I saw TENET last night.
Christopher Nolan is a great movie director.
The Dark Knight was a wonderful piece of movie-making: direction, script, acting.
Dunkirk was amazing on a big screen with a good sound system.
TENET looks all of its $200million budget.
But it is bollocks.
Like Inception – which was also unecessarily impenetrable – he should have gone back to an earlier, simpler version of the script – perhaps Draft 2 or Draft 3. It was probably a great idea back then.
Although I hope it didn’t include the thrown-in-quite-late bit in TENET‘s plot which echoes the six Infinity Stones of the Marvel Cinematic Universe and JRR Tolkien’s twenty Rings of Power. Maybe that was detritus left over from some discarded earlier version of the plot.
It is all very well to make intelligent or even mindless pure entertainment films which, with modern home technology, can benefit from being watched and re-watched several times, seeing more in them each time.
However, if the movie’s plot details are not intriguingly intricate but actually just bloody incomprehensible for stretches, then there is something wrong with the script.
And the problem with TENET is not just the labyrinthine impenetrability of the final script – It is the soundtrack.
Here you have the labyrinthine impenetrability of a script plus occasional added mumbling.
Christopher Nolan’s third Batman movie (The Dark Knight Rises) had the main villain mumbling through a mask. But this time it is not just one person but loads of people mumbling semi-incomprehensibly through masks and over radios and phones and, at points, having to compete with very distracting overly-complicated music which interferes with the clarity of what’s being said.
And I saw TENET in a bleedin’ IMAX!
There was a fair amount of occasional unclear muttering in TENET, but I think that was mostly because of the sound mix at those points, not the acting.
I swear Christopher Nolan probably heard everything clearly in his super duper sound mixing suite but he should maybe do what Stanley Kubrick allegedly did – go round suburban cinemas with a light meter (though there’s nothing wrong with Tenet’s visuals) and hear the soundtrack through less good speakers.
Even in IMAX, there was unclear mumbling going on.
This morning, someone who saw TENET last week in a different cinema told me: “I thought I needed a hearing aid after watching it. Couldn’t hear all the vocals. Really spoilt it – or was it done on purpose so you have to watch it more than once?”
On the good side, Kenneth Branagh was wonderful, possibly deserving of a Best Supporting Actor (or Person) Oscar nomination.
This was maybe because Branagh rarely – or relatively rarely – had to be heard through a mask, a phone or sheets of glass.
So he could be (usually but not always) clearly heard.
Clarity should be one of the main tenets – yes, tenets – of film-making – clarity of script, clarity of diction, clarity of… well, everything.
In an interview in Total Film Kenneth Branagh said he constantly had to re-read the script in order to work out the storyline: “It was like doing The Times crossword puzzle every day.”
Robert Pattinson told Esquire that, during filming: “There were months at a time where I’m like: I actually, honestly have no idea if I’m even vaguely understanding what’s happening“.
If even your cast have trouble understanding what the hell is going on, pity the poor audience, especially if they can’t hear some of the muffled dialogue.
If you wanna write a novel, write a novel. But a movie ain’t a novel.
Apparently, Christopher Nolan developed the ideas and plot of TENET over the course of twenty years and had been working on this version of the script for about six or seven years. Well, that is part of the problem.
I remember, years ago – last century – having a conversation with a fellow TV researcher about good interviewees. We agreed that the best interviewee to explain something clearly to a general audience was not an expert but a fan. If you know too much about a subject, you can’t communicate it simply and comprehensibly. You know too much. If you are a fan, you know what the key features are and why a stranger to the subject could get hooked.
In the first two or three drafts of a script, there is the raw enthusiasm for the concept.
After six or seven or twenty years into it, you are fiddling with the detail, not communicating the raw originality.
My advice. If you have been refining something for twenty years, maybe go back to the original script which had the passion and simplify your 200th draft, don’t make it even more complicated.
And, when you sound-mix, counter-intuitively, listen to it on worse speakers.
Clarity in all things.
Give the punters half a chance.