Ways To See TENET in Theaters (From Digital to Film Stock to IMAX)

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Hey everyone, Jack Drees here! I cannot believe I’m saying this, but for real this time, “Tenet” is almost here! The signs have been lighting up! Marketing has been increasing! Theaters have been opening! Sure, there are some key areas that may miss out on “Tenet” for now, but who’s to say markets like those can’t get the movie down the road? Nevertheless, this is something I have been looking forward to since last year, and it is finally here! I feel like a kid on Christmas!

For those of you who know anything about cinemas, there are some basic facts that can easily be picked up. For example, no matter what you are watching, it is usually on a big screen with high tech surround sound, but today, we are going to talk about one of the biggest movies of the year, and while we are not that far into the 2020s yet, I’ll go as far as to say it’s probably going to end up being one of the biggest and possibly defining films of the entire decade. That film my friends, is Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet,” which I have discussed on Scene Before in the past. In fact, I cannot think of many other movies that I have discussed more before it came out aside from a few “Star Wars” flicks. In the trailers for “Tenet,” there’s a lot that can be picked up. For example, it is shot on IMAX film, which is often claimed to be the highest quality shooting format in existence, which also happens to be the highest quality projection format in existence. We’ll talk more about that in just a sec…

You may be thinking, is “Tenet” worth seeing in a theater? Now, don’t take my word for it, because I myself have not sat down in a theater to watch “Tenet.” And thanks to the spreading of COVID-19, almost nobody else in the world has gotten the opportunity to do such a thing either. This movie was originally supposed to release on July 17th of this year! What is that that ten eras ago or something? I think dinosaurs were still around when “Tenet” was supposed to come out! But, keeping that in mind, there are a couple things that you should know about “Tenet.”

  1. This film is directed by Christopher Nolan, who typically goes all out and advocates for the theatrical experience. If Warner Bros. were to kick “Tenet” away from its current release date, there is one thing that they WOULDN’T do, which is put the movie directly to home-based platforms. Nolan does not make his movies to be viewed at home. After all, when you spend over $200 million on this movie, putting all the biggest tech into it, why would you not put it into theaters?
  2. “Tenet” is being shot entirely through old-fashioned, heavy-duty 65mm film, some vertical and some horizontal. Again, I mentioned how this film was shot with IMAX, that is part of the 65mm process. The rest of the movie is shot on Panavision cameras which support the same format just in a vertical direction as opposed to IMAX’s unusual horizontal film stock. The film used to shoot “Tenet” is high quality and will look detailed on a big screen.
  3. Aside from high tech, “Tenet” also packs in a high concept. While much of the plot to “Tenet” currently remains secret, it involves time inversion (not to be confused with time travel), meaning that the movie will contain scenes where characters have to go backwards in time. There is also an international espionage plot moving everything along. Speaking of big, this movie was shot in seven countries.

As I’ve stated on this blog in the past, my most “anticipated” film of 2020 is “Dune,” which may be subject to change if it gets pushed back and that sort of thing, but who knows? Although, if there is currently a film that I want to see come out and succeed right now, “Tenet” would be my #1 answer. “Tenet” has a lot going for it both from tech and story. And I encourage you all to see it (that is, if you feel safe going out in August or September depending on where you live). But if you were to see it, you may overlook something… Where do you go see it? Well, here’s some options…

Digital (Resolution: Varies, typically 2K, 4K)

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If you have been to one to ten movie theater experiences in the past decade, there is a good chance that at least one of them, if not a majority, have been in digital. This is the industry standard as the equipment used is light, environmentally friendly, and maybe also because James Cameron wanted this to be the big projection standard for 2009’s “Avatar.” 3D is much more common on modern digital projection. Just for the record, “Tenet” is shot entirely in 2D, and will not be converted to 3D. To this day, all of Nolan’s films had no relation to 3D shooting or 3D projection. But this projection is basically what you’d be able to find your local multiplex like an AMC or Regal. This is not to say that mom and pop theaters don’t have it, but if you walk into a big chain theater, this is what you would find in almost every auditorium. It’s clear, bright (except when someone doesn’t know what to do when changing the filter for 3D), and like everything else in this 21st century society, computerized. Unlike film, this will allow for no scratched, tampered, or deteriorated images. If you want to go see “Tenet” and get a bang for your buck, see it in a digital theater. Keep in mind, the projection equipment may vary and the resolution may be better in some places than others. This is a very broad category, so be wise with your theater decision.

