For months now, I’ve been the spoilsport on Twitter telling everyone that no, their most eagerly awaiting movie — whether it’s Wonder Woman 1984 or Black Widow or No Time to Die or A Quiet Place 2 or whatever — will not be opening anytime soon; no, not even on their new pushed-back release dates. So far, I have been vindicated. At the moment, however, as we barrel down on their current release dates, Mulan and Tenet are still playing chicken with the damn coronavirus, still insisting that they will be opening in July. Though Warner Bros. did give in and move Tenet from July 17th to July 31st.
(ETA: Mulan debuted on Disney+ in September.) (ETA again: Here’s my review of Wonder Woman 1984… which I didn’t see until after it debuted on Christmas Day, 2020, on HBO Max.) (ETA once more: Here’s my review of Tenet, which I finally got to see during the end-of-year awards season, after it had debuted on demand.) (ETA again: I posted a review of A Quiet Place: Part II after it became the first film I saw in a cinema for 14 months, in May 2021.) (ETA once more: I reviewed Black Widow when it debuted in cinemas and simultaneously on Disney+ in July 2021.) (Another ETA: I reviewed No Time to Die when it finally opened in autumn 2021.)
I really hope Christopher Nolan — who is reportedly insisting that Tenet open in July, while Warner Bros. would prefer to delay further — can step back from envisioning himself as the savior of cinema and start thinking about the safety of his fans. While the coronavirus is still running rampant around the US (and to a lesser degree the UK), it is a bad idea to entice people back to multiplexes, given how little understanding there seems to be among the public of just how dangerous COVID-19 is. Does Nolan want to kill moviegoers?
Look: Movies are my religion. I think movies are tremendously important as entertainment and as culture. I miss going to the movies… which I did more than most people, obviously, because it’s my job. But even I don’t think that movies are worth risking my life.
Anyway, with the prospect of movies heading back to cinemas again, I’ve had to consider what I will do if that happens too soon. Which seems to be in the offing. And in the process of thinking about it, this discussion on Twitter yesterday really angered me:
Some of the replies to this… sheesh. This privileged, blinkered fanboy insistence that arts criticism can be "objective" and that you can parse movies without looking at cultural context is now officially sociopathic. https://t.co/0HlP1w2ZHH
— MaryAnn Johanson (@maryannjohanson) June 17, 2020
And this is what I have decided:
I pledge now that I will not see or review any new movie available only in cinemas, no matter how much I might be eager for it, as long as COVID-19 remains a danger. (Yes, that includes even if I were able to watch new films on screeners at home. Because that option would not be available to ordinary moviegoers.) It would be hugely irresponsible of me to help promote a movie that would put audiences at risk.
If the pandemic had been well managed, it’d still be a scary prospect to get back into theaters… as seems to be the case in New Zealand right now:
So, cinemas in New Zealand are open again at full capacity, and the country is basically #COVID19 free, so people should be confident that it's safe to go to the movies… and almost no one is going. This does not bode well for virus-ridden US/UK. https://t.co/18G1OJMNMX
— MaryAnn Johanson (@maryannjohanson) June 18, 2020
(The Trip to Greece was brand new in NZ cinemas, and not available on demand. And still only a tiny portion of the usual prepandemic moviegoing public could be drawn back to big screens. And, of course, if somehow Americans and Brits suddenly developed the same awareness of the danger that Kiwis seem to have, that would mean that it would be a bad business decision to open any new films.)
But the way that our leaders — on both sides of the Atlantic — have totally abdicated all responsibility and have let the virus burn through our populations… the situation will have to be dramatically improved, somehow, before it feels even remotely like it might be safe to go back to the movies.
This doesn’t mean I’ll stop writing film criticism! There are still plenty of movies, new and classic, that I can write about. But for the time being, I see no ethical way to cover films that will be available only in cinemas.
To be continued…