There’s an attempted dodge early in Tenet where a scientist explains to the Protagonist (John David Washington) the actions of time. “Don’t try to understand it,” she says. Then Tenet spends two hours in exposition trying to make an audience understand it.
Using visual tricks, creative action, and subtle sound design, Tenet exists in its own world, where objects disavow physical understanding. Things comes from the future, a wrap-around future, making Tenet play out in a time bubble. It’s heady conceptually, maybe not as much as Tenet needs to be, pulling viewers along on brain-hurting chases, simultaneously running forward and backward in the same frame.
Tenet delivers a jolt to the thriller/action genre
Tenet delivers a jolt to the thriller/action genre
Unarguably, Tenet delivers a jolt to the thriller/action genre. Movie viewers often beg for something unseen before. Tenet provides. Unfortunately, it takes work to do so. Protagonist – the only given name to the character – becomes an information sponge, absorbing distilled science lessons, which in the end, feel set up to deliver sequels freed from Isaac Newton and Albert Einstein theories.
Tenet plays in the now and back then – again, simultaneously. The story reaches to the Cold War, introduces another one in the future, situating the core action today. In that, there’s a cruel villain Sator (Kenneth Branagh), a thematic catch-all of sorts, concerned only with himself. Traveling to a key location, Protagonist is told his enemies have, “no priorities beyond their property.” In Tenet’s blinding sci-fi there still remains a fable about valuation, how little worth the rich see in people over things, and how greed makes us gutless cowards. Fresh as Tenet looks, it’s traditional in good versus evil fantasy, stretched around a smart gimmick.
The win for Tenet is structure, dropping clues before anyone realizes they’re clues – characters and viewers both. Tenet becomes a grand chess match, where it’s less about defeating an abusive, self-absorbed brute, than unraveling a conspiracy that hasn’t happened. Tenet brings philosophical questions about fate. Paradoxes openly collide with movie logic.
Then, a full size jetliner smashes through a building, done at full scale, no visual effects, and that headiness evaporates. For all that Tenet does to test attention spans and boundaries, it’s still a mainstream, high dollar studio product. Explosions happening in reverse are still explosions, and Tenet ensures copious amounts of them. There’s an elegant balance between the honors high school calculations and gunplay. Both work in tandem, ultimately settled on traditional theatrical heroics making right against an unjust world. The only question is when that world is.
Playing with aspect ratios at will, the disc presentation opens the framing regularly to soak up ridiculously pure, full 4K visuals. Detail and clarity can challenge anything on this format, even Christoper Nolan’s previous work. Sharpness never wavers, always at its most precise, resolving the absolute most minuet elements. Tenet spends extensive time at sea. All of those choppy waters and sea craft appear faultless. Texture finds an enormous new standard.
Bold lighting plays to UHD’s strength, bathed in splendid light/dark setups. Elegant shadows produce the purest black levels, critical to numerous scenes. Density never loses its hold. Vibrancy excels, careful to use peak brightness where needed. The climactic scene bounces between an underground cave system flush in fantastic shadows and shoreline scenery pushing brilliant sunlight. Glistening reflections from metal and/or water bring the expected gloss.
Fine grain doesn’t hurt the encoding. That’s impressive when Tenet deals in rich reds, usually cause to worry from any compression routine. Palette shifts occur frequently. Warmth and coolness follow each other. Certain shots favor a monochromatic orange, others vivid in primaries. At no point does Tenet fail in generating eye candy.
Nolan’s resistance to new audio codecs continues. Tenet sports a 5.1 DTS-HD track, but aside from the lack of channels, there’s no doubting the overwhelming power. This mix is beastly, the scope incredible, the power limit testing, the range unreal, the volume deafening at reference level. Using sensational LFE, Tenet continuously pushes limits through its score. Rumbling at every opportunity, tight response follows the score as much as the action. At times, they work in sync, elegant flourishes able to separate music from gunfire. A shockwave likely becomes a new regular to test/show new equipment.
Accused during its theatrical run for low dialog, that does occur here, if not to any critical lines. The worst comes during the raid involving a vehicular box in. A few lines from the transport crew fall off, unintelligible without subtitles. While balance undoubtedly favors action, any missed chatter is inconsequential.
Surround activity tracks spectacular levels of gunfire and debris. Motion doesn’t need those other channels because the mixing so accurately conveys the space. It’s true for helicopters and cars spinning around much as it is for ambient schoolyards or city streets.
Leaving the UHD and Blu-ray to their own, there’s an additional bonus disc inside the package holding trailers and one selection: Looking at the World in a New Way. This runs 75-minutes, letting Nolan explain his process while showing how Tenet came together. It’s high on praise, but excellent in revealing the methods.
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Inventive in execution, Tenet tells a classic story filled with familiar themes, but visually dressing them in wild sci-fi theories.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 53 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: