There is a LOT many people have said about Christopher Nolan’s time-bending action adventure TENET which, like seemingly every movie right now in online discourse, has come with much derision over its reaction. Which is getting so common now that I pretty much just tell anyone to see every movie you want to see and come to your own reaction on the thing.
With that said, I very much enjoyed TENET as an overall experience, even though I truly was puzzled at a lot of it after my first viewing of the picture. It’s even more difficult to describe as it features a lead character just named The Protagonist (John David Washington) tasked with averting a potential world-ending event and getting knowledge on inversion technology to be able to go backwards in time. There are a lot of stakes involved with this and Mr. Protagonist is going to need all the help he can get, including a woman (Elizabeth Debicki) connected to a power-hungry madman (Kenneth Branagh) and a secretive guy named Neil (Robert Pattinson) who may or may not be who we think.
Still with me? No? Well that’s okay. If you are curious about Nolan’s new actioner, go check out TENET or better yet, just BUY a copy of this movie as I know you’ll want to revisit the movie multiple times. Even after several viewings, I’m finding more and more to love about the twisty storytelling. Released into theaters during the COVID pandemic, many people have still been unable to see this movie in their neck of the woods or not wishing to venture out to a theater to see it, so the home video and digital release has been eagerly awaited by many film fans.
For me, TENET is such a weird puzzle that is big, loud, running all over the place and requires you to REALLY pay attention. A fleeting shot early on comes back at the end, things that you THINK are not important turn out to be vital really are, and it’s all in such a slick, well executed production that is FAR from perfect, but still a solid entertainment.
About the 4k HDR disc:
I’m big into technical elements of movies so there is a lot to go through here. Like with THE DARK KNIGHT, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, INTERSTELLAR and DUNKIRK before it, Nolan loves to shoot a mixture of IMAX and regular film. In this case TENET is a combination of film-based IMAX (15 perf, 65mm negative) and of course, that high-resolution photography is really going to draw your eye into the frame. Since that means everything is shot with flat lenses, this gives a very wide and open feeling to nearly all of the proceedings. Hoyte Van Hoyetma’s cinematography is very careful here with a lot of long takes, wide framing making good use of staging and with this high resolution, you really feel more immersed as you can tell a LOT of people went very far to get this look on screen.
This transfer in Ultra HD in Dolby Vision, which gently crops the 15-perf IMAX footage (1.43:1 ratio) to 16×9 and retains the 5/65 footage in 2.20:1, is by far the best image I have seen so far on this format. The IMAX footage is absolutely life-like with natural colors and a brightness level that is nearly identical to the theatrical experience, and all of the 5/70 footage as well is bright, colorful and just leaps off the screen. You can clearly tell by watching it here the resolution differences in the format and the larger home screen you have and where you sit to watch it, it really simulates the theatrical screening well. And previous issues I had with “switching aspect ratios” on screen is far less distracting here with the higher-resolution 65mm footage throughout.I saw TENET in both digital IMAX and in 5-perf 70mm and it really brought memories of those screenings back.
I did another quick experiment and loaded the digital copy of the movie into Google Play, which is only in 1080p high-def, but the entire feature is in the 2.20:1 aspect ratio…and it too looks great! It’s pretty amazing to see how well the IMAX footage cropped into this wider format, and it makes me wish there was a 4k HDR version of this as well! (Note that the included Blu-Ray in this package also has the same IMAX to 5/70 version)
(EDIT: As of February 2021, Google Play upgraded a lot of titles in existing libraries to 4k HDR. TENET was one of these titles and in a surprise, they retained the 2.20:1 framing throughout. So if you pick up this release and redeem the Google Play code, you will now own a 4k widescreen version which replicates the 5/70mm prints!)
As for the somewhat controversial soundtrack which garnered a lot of complaints from people on its loud mixing and difficult dialogue, I felt it played much better on this disc than in theaters, oddly enough. As Nolan is not a fan of too many channels in its soundtrack, TENET is only in 5.1 surround and VERY front heavy, with limited use of surrounds as per usual on his mixes. The front soundstage IS loud here, and hey, it’s my home theater so I can adjust the levels as I want. With that said, I ran this pretty loudly on my home system and dialogue was MUCH more clear even though I alsoI ran the English CC track (I really wish there was JUST an English subtitle track without the caption element here) and I must admit some of those sequences where characters were talking through masks were a bit more easy to understand this time around.
As it appears both the 4k and Blu Ray discs have the maximum capacity devoted to the transfer of the feature, the special features come on a separate Blu Ray disc. All of the theatrical trailers for TENET are included here; my favourite one by far is the minute only teaser-trailer which retains a heavy 70mm print look.
The main star here is a near feature-length documentary on the making of TENET featuring the usual behind the scenes footage, interviews intercut with film clips (along with some IMAX raw footage which I found VERY interesting). All of this is produced well and you have the option to run particular chapters of interest or play the whole thing through; of course I recommend doing the latter. Some of the clips were already shown before screenings of the INCEPTION re-release in 2020, so it’s nice to see even more of this well made behind the scenes footage. And if you are a techie like me, you’ll love the many sequences involving IMAX, 70mm and even projecting dailies footage which was a highlight.
The 4k transfer of the feature on disc is ALONE worth the price of purchase, but TENET itself I found immensely entertaining even though it confused the heck out of me at times. Seeing it on home video again really did open my eyes to some more of the story, its conflicted characters and the overall questions it asks about our mortality and place in the world. It’s far from perfect and not one of Nolan’s best movies, yet this is still a terrific presentation of the movie and one that I will return to many times.
Movie Rating: ***½ out of ****
Disc Rating: **** out of ****
TENET is now available on 4k/Blu Ray along with separate releases on Blu-Ray and DVD. It is also available on all streamers, including a 4k HDR version on Apple TV, Google Play (as of February 2021) and The Cineplex Store. Many thanks to Warner Bros. Canada for sending along a copy for review.
Note: this review has been updated to reflect format changes on Google Play.