Tenet debuts in cinemas this coming Friday, marking the big re-opening of South African cinemas. I’ve got a ticket for the 18:00 show at IMAX. I’m not going. I bought that ticket as soon as sales opened, before Ster-Kinekor had even revealed its new COVID-19 safety protocols, and then kept an eye on the seating to see if it filled up. My logic was simple: If the cinema stayed as empty as it was initially, I would be at minimum risk. At least no more than when I did our weekly shopping runs. It didn’t stay as empty. In fact, it’s currently almost at (reduced) maximum capacity.
Not only that, but while Ster-Kinekor is enforcing a strict “No mask, no entry” policy, they’re also selling snacks. Which means patrons will be taking off their masks the first chance they get to stuff their mouths with popcorn. You know, that little seasoned snack that sometimes makes people cough when they just add too much spice. And, according to the cinema’s actual seating layout, humans can apparently only cough or exhale at 90 degrees to their right or left.
So no, no Tenet for me this Friday. And that also means no Tenet review for you guys. Unfortunately, experts agree that attending a packed cinema is a perfect storm of conditions to get infected at the moment, and that’s not a risk we’re willing to take with our writers. However, things may be a bit different in the coming weeks as local distributors are starting up with press screenings again. Here the numbers are severely limited, there’s no need for snacks so no removing of masks, and additional safety steps such as taking temperatures and spacing out even further in the cinema, makes it a lot safer (This is why there are already Tenet reviews out overseas, as they held some advance screenings in London). As such, we would probably not have too much of a problem attending one of these early screenings for a review of a big new release.
And that’s the same way that several international publications feel as well. But that’s not what’s happening with The New Mutants.
Sparked by an initial essay from The AV Club‘s film critic A.A. Dowd, The Boston Globe, RogerEbert.com, and IndieWire are refusing to review the upcoming X-Men spinoff. The reason is simple: The only way to do so would be to go to a cinema this coming weekend in the US, a country that currently leads the world in COVID-19 cases with an alarming infection rate.
Last week, we published an interview with scientific experts on the dangers of going to the movies now, during a pandemic that is in no way under control. They did not mince words: There’s a very good chance you could get sick. And that’s a risk The A.V. Club will not be taking to review a movie, any movie, even one that will satisfy our burning curiosity about a long-delayed comic-book blockbuster that sounds more like A Nightmare On Elm Street III: The Dream Warriors than First Class. We are, in fact, adopting the official policy of only reviewing films our writers can safely watch, whether in a socially distanced press screening or with a digital screener. And yes, that applies to all our writers, even those willing to take the risk for an assignment, because we’re not willing to monetize that risk, either.
The AV Club had reached out to Disney to enquire about a press screening or perhaps even getting special digital screener links – maybe hosted on streaming platform Disney+ where The New Mutants will almost certainly end up very soon – but were informed by studio representatives that the only way to watch it, is to see it in theatres.
Recently, seeing a movie in a theatre has almost become a badge of honour for some studios. Warner Bros. has emblazoned all the marketing for upcoming major releases like Tenet and Wonder Woman with “Only in cinemas” taglines, virtually turning up their noses at other studios that decided to instead release their wares on VOD platforms. The official Twitter account for Unhinged, the new (and by all accounts middling) Russell Crowe movie which was actually the first film back in US cinemas, took this a step further and actually made literal badges of honour for people who risked a pandemic to see their movie!
As Dowd points out, one of the reasons that studios have not traditionally had advanced press screenings is because they are afraid of negative feedback that might sink a film’s opening day chances. And given the fact that The New Mutants’ production was so troubled that it’s now two-and-a-half years and a whole different studio since it was originally supposed to be released in cinemas, audiences are already probably not that hyped to see it. But these are not normal times. Things need to be done differently.
And hell, Disney is already doing things differently as it will be dropping it’s $200 million blockbuster Mulan on Disney+ for an additional charge, clearly just the first effort that will be replicated if this experiment is successful. (Mulan, by the way, is actually getting a press screening here in South Africa, which we will probably attend and thus review.)
Looking at Tenet’s current international box office numbers and predictions for the coming few weekends, it will do… okay. But nowhere near the numbers that Warner Bros needs it to do to offset the film’s huge budget. And that’s arguably the most anticipated movie of the year. There’s not a chance in hell that The New Mutants will be some kind of breakout success now. So I’m willing to bet big money that The New Mutants will be moved to Disney+ very swiftly as well, which will then finally mean that it gets reviewed by these publications. Not us though, because we still don’t even have Disney+ in South Africa. Sigh.
Last Updated: August 26, 2020