Does release of Tenet herald a movie spring?

Tenet, opening today, was supposed to be released in mid-July. Then Covid-19 happened, so it was moved to later the same month. Then it was moved again.

Appropriately for a movie that has characters buffeted by crossing time-streams, the film’s release date, as were so many others’, was unmoored.

It finally opens this week in Singapore and in more than 60 territories, with the United States release delayed till Sept 3.

The science-fiction thriller is the first of the big Hollywood summer films, the mega-budget, big action works that traditionally appear from March to September, to land on the big screens since the coronavirus shut down cinemas in Singapore from March 27 to July 12.

What is to be read from its opening? For instance, does it indicate that things are back to normal, or at least the altered reality that we now take as normal? Is it a sign that the major studios are confident that audiences will get over their fears and return?

On the first question – is Tenet the first flower indicating the return of the movie spring? – the answer is a qualified yes.

Qualified because it is a special case. I asked several Singapore film distributors about what its opening means, but none replied, as I expected, because they are usually not privy to the background of decisions made in Los Angeles and London head offices.

Tenet is a Christopher Nolan project. Nolan, the director whose The Dark Knight Trilogy (2005 to 2012) made over US$2 billion at the box office globally, has political clout.

The film-maker is famously fussy about his films being shown in cinemas, especially in large-format Imax. As some have speculated, Warner Bros, his studio, is willing to sacrifice box-office takings caused by pandemic worries and social-distancing measures to meet Nolan’s demands for the earliest available slot.

Other studios have moved films to online platforms, such as the Disney period drama Mulan, opening in cinemas in Singapore on Sept 4 but moved to the Disney+ streaming service in the US.

Or, as happened with major projects such as the James Bond movie No Time To Die, and the monster flick A Quiet Place 2, release dates have been moved several months back, or to next year.


Train To Busan: Peninsula opened here on July 15 and, despite social-distancing measures that limit seating to about 20 per cent of total capacity, managed to break box-office records for an opening day by a South Korean film. PHOTO: GOLDEN VILLAGE

The next question is, will the fans show up for Tenet? That question has already been answered. On July 15, the highly anticipated zombie movie Train To Busan: Peninsula opened here and despite social-distancing measures that limit seating to about 20 per cent of total capacity, managed to break box-office records for an opening day by a South Korean film.

The sequel to the 2016 hit, Train To Busan, is still drawing audiences, proving that pandemic worries are not keeping fans away in Singapore.

Coincidentally, South Korea was the first market to screen Tenet. As trade magazine Variety reports, when it opened across 590 screens last weekend, from Aug 23, it made strong numbers, earning nearly US$1 million (S$1.4 million).

Since then, a resurgence of coronavirus cases has occurred there, spooking potential moviegoers and causing a tightening of social-distancing measures. Though cinemas remain open, closures remain a possibility.

In this new landscape, government safety measures, whether in Seoul or Singapore, care nothing for film release schedules.

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