Oppenheimer (Blu-ray)

The story of American scientist, J. Robert Oppenheimer, and his role in the development of the atomic bomb.

December 7, 2023 10 Min Read

Review by: Matt Brighton

Plot: What’s it about?

Barbenheimer.

It’s a marketing term. And it worked. At the time of this writing, this might seem spot on. But what happens if you find this review a few years from now? Allow me to explain. The Summer of 2023 had two “marquee” films with Greta Gerwig’s Barbie which managed to pull in $1.5 billion dollars (that’s billions with a “b”, folks). It’s direct competition was Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer which was no slouch, raking in nearly $1 billion itself (and consider this is a three hour-long film). The two event films played off one another and, for lack of a better term, blew up the box office. That’s what we needed. In an industry where event films rarely, if ever, deliver these two showed what was possible. Can we see more “Barbenheimer’s” in the future? Does a shoe smell? (That’s a “yes”).

It’s rather difficult to summarize a three hour-long film with a cast of dozens of notable actors, but if anyone can tone it down it’s me. We meet scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) who we all know to be the father of the atomic bomb. The story unfolds in two separate manners: the black-and-white sections detail the efforts of Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) as he’s to be confirmed as the Secretary of Commerce. He’s also being grilled by Congress about his past support of Oppenheimer. If his answers don’t satisfy the committee members, he won’t get the appointment. Converse this with the “color” segments of the film that show us some significant evens from Oppenheimer’s life, namely his affair with Communist Party member Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh) and his on again/off again marriage to Kitty (Emily Blunt). Naturally, the main focus of the film is the development of the atomic bomb. There are some clashes with the director of the Manhattan Project, Leslie Groves (Matt Damon). There’s also the bulding of the town, Los Alamos, New Mexico, which is deemed to be the best place to test the device. The heat is on. Literally.

On one hand I don’t want to be a fanboy that just drools in amazement at everything Christopher Nolan does. I’m a fan, to be sure. But for every Inception, The Prestige or Interstellar there’s a Tenet or Dunkirk. Oppenheimer, however, seems to have the right mix of everything. In many ways it’s the opposite of some of the aforementioned films. Tons of practical effects, varying aspect ratios and so forth. You get the idea. And it flows well. The only other three hour film I can think of that did this (for me, at least) was Oliver Stone’s JFK. Time just flew by. Nolan always aims high with any movie he’s a part of. It’s what makes his films so special. And, truthfully, there isn’t a single wasted second in this one. The cast is top notch and it’s an engrossing movie that conveys the significance of the formation of the atomic bomb.  The events aren’t merely recounted, rather he makes it clear why these events are still relevant today. To say that this is the best picture of the year is accurate; and it’s also an understatement.

Wish you were here.

Video: How’s it look?

I remember back in the early days of the DVD format when movies were spread across two discs or even front and back. Often the special features were on a second disc with the movie taking up the other. Evidently a quarter of a century hasn’t changed that all that much as we find all three hours of Oppenheimer on one Blu-ray. And, as we might expect from a Christopher Nolan film – it looks divine. The multiple aspect ratios of 2.20:1 and 1.78:1 fill out the screens nicely with the latter being in black-and-white. It’s quite a visual treat and this approach, for me at least, seems to work and thereby “lessen” the time of the film. We see characters age throughout the film depending on the respective time frames, though the usual caveats remain intact. Detail is spot on perfect and while there’s the slightest bit of grain present, it works with the film. Bear in mind this is a Christopher Nolan film and he uses it (film, that is). Contrast is strong as are black levels. Let’s face it, this is about as pristine as it gets.

Audio: How’s it sound?

One would think that a movie about the development of the Atomic bomb, we’d be in for some outstanding sound. We are, though with the Blu-ray we miss out on the Dolby Atmos mix (you’ve got the to go for the 4K for that one). Nevertheless, like the video the DTS HD Master Audio pulls no punches. Given the film’s length and the filmmaker, there’s no shortage of dialogue and vocals resonate throughout. I found the surrounds to be extremely active, while the front stage does a fine job in a more supporting role. How does one manage to accurately portray the sound of a nuclear weapon? Let’s hope we never find out. That aside, this is a great-sounding track.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • The Story of our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer
    • Now I am Become Death – The cast, crew and producers join Christopher Nolan in sharing the personal stories that made them passionate about the project’s ambitious design for bridging multiple genres.
    • The Luminaries Oppehneimer’s all-star cast discusses how they synthesize the script’s dramatic narrative with the real lives of historical figures to embody their complex characters.
    • The Manhattan Project – To visualize Oppenheimer’s ability to see different dimensions and to recreate the historic Trinity test, filmmakers developed unique techniques to craft stunning effects without using CGI.
    • The Devil of Details – A look at how production designer Ruth De Jong and team recreated the entire town of Los Alamos with period-accurate props, spectacular sets and painstaking attention to authenticity.
    • Walking a Mile– Costume and makeup craftspeople populate the immersive environments with iconic figures by utilizing thousands of pieces of clothing and cutting-edge prosthetic applications.
    • Can You Hear Music? – Working closely with Christopher Nolan, Ludwig Göransson composes a deeply personal, historically expansive score ranging from the organic to the alien to accompany the visual landscape.
    • We Can Preform this Miracle– Christopher Nolan’s closest collaborators demonstrate how his artistic vision creates camaraderie that drives his talented crew to continue breaking new ground in filmmaking.
  • Trailers
  • Innovations in Film: 65mm Black-and-White Film in Oppenheimer – FotoKem opens the door to its film labs, where new technologies are invented for using color and black & white 65mm film to visualize dual timelines while pushing the format further forward.
  • Meet the Press Q & A Panel: Oppenheimer – Chuck Todd moderates a conversation where Christopher Nolan, author Kai Bird, and physicists Dr. Kip Thorne, Dr. Thom Mason and Dr. Carlo Rovelli reflect on the fascinating science and doomsday concerns illustrates onscreen.
  • To End all War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb – Explore how one man’s relentless drive and invention of the atomic bomb changed the nature of war forever, led to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and unleashed mass hysteria.

The Bottom Line

I’ve kind of tuned out of Christopher Nolan’s most recent films. I just couldn’t get into them. Oppenheimer is a different egg. It’s one of those that flows so well that you’ll wonder where three hours went. And it’s got it all – star power, a great story and amazing performances from the star-studded cast. If Nolan’s films are your thing – this is for you. Universal’s disc looks and sounds great with enough supplements to easily warrant a purchase.

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