Christopher Nolan has not been hauled before the UN court at The Hague and, the odd Dunkirk pan aside, has never been accused of war crimes. This is important to know before we tell you that he recreated a nuclear explosion for Oppenheimer with practical (but not that practical) effects.
Nolan’s love of practical effects has become famous, and for his last film, 2020’s Tenet, he bought and crashed a real 747 jet. When it came to Oppenheimer, the director spoke about the “huge challenge” of recreating the first-ever detonation of a nuclear weapon, codenamed ‘Trinity,’ to Total Film magazine (via Variety). “I think recreating the Trinity test without the use of computer graphics was a huge challenge to take on,” he said.
“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.”
Oppenheimer stars Cillian Murphy as J. Robert Oppenheimer, often called the “father of the atomic bomb.” While the film doesn’t have the obvious bigness of some of Nolan’s past projects, he called it a “story of immense scope and scale,” and added, “It’s 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. 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.”
The movie has also earned a place in history as the first IMAX flick shot in black-and-white, which required the development of a new kind of film stock. “We challenged the people at Kodak photochem to make this work for us,” Nolan said. “And they stepped up. For the first time ever, we were able to shoot IMAX film in black-and-white. And the results were thrilling and extraordinary. As soon as [cinematographer van Hoytema] and I saw the first tests come in, we just knew that this was a format that we were immediately in love with.”