For ‘Tenet,’ Practical Time Inversion Stunts ‘Changed the Whole Way a Set Has to Work’

Christopher Nolan is widely known for prioritizing practical effects and stunt work over visual effects, and that even applies to when he’s manipulating time. At the center of Nolan’s upcoming new movie “Tenet” is the use of time inversion. Trailers for the film have shown action sequences in which cars and ships move in reverse. One sequence finds John David Washington’s character firing a gun, but the bullet moves backwards in time out of the target and into the weapon. If it sounds confusing, try pulling off time inversion action scenes using practical stunt work.

“It’s all practical. It really is practical,” Nolan’s longtime production designer Nathan Crowley recently told Collider about the film’s use of time inversion. “It was complicated for all departments, specifically for the stunt department. Inversion, forward and backward, it changes the whole way the set has to work.”

Just how the “Tenet” production team pulled off the look of time inversion through practical effects is remaining under wraps for now. Crowley is under strict orders not to spoil anything about the making of “Tenet” or the movie’s plot, although he did say he had to read the script five times just to get his head around the intricacies of the story.

“We always say we can’t do the film we just made without having done all the others,” said Crowley, whose work with Christopher Nolan includes “The Prestige,” “The Dark Knight,” “Interstellar,” and “Dunkirk,” all of which earned him Oscar nominations for Best Production Design. “They all taught us something along the way. Chris is definitely in the business of making things more complicated, not less complicated.”

Nolan and Crowley shot “Interstellar” in three countries and “The Dark Knight Rises” in five countries, so the two were eager to top themselves with “Tenet.” As the production designer said, “We decided we were going to try and get to seven countries and spend our money on trying to get around these locations. I felt like I was on a plane the whole time trying to figure out all these different countries and what we were doing. We ended up in seven countries. There is a big element in it of, ‘How are we going to do that?’”

Warner Bros. will be opening “Tenet” in theaters in select U.S. cities starting September 3. A global rollout for the Nolan film begins August 26.

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