35mm (Digital equivalent: Approx. 6K)

Before digital projection of all kinds took over, the main source for projection during moviegoing happened to be 35mm. While many theaters have gotten rid of it for the digital projection you see today, many arthouse style theaters tend to have this format. In fact, I’ve seen two presentations in 35mm within the past year or so. To specify, “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood” and “Little Women.” While I will admit one movie happened to be significantly more entertaining than the other, both looked crisp on the big screen. Given how 35mm is nearly equal to digital’s 6K, it is clearer than a vast majority of digital options on the cinema market today. Given how Nolan’s film was shot on 70mm however, some detail will be lost when projected. Which leads me to…

70mm (Digital equivalent: Approx. 12K)

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Back in the day, 65mm stock was used to shoot a number of big films that try encapsulate a large scope. After all, 70mm is such a large resolution and a feast for the eyes, which is why there’s a lot to love about it. And I can confirm that as I have seen “2001: A Space Odyssey” in the format twice. Pictures like the recently mentioned “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “Lawrence of Arabia,” and “Ben-Hur” were all shot with 65mm, making them worth projecting in 70mm to see in their full glory. Christopher Nolan is no stranger to this format. As mentioned, he’s shooting “Tenet” entirely in 65mm, but this is not his first time doing so. The same can be said for his previous movie, “Dunkirk,” which like “Tenet” was also shot using IMAX footage. As for the scenes shot in traditional 65mm, those were shot to be presented in a 2.20:1 aspect ratio, same thing can be said for “Tenet.” This format was also what exactly was used for when the film was projected. This allows for no cropping or adjustments during various scenes that were NOT shot in IMAX. Given how the IMAX scenes are taller, those are cropped. Note for all the other non-IMAX 1.43:1 formats, they feature cropped pictures as well.

IMAX Digital (Resolution: 2K)

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Sticking with IMAX, the most mind-blowing thing about the brand for me is how much it has expanded over the years to the point where its multiplex-style theaters outrank what made them famous, their 1.43:1 aspect ratio screens (more on those later). One reason for this, easy digital projection and for the most part, retrofitting. IMAX Digital is typically projected onto screens with a 1.90:1 aspect ratio (kind of like the one above). But they are also used on the older style screens depending on the theater, and in some cases, what movie is playing. The screens these are normally used on are traditionally larger than the average movie screen and are comparable to RPX or Cinemark XD. They are also in theaters usually packed in with IMAX’s traditional 6 channel surround sound system, offering around 12,000 watts of power. While the image is not exactly the highest quality you’d get in a theater, the IMAX scenes do expand in this format and get rid of the black bars that are visible in other scenes. It is a good step up compared to most digital screens, which are smaller in size. As for the sound, that can also be a step up too in a lot of cases.

IMAX Laser (Resolution: 4K)

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Here we have the biggest digital offering yet. A typical setup containing 12 channel surround sound, bright colors, and full support for screens that are anywhere between five to eight stories high. This takes what IMAX was built upon and digitalizes it. While the IMAX brand started with their spankin’ clear 70mm projection, they are modernizing their brand while also recognizing their tradition. Large format technology that literally aims high. This is true with their IMAX Laser technology, which began rolling out in 2014. IMAX Laser presents movies in vivid 4K images and supports the traditional IMAX 1.43:1 aspect ratio used to shoot several of Nolan’s films including “The Dark Knight,” “The Dark Knight Rises,” “Interstellar,” and “Dunkirk.” This means once “Tenet” enters theaters, the IMAX Laser experience will allow for not just crystal clear images, but for several scenes to lack the black bars no matter what screen it is on. Keep in mind, if you have an IMAX Laser projector in your theater, it won’t always show the movie in 1.43:1 as the results will vary based on the screen’s dimensions. Some, like the very famous TCL Chinese Theatre in California, will show the movie in 1.90:1, much like the regular IMAX digital projectors in their specific theaters. Once again, if you are seeing the movie in 1.43:1, you are paying for the TALLEST picture possible. This is one of the best digital formats out there but keep in mind, like IMAX digital, some of the movie will have black bars, and if changing aspect ratios happen to be distracting to you, there’s a chance you may want to look at a different format. The same can be said for the next format, IMAX 70mm.

