3 versions, 8:29 total)
When it comes down to it, if you’re a fan of Christopher Nolan or want to see Tenet, the home video release is the best way to go. I haven’t tested the digital HD release, but it’s safe to say that you are getting the best version no matter which way you watch the film.
I would recommend renting it on a physical format first before deciding to purchase for those who are not so sold on a spy film centered around the flow of time or Christopher Nolan. That way, you can test against your own AV system and decide whether you like the film enough to buy it.
Tenet will be available on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, Blu-ray, DVD, and digital platforms tomorrow.