HE has invaded dreams in Inception, recreated Dunkirk, and made a hero out of a man in a rubber suit in The Dark Knight. Now British director Christopher Nolan faces his toughest task yet – rescuing cinema from the gaping maw of Covid-19.

His new film, the science fiction/espionage thriller Tenet, arrives in cinemas today. It is being touted as the blockbuster that can bring socially-distanced audiences back in the sort of numbers that will make the industry viable again.

Mooky Greidinger, chief executive of Cineworld, has called the release of Nolan’s film “a turning point”. Showcase Cinemas reported a 75% rise in ticket sales for Tenet over the weekend. After Tenet comes Marvel’s Black Widow (October 28), and the new Bond movie (November 12).

Cinema was one of the first industries to go into lockdown and one of the last out. Scotland only gave the go-ahead for the doors to open again in July.

With no major titles in the offing, some cinemas opted to stay dark and wait for Tenet. Others have rerun audience favourites such as Star Wars, Mamma Mia and Jurassic Park. The Glasgow Film Theatre will reopen on August 31 with Tenet.

Going to the cinema has been high on the list of post-lockdown desires, but it comes with concerns. Audiences will be socially distanced and masked, and staff will apply the by now familiar hygiene protocols. Yet as director Oren Moverman told Variety recently: “There is the science and there is the psychology. When are people going to feel safe?”

Much has altered while cinemagoers have been away. During the lockdown some major studios put their forthcoming releases on ice. Others sent films straight to streaming and video on demand (VoD) instead of waiting to give cinemas the usual three month theatrical window.

First to break from the pack was Universal with Trolls World Tour. Disney will release Mulan on its own channel on September 4.

Cinemas fear that if the window of exclusivity is shortened, or abandoned, their profits will be hit, not least those from the sale of food and drink.

Both Cineworld and Odeon banned Universal films in the wake of Trolls. But shutting out Universal would mean closing the door to the new Bond – unthinkable in the current climate.

Dr Andy Dougan, lecturer in film and television studies at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, believes cinema has a future, but there will be big changes. For a start, the gulf between blockbusters and independent movies will become wider.

“With cinemas being restricted to about 50% capacity that is going to mean a two-tier system. There will be the blockbusters, which will fill the multiplexes, but the issue is whether you want to show indie/arthouse films in this environment.

"If you can only get 50% of your custom in then you are going to need to sell every available seat for every performance and that’s a big ask.”

The natural home for independent movies will be streaming platforms such as Netflix and Amazon, said Dr Dougan. He thinks other studios will follow the example of Universal and shrink the window of theatrical exclusivity.

“It’s the way to go. Most films are dead in the water after three weekends so it makes sense to move them on VoD. Ironically this may free up screens to take a chance on less commercial fare or reruns of classics. The issue is the VoD price point – it has to be high enough to value the ‘exclusivity’ but low enough to be affordable.”

Like millions of movie lovers he would hate to think cinema could be on the way out due to Covid-19.

“What will be lost is that collective experience. Since prehistoric times when we huddled round a campfire to hear the storyteller recount the oral history of the tribe, we are hard-wired to experience stories collectively.”


Tenet (12A)


Dir: Christopher Nolan

With: John David Washington, Robert Pattinson, Elizabeth Debicki, Kenneth Branagh

Runtime: 150 minutes

HERE it is then, the one to lead the cinema-starved hordes out of the light and into darkness again. Will it be all you desire? It depends what you are after.

The tale opens in thrilling style with a terrorist attack on a packed concert hall in the Ukraine. Special forces are drafted in, among them a character known only as the Protagonist. Having distinguished himself in action, the Protagonist is given a new mission - save the world. 

Armed only with a code word - Tenet - and a locked fingers gesture, he naturally seeks clarification. We’re trying to prevent World War Three, some science type tells him. 

“Nuclear holocaust?” asks the Protagonist. 

“No, something worse.”

Blimey, not England winning the world cup again?

Turns out there is a new cold war going on, one that is being fought “beyond real time”. Someone in the future wishes the planet ill, but how can anyone in the present stop him? 

So we go down the rabbit hole with writer-director Nolan. He certainly serves up the full cinematic experience. The first thing you notice is how LOUD everything is. Ludwig Goransson’s heart-pounding soundscape is the backdrop to thrilling car chases, shoot-outs with bullets flying backwards, explosions, and a fight involving a cheese grater (really). This is Nolan on typically spectacular form. Who needs Netflix on the telly now? 

The cast is first class, from relative newcomer John David Washington as the Protagonist to his crime-fighting partner Neil (Robert Pattinson). Acting everyone else off the screen is Kenneth Branagh as a megalomaniac Russian oligarch, with Elizabeth Debicki as his cowed wife. 

All terrific, but then we come to the story. A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma is just the start of it. Adding to the confusion is dialogue that for long stretches is impossible to make out. There is clever, and there is too clever by half. Nolan’s tale is the latter, and his picture is poorer for it.