Not one to do things half-assed by any measure, director Christopher Nolan has revealed that, in order to properly convey the sheer magnitude of the world changing moment to audiences, his upcoming Oppenheimer biopic recreates the title scientist’s groundbreaking Trinity nuclear test using nothing more than practical effects.
(Marvel, eat your heart out.)
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Based on the comprehensive biography American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by authors Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Nolan’s upcoming film follows the titular physicist (as portrayed by Cillian Murphy) during his time spent working in New Mexico on the Manhattan Project, the World War 2 program in which his contributions helped to create the world’s first viable nuclear weapon and subsequently earned him the nickname ‘The Father of the Atomic Bomb’.
Alongside Murphy as Oppenheimer, the film’s cast also includes Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty, Florence Pugh as his former fiancée and eventual mistress Jean Tatlock, Matt Damon as the US Army’s liason to the Manhattan Project Lieutenant General Leslise Richard Groves Jr., Robert Downey Jr. as the US’ then-Atomic Energy Commission chairman Lewis Strauss, and Gary Oldman as President Harry S. Truman.
Of course, one of the central moments of not just the film but Oppenheimer’s life and global politics as whole was the Manhattan Project’s eventual detonation of their Trinity atomic bomb, which produced a wave of power so overwhelming that the first thoughts to cross the physicist’s mind upon seeing were words uttered by the deity Vishnu in the Hindu holy book Bhagavad Gita:
“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
As such, Nolan unsurprisingly gave great attention to appropriately capturing this moment of awe on film – so much so that, as is typical of the director who once crashed an actual plane for the opening scene of The Dark Knight Rises, he chose to recreate the explosion in full – sans nuclear fallout – without the use of any CGI whatsoever.
“I think recreating the Trinity test without the use of computer graphics, was a huge challenge to take on,” the director told Total Film during a cover interview for their upcoming 2023 Preview Issue. “Andrew Jackson – my visual effects supervisor, I got him on board early on – was looking at how we could do a lot of the visual elements of the film practically, from representing quantum dynamics and quantum physics to the Trinity test itself, to recreating, with my team, Los Alamos up on a mesa in New Mexico in extraordinary weather, a lot of which was needed for the film, in terms of the very harsh conditions out there – there were huge practical challenges.”
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To this end, he further teased that not only was Oppenheimer “a story of immense scope and scale”, but that it was also “one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on in terms of the scale of it, and in terms of encountering the breadth of Oppenheimer’s story.”
“There were big, logistical challenges, big practical challenges,” he said. “But I had an extraordinary crew, and they really stepped up. It will be a while before we’re finished. But certainly as I watch the results come in, and as I’m putting the film together, I’m thrilled with what my team has been able to achieve.”
Nolan’s full interview with Total Film can be caught in their 2023 Preview Issue when it hits stands on December 15th.
Meanwhile, Oppenheimer is currently on track to open in theaters on July 21st, 2023.
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