Oppenheimer – A truly cinematic experience
Acclaimed filmmaker, Christopher Nolan, has teamed up with Universal Pictures to bring his sweeping World War II epic thriller, Oppenheimer, to the big screen.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin, the film tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the ‘father of the atomic bomb’.
Written and directed by Christopher Nolan, Oppenheimer delves deep into the psyche of a singular American mind: the brilliant scientist behind the invention that represented the total sum of human ingenuity, an invention that would remake civilization even as its existence threatened the future of mankind.
It thrusts the audience into the pulse-pounding paradox of the enigmatic man who must risk destroying the world in order to save it.
“What I wanted to do was take the audience into the mind and the experience of a person who sat at the absolute center of the largest shift in history,” says Nolan. “Like it or not, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived. He made the world we live in, for better or for worse. And his story must be seen to be believed.”
Nolan’s films, including Tenet, Dunkirk, Interstellar, Inception and The Dark Knight trilogy, have earned more than $5 billion at the global box office and have been awarded 11 Oscars® and 36 nominations, including two Best Picture nominations.
J. Robert Oppenheimer is played by Cillian Murphy, the Irish actor best known for his role in the BBC TV drama, Peaky Blinders. The actor has appeared in five of Nolan’s previous films but never in a lead role, until now.
The appeal and challenge of playing Oppenheimer, Murphy says, was doing justice to the physicist’s immense intelligence and moral struggles. “We were always chasing after the complexity of Oppenheimer, as he was no simple man,” Murphy says. “None of the people in this movie are. Having that huge intellect can be a burden; people like that operate on a completely different plane than us mere mortals, and that brings its own complications and challenges to their personal life and moral life.”
The stellar cast also includes Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr, Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett and Casey Affleck, Rami Malek and Kenneth Branagh.
Oppenheimer was shot using some of the highest resolution film cameras that exist – a combination of IMAX® 65mm and Panavision 65mm including, for the first time ever, sections in IMAX® black and white analogue photography.
“What large-format photography gives you is clarity, first and foremost,” says Nolan. “It’s a format that allows the audience to become fully immersed in the story and in the reality that you’re taking them to. In the case of Oppenheimer, it’s a story of great scope and great scale and great span. But I also wanted the audience to be in the rooms where everything happened, as if you were there, having conversations with these scientists in these important moments.”
Contrary to Internet rumor, Christopher Nolan did not detonate an actual atomic bomb in New Mexico for Oppenheimer, just so he could film the nuclear fire and mushroom cloud of the iconic Trinity test. Instead, he worked with special effects supervisors SCOTT FISHER (who won Oscars® for Interstellar and Tenet) and ANDREW JACKSON (who also won an Oscar® for Tenet) to produce the film’s version of the atomic explosion. Nolan gave them a limitation: Consistent with his aesthetic preference for practical effects, Nolan told them there could be no computer-generated imagery.
“Computer graphics would never give you the sense of threat that you see in real-life footage. There’s a visceral feeling to that footage. It becomes tactile, and in becoming tactile it can be threatening as well as awesome. So that was the challenge. To find what you might call analogue methods to produce effects to evoke the requisite threat, awe, and horrible beauty of the Trinity test.”
How the actual atomic explosion images were created for the film remains top-secret, but it’s clear the work of making them was a Manhattan Project unto itself, and a rather fun one, too.
Nolan did consider shooting the film at the real Los Alamos, where some of the structures built for the Manhattan Project are preserved. But the current location now has modern buildings that would have been too difficult or costly to frame out or eliminate with digital technology.
So, the filmmakers came up with a novel strategy – the town was reconstructed using exteriors at a 21,000-acre retreat in Northern New Mexico called Ghost Ranch, and most of the interiors were shot at the real Los Alamos. This approach proved energizing for the cast, as it allowed Cillian Murphy and Emily Blunt to shoot scenes in the very home where the Oppenheimers had lived.
A version of the Trinity test site as well as the far-away bunker where Oppenheimer watched the detonation, was specially built for the film.
Other locations included the original house Oppenheimer and his wife lived in during their time at the Institute of Advanced Study at Princeton University as well as Albert Einstein’s old office at the IAS.
To truly appreciate the sheer scale and magnitude of the film, Oppenheimer should be viewed on the biggest cinema screen possible.
Releasing exclusively in cinemas on Friday, 21 July including IMAX. DM/ML