When Christopher Nolan sets his mind to something, the results can be truly spectacular. The director favours a sense of verisimilitude and aims to capture everything in-camera, as opposed to using CGI as a crutch. Hence, a real plane crashing into a hangar in the recent Tenet – there's a great deal more heft when we can perceive something is real.
However, Nolan has surely one-upped himself on his new movie, Oppenheimer. The movie chronicles the controversial life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. And Nolan wasn't about to rest on his laurels when it came to depicting Oppenheimer's methods.
In fact, Nolan and his crew recreated an actual nuclear explosion in order to depict the landmark Trinity Test. Trinity was the code name of the first detonation of a nuclear weapon, and the test was conducted by the United States Army at 5:29 a.m. on July 16, 1945, as part of the secretive Manhattan Project. It was a moment that would set mankind down an increasingly terrifying path.
“Recreating the Trinity test without the use of computer graphics was a huge challenge to take on,” Nolan told Total Film. "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."
Nolan is famous for his level of conceptual ambition, and Oppenheimer may well be his most staggering achievement to date. He describes it as "a story of immense scope and scale", and "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."
Nolan continues: "There were big, logistical challenges, big practical challenges. 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.”
Equally impressive is the film's cast. Deep breath: joining Cillian Murphy as the titular Oppenheimer are A Quiet Place's Emily Blunt (she plays Oppenheimer's wife Katherine), Iron Man himself, Robert Downey Jr., Bohemian Rhapsody Oscar winner and No Time To Die villain Rami Malek, The Last Duel's Matt Damon (who starred in Nolan's Interstellar), Black Widow's Florence Pugh, Scream's Jack Quaid, Stranger Things' Matthew Modine (another Nolan collaborator, having appeared in The Dark Knight Rises) and Licorice Pizza's Benny Safdie.
There's also room for A Cure for Wellness' Dane DeHaan and a resurgent Josh Hartnett, whom 1990s nostalgics will remember for the likes of Halloween: H20. Kenneth Branagh will be reuniting with Nolan following his appearances in Dunkirk and Tenet, and the Dark Knight trilogy's Gary Oldman is reported to have a small but significant role.
We'll see the hopefully staggering end results when Oppenheimer is released on July 21, 2023. While you're at it, don't forget to check out our exhaustive guide to the Oppenheimer movie.