IMAX 15/70mm (Digital equivalent: 18K)

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And now, onto the clearest format on the planet, IMAX’s 70mm technology. For those unfamiliar with the technology, IMAX started their company by using very large 70mm film that goes horizontal. As previously mentioned, it is used in their flagship 2D cameras, which were used during “Tenet’s” filming. Until sometime in the 2000s, it was the norm for IMAX to install theaters that have unheard of dimensions, installing screens that can rise up to a hundred feet. Once finished, they would have the IMAX GT (Grand Theatre) or IMAX SR (Small Rotor) projection systems along with 12,000 watts of surround sound, including speakers from the walls and behind the screen, which is a norm for IMAX. Although with IMAX’s newer 12 channel system, they have speakers on the ceiling. This system is meant to go with theaters that are converted or prepackaged with the Laser system, but are also used in several theaters that have BOTH the IMAX Laser and IMAX film projection models. Either way, you are getting the best the brand has to offer. Wall to wall, ceiling to floor picture. The clearest images of all time, many of which are shot to match the projector’s intentions. If you shell out the money to buy a ticket for an IMAX 70mm show, you are paying for the viewing experience Christopher Nolan literally intended for his viewers to get. One thing to note about both the IMAX Laser and IMAX film shows… Good news, they are presented the way in which the film was perhaps meant to be. Bad news, the theaters with the proper equipment for this are not dime a dozen, they are quite rare in fact. Not all of them will be used for “Tenet” for one reason or another. But, IMAX has a selection of theaters that are playing “Tenet” in the uncropped, true IMAX formats if you are curious to know more about them.

Now, I could go over other theatrical formats such as Dolby Cinema (includes dual 4K projection, DOLBY ATMOS, DOLBY VISION), AMC Prime (responsive subwoofer seats, enhanced sound and projection), RPX (large auditorium, large screen, high quality sound, exclusive to Regal-branded theatres), Cinemark XD (large auditorium, high quality sound, exclusive to Cinemark-branded theatres), and so on, but the reason why I am specifying on the formats above is because they are the basic projection features running today for this film. While formats like those are unique and specifically branded, they either offer something with “Tenet” that is very similar to what they’ve done before or it is too similar to other formats to go in depth about it. The reason why I included the three IMAX formats above is because Christopher Nolan treasures the IMAX experience and suggests that it is one of the best ways to see a movie, but the brand offers three somewhat distinctly different experiences today. As for 35mm and 70mm, these are classic formats that are not often used today and can enhance the movie experience for some. Plus, “Tenet” was shot in 70mm, so that’s another reason to bring the format into the discussion. I even brought up and broadened the digital category because chances are that if you have a movie theater near you, it is likely going to have that style of projection, but it can vary depending on where you go. Some of these experiences are rarely used for new releases and depending on which one you pick, you will achieve bragging rights, suggesting that you saw “Tenet” in a higher quality than the way your friends managed to.

By the way, if you are scrolling down because you hate reading, watch the very informative video listed above published by Slate (feel free to read more from their site) explaining some of the ways you can see this movie and how these formats work. NOTE: This is an explanation for “Dunkirk,” not “Tenet,” but the two are shot very similarly, so the information provided here can apply to both films.

“Tenet” is currently scheduled to release September 4th, 2020. Unless of you course you count early screenings starting August 31st. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, select states including New York, California, and Arizona are keeping their theaters closed for the time being. Please note: This is the release date for the United States. My international friends in countries like the United Kingdom, Australia, Thailand, South Korea, Ireland, and so on will be getting the movie as early as August 26th. You lucky ducks… Should coronavirus not continue to spiral out of control, the movie will likely release on time. Movie theaters have been closed since March due to COVID-19, but more are opening as areas continue to loosen restrictions and move along their calendar of phases. Whether or not they’ll remain open, is a mystery. Given how some theaters are already open and some will be opening soon, if said theaters open and operate without many issues, expect “Tenet” to come out on time.

Thanks for reading this post! If your movie theater is open and you do decide to go, please do yourself a favor. Respect their policies, don’t harass their employees, and be sure to distance yourself from other people. Remember, they’re a place of business, so even though the customer’s always right, there needs to be a collective effort from everyone to make sure the moviegoing experience is alive and well. When “Tenet” comes out, I’ll very likely see it whenever possible. I hope there’s an IMAX 70mm show near me, and if not, screw this world because Rhode Island and Connecticut have working projectors for this sort of thing. Just saying. My home state of Massachusetts does too but they’re not normally used for big Hollywood blockbusters. If you want to see more from Scene Before, be sure to follow this blog either with an email or WordPress account! Also, check out my Facebook page! I know you already liked it… It just hasn’t happened yet. I want to know, are you seeing “Tenet?” And where do you plan on seeing it? If not, do you plan on staying home and watching something instead? What is that you’re watching? Coincidentally, “Mulan” drops on Disney+ the same day that “Tenet” hits theaters in the United States, so I’m gonna be interested to see which movie ends up doing better on its first weekend. Let me know down below! Scene Before is your click to the flicks!

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