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Wednesday, Feb 8, 2023

As theaters open their doors again, “Tenet” plays the role of cinema savior

Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash
Photo by Myke Simon on Unsplash

COVID-19 has meant a lot of industries suffering, but movie theaters are among the often forgotten ways of leisure in the new hyper-serious and uneasy wake left by the coronavirus pandemic. Movie theaters across the country have had to close as a result safety problems due to COVID-19, and the sole movie theater here in Macon was no exception. But as communities everywhere begin to try and establish a new normal, what does a trip to the movies look like as 2020’s chaotic course comes to a close?

How safe are the movies?

Movies are bound to look and feel a lot different in theaters now, but AMSTAR 16 in Macon seemed serious about abiding by all the measures laid out by their ownership in accordance to CDC Guidelines.

Movie-goers must sit three seats apart from anyone that is not in their party. Masks have to be worn everywhere except for in the theater, where they can be removed once you are seated. Social distancing is also required while standing in line at the entrance, concessions and restrooms. Staff are also required to wear masks and complete health check protocols. 

Along with social distancing guidelines, AMSTAR 16 and other theaters in its chain are cleaning individual auditoriums after each screening. High touch surfaces in the lobby and hallways are cleaned every thirty minutes by staff members. The theater has also installed MERV filters within its HVAC systems. All of these guidelines are mandated and outlined by Grand Theaters, the chain in charge of AMSTAR 16 here in Macon.

Now, with all this safety in mind, there is still a considerable risk in going to the movies. Being indoors with large groups of people you have never met before is always concerning in the age of the pandemic, but the limited seating in auditoriums helps a bit. 

Another thing that can help is timing. Attending a screening of “Tenet” on a random Tuesday at 9 p.m. meant that the rest of the theater was empty. Going to the movies at atypical times means less crowds to deal with, which will certainly help your movie experience and possibly your schedule while you’re at it.

So the safety of heading to the movies is being taken fairly seriously by the theater, although the sincerity with which guests treat certain “recommendations” given by the AMSTAR 16 will obviously vary from guest to guest and is dependent on show times. With all of these factors in mind, though, the question remains: what am I even going to watch if I go to the movies?

“Tenet” can be hard to follow, but still good fun

“Tenet” is a Christopher Nolan spy thriller that has been the main blockbuster charged with bringing audiences back to theaters. Nolan’s films have always attracted a dedicated fanbase, especially after his work on hits like “Inception” and “Interstellar,” so it seemed natural for the film to be the first major summer blockbuster to officially be released in theaters once they reopened.

While many reviewers have dubbed “Tenet” to be “Bond on acid,” the film isn’t quite that wild, although it does have its fair share of twists and turns. The plot centers around lead John David Washington’s character, dubbed “The Protagonist.” Washington discovers that there are ways for objects, including humans, to be cast backwards through time. This isn’t time travel, however: the objects literally have to travel through time in order and are not able to jump to specific points in time.This is called “inversion,” and when The Protagonist goes on a quest to solve the mystery, he ends up needing to save the world.

That’s the general plot of the film, barring some major spoilers. Overall, the action sequences are fun, Washington has some great moments as the lead of the film and pairs well with sidekick Robert Pattinson and the plot is engaging throughout. The movie even seems slightly aware of the importance of its casting of a Black lead in a suave, UK-style spy flick. Washington and Nolan favorite Michael Caine debate the classiness of Washington’s Brooks Brothers suit and Britain’s “monopoly on snobbery,” and Washington delivers quips that wouldn’t fit in a run-of-the-mill white Bond picture.

But while the movie is a fun watch, there are pieces of it that slip through the cracks. The “inversion” of people and objects is explained, but not very well. The movie attempts to fit a lot of plot and time manipulation into a small time frame, and sometimes it falls slightly flat. If the viewer is willing to set aside fully understanding the inversion concept that helps the movie keep moving, it can still be a fun watch. But treating this more ambiguous “science” with the same amount of scrutiny as the hard science in “Interstellar” that was researched by physics scholars will not yield fond results.

There are also problems with the audio that have been pointed out by many fans and critics. Articles and reviews by IndieWire, The Guardian and Variety all outline the same issue with the mixing in Nolan’s latest film: you can’t hear what anyone in the film is saying.

Forbes film critic Scott Mendelson blasted the film’s audio: “I sat dead center in the third row of an IMAX auditorium while wearing my hearing aides, and I still had a terrible time understanding much of the dialogue,” Mendelson said. “For a film that’s supposed to show audiences that theatrical moviegoing is worth saving, ‘Tenet’ will probably play better on Blu-ray with the subtitles turned on.”

While this take is pretty scathing and unforgiving, the audio is a problem. In a movie that relies on gobs of exposition to help the audience keep up, dialogue can’t be hidden beneath sound effects and music. The result is the movie being even more confusing than it should be, and many viewers took note of the problems and lamented, whether they were fans or critics.

Overall, “Tenet” is still a fun movie with exciting action sequences, likeable characters and suspenseful plotlines. The film is able to partially overcome its expositional and sonic problems to provide an intriguing escape that can get people back into theaters. If the viewer can suspend their understanding of the time inversion mechanics in the film, it still plays extremely well.

Should you prioritize going back to the movies? Perhaps not, but if you choose a less popular time to see “Tenet,” you won’t regret it.


Micah Johnston

Micah Johnston ‘22 is a journalism and media studies double major who has written for The Cluster since his freshman year at Mercer. He has written on and reported for Georgia Public Broadcasting, The Macon Telegraph and The Macon Newsroom on a variety of topics. He received the Center for Collaborative Journalism’s Junior Honors Award for the 2020-2021 academic year. Micah’s other interests include obsessively following Braves and Mariners baseball, constantly listening to all kinds of music and probably eating junk food.


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