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Has Christopher Nolan gotten too big for his boots in Warner Bros dispute?

The celebrated film director has taken aim at his long-time studio partner, and the streaming services in general. Has he gone too far, or is he using his considerable influence for good?

Christopher Nolan is one of the most popular directors of his age. Among casual cinema-goers, perhaps only Steven Spielberg is a name with as much draw and appeal; so when he talks, the film industry – much-beleaguered as it is since the devastating coronavirus pandemic – listens intently.

After news that Warner Bros’ slate of new movies would be released in cinemas and on the HBO Max streaming service simultaneously, Nolan delivered his pithy broadside: “Some of our industry’s biggest filmmakers and most important movie stars went to bed the night before thinking they were working for the greatest movie studio and woke up to find out they were working for the worst streaming service.” Ouch.

Read more: How will UK viewers be able to watch the Warner Bros movies released on HBO Max?

Moving beyond the insults, he went on to claim that the move made “no economic sense”, and being a champion of the big-screen experience, there’s no doubt that he will have grave concerns that the availability of simultaneous streaming could well damage the future of the cinema as we know it.

It seems that many in the film industry are on Nolan’s side, with The Hollywood Reporter writing that the mood was one of “outrage”, with lawyers “stropping their blades as they prepare for battle”. But the real battle that matters is likely to be the one fought in the court of public opinion, and the jury is still out.

Warner Bros has already taken a big risk with one of its most important properties this year; none other than Tenet, directed by a certain Christopher Nolan. The highly-anticipated, mind-bending blockbuster was Nolan’s most expensive original film yet, with a budget of $200 million, and it bombed. Delayed three times due to the coronavirus pandemic (with each postponement racking up significant marketing costs), as Nolan’s frustration to see the film’s full cinematic release became more evident each time, the movie did not attract the necessary audience to break even, with punters unable or unwilling to risk catching the virus.

That the film was released in this manner in such uncertain times was testament to the strength of the relationship between Warner Bros and Nolan, which has endured since Insomnia in 2002. It’s difficult to avoid the impression that the auteur is rather ungraciously biting the hand that feeds him after such a poor box office return on their investment this year; the other is that we perhaps shouldn’t be taking lessons on “doing the right thing” from a man who was insistent on releasing a film while a raging pandemic was far from over, putting his own fans at risk.

The fact that Nolan is stubborn on this issue should come as no great surprise; he is a passionate and incontrovertible champion of celluloid film, even after most other directors have come round to appreciate the benefits of digital film-making, particularly in the editor’s suite.

But his take is of course just one side of a debate, and he characteristically does not account for the other. There are those of us who desperately want to see the films so long delayed by these current unprecedented circumstances (over one year in the case of Wonder Woman 1984); who appreciate having the choice to watch new releases at the cinema or on streaming from day one, an option particularly for those people most gravely at risk from catching the deadly virus; and those who want to see studios start to recoup money after a devastating year of losses for the arts.

So what is your opinion on Nolan’s latest comments against Warner Bros’ decision to release their 2021 films simultaneously in the cinema and on streaming services? Is it a wrong-headed idea from its very inception, or is Mr Nolan actually a (dark) knight in shining armour, saving the film industry from itself? Let us know your thoughts in the poll below.



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