Christopher Nolan’s Tenet is receiving backlash over sound problems. The long-awaited movie finally hit international theaters last weekend. Select North American theaters will be showing the movie this weekend, but some of Nolan’s international critics warn that it’s just too loud and confusing. These are not uncommon criticisms of the director’s work in the past. The Dark Knight Rises was criticized over the fact that Tom Hardy’s Bane was incredibly hard to understand through his mask. That particular movie was also criticized for being too loud.
It appears that Tenet shares some of the same audio challenges that The Dark Knight Rises presented to audiences. One international viewer on Reddit says, “The sound mix was awful. This is really unacceptable and reduced my enjoyment of this movie considerably,” while another user chimed in and said, “There was some crucial dialogue that was nearly inaudible.” Another Reddit user notes, “I couldn’t hear a solid 30 minutes of dialogue because everyone was mumbling through masks.” The Forbes review of Tenet also touches on the sound with critic Scott Mendelson stating, “I don’t know what Chris Nolan has against dialogue.”
Many have pointed out that Christopher Nolan’s Tenet will be better when its released on Blu-ray because captions will be able to be used. One anonymous supervising sound editor says that “the sound mixes for Christopher Nolan films are painstakingly considered.” Christopher Nolan obviously pays attention to every single little piece of his movies, but many wonder how his audio teams keep winning awards. Another sound professional notes that Nolan’s incredibly high standards may make for poor viewing experiences in theaters that aren’t equipped with the best technology has to offer. “I know Nolan does like to push the envelope. He’s an artist and I don’t think he believes in working to the lowest common denominator of projection environments,” he said.
Mixing albums and taking care of the sound design in movies is an art. Just like songs that are mixed and mastered to sound good across a wide array of sound systems, from the car, a phone, a nice stereo system, etc., movies have to be designed to work in various different movie theaters. There’s the IMAX experience and then there is the art theater experience, and everything in between, which makes it hard to get every nuance across all venues.
While many are criticizing Tenet and its sound design, there are plenty of people who are championing it. Another anonymous source says the “sonic experience” in Tenet is “extremely creative” because it “utilizes sound effects backwards and forwards,” in order to emphasize the storytelling elements. Others have said that the movie is hard to follow and leaves too many questions in the end, which is also not an uncommon gripe about Nolan’s movies. And, there are his fans who claim that if one pays attention to the whole thing, including the sound, that it all comes together and makes sense. In other words, it sounds like Christopher Nolan made a Christopher Nolan movie. Variety was originally able to conduct the interview with the anonymous sound professionals.