H​ow They Shot One Of The All-Time Great Car Chases In 'TENET'

T​he Christopher Nolan ethereal epic contains what has to be one of the greatest car chases captured on celluoid.

4w ago

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W​e live in a strange, twilight world at this point in time, unsure of the future, unable to comprehend what's just happened in the world, kind of like the latest Christopher Nolan epic, 'TENET'. The $205M espionage sci-fi thriller has hit theatres across the globe, with a release in China and the United States coming next weekend in a bid to give exhibitors the opportunity to lure moviegoers back into the cinema in safe territories across the globe.

T​he film is cerebral and ethereal as one would expect, the best way to describe it is if Memento and Inception were playing at the same time, whilst on acid. It is truly a film that deserves multiple trips to the cinema. Read my separate review here.

W​hilst there are many great set-pieces in this film, arguably one of the best is a pulsating car chase through the centre of Talliinn, Estonia. The beauty of this film and this filmmaker is that very little, if not no CGI is used here, everything is practical. Instead of relying on visual effects in post-production to spruce up a car chase, everything you see on the screen was actually done.

I​'ve been aware of this car chase fourteen months ago. I knew 'TENET' was shooting in Estonia for the whole month of June and parts of July, as I was joining the production for its London shoot (alas for a brief period of time), but nevertheless, these strange YouTube videos did catch my attention.

T​o achieve this time-bending car chase, Warner Brothers and Syncopy shut down Laagna Road, one of the most populous streets and most-used highways in Estonia. But they shut it down, all eight kilometres of it.

T​o carry on with this article, there are some very, and I stress very light spoilers ahead for the film - trust me, having seen it a few times now, this is nothing compared to what the film has ahead.

L​ike with many parts of this film, the cast and crew shot this sequence forwards and backwards, to match the "invertion of entropy" gimmick throughout the film (For those who don't know, 'TENET' follows a CIA high-flyer tasked with saving the world from the future due to a new, dangerous black arms technology where one can "invert an objects entropy", thus altering the way it flows through time, at least through our eyes - got it? Good.)

U​sing a Saab 9.5, Audi SUV and BMW 5 series, not to mention four lorries and a fire engine, pre-production in this sequence tooks months and months of practicing in one of the biggest choreographed dances in cinematic history, well, it is until another twenty odd minutes go by in the film.

N​ow no, as seen in the trailer below the Beemer nor the Saab 9-5 are going in reverse at a speed of 80mph, we all know that's not possible. So what they did instead was something much harder in fact - they reversed the motion of every other car, approximately 250 for the seven weeks of shooting, so that when the scene was "inverted", it appeared as if they were going forward through time whilst everything else was going backwards.

T​his required a large amount of choreographing between the stunt drivers, most likely made harder by the fact that Robert Pattinson was the one hurtling the BMW around at 80-90mph with little to no training - that's a Nolan joint for you.

I​ must admit it is getting hard to fully explain this car chase without revealing spoilers for the film, but perhaps that's for another article in a couple of weeks time when more people have seen the film.

A​ll I'll really say is that this chase is set up so beautifully and then BAM - surprise attack! Honestly, the same could be said for most of the film. I highly recommend making sure you've been to the restroom before seeing this film. There is nothing you can miss, particularly this ten minute sequence.

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I​ think it's probably best if I stop here and just showcase some videos of the BTS footage of how they shot it. Don't worry, no spoilers are in these videos.

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Comments (26)

  • Just saw it at the ODEON Leicester Square in IMAX. What a film.

      1 month ago
  • I just saw it at IMAX Milton Keynes. Absolutely stunning, it needs to be seen on the big screen to really appreciate all the details that have gone in it and enjoy the good sound. The Saab 9-5NG was the only acceptable choice for that specific scene, no other car could have survived that hit without the roof and windows collapsing. I loved the action, it was sophisticated, no unnecessary gory violence, up-beat and captivating. It gives to show that you don’t per-se need CGI to make a great action movie. The Film’s subject and live action scenes actually gain in credibility by foregoing on computer generated gimmicks. I’ll book another viewing soon to enjoy it all over again! (And will feel even more confident about my safety in my trusted old Saab ;-)

      28 days ago
    • So glad you enjoyed it! It's truly a remarkable feat, and the addition of the Saab does make me smile.

        28 days ago
  • What a class article! Loved it

      1 month ago
  • the car chase, the trucks scene was good . the car chase was slow. and unnecessary car sounds.

      28 days ago
  • All time great? I'll have to watch it for myself, but if you're saying it competes with Bullitt, The French Connection, Vanishing Point etc. then that's a BOLD statement.

      28 days ago
    • 😅 I would still put Bullitt and French Connection above just because they were filmed 50 years ago and still stand up against the modern pictures, but as a "heist chase" per se, I can't think of many better.

        27 days ago
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