The Salesman of Science
Oppenheimer doesn’t try to explain the science that birthed the atomic age. It doesn’t need to; everyone is already aware of the results. What matters is Robert Oppenheimer himself, a man with a moral conflict go grave, few could or would understand his anxieties. Rather than the science and math, Oppenheimer explores the mental toll on a man deemed responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths.
It’s an often brave film, deconstructing American values to show how the entrenched and powerful so ruthlessly damage others for their own personal cause. In its final act, after the bomb is a known entity, Oppenheimer (Cilian Murphy) turns from a celebration of science – whether for righteous cause or twisted warfare – into a political show where that value is wasted, even decimated.
Oppenheimer’s style is often egregiously overdone
Oppenheimer’s style is often egregiously overdone
We cringe at the thought of historical intellectuals hanged for their beliefs, that the Earth revolves around the sun or that our planet is round. Society no longer executes people for their scientific theories, at least not literally. Oppenheimer details how that’s done in the modern, more “civilized” world, where an intellectual is publicly exposed, however fraudulently.
Wisely, Oppenheimer doesn’t shy away from depicting the bomb’s aftermath on the team that created it. However, it does avoid any explicit images or video of those Japanese civilians who died gruesome deaths; that’s imagined through Oppenheimer himself, looking away from slides as they’re shown. That’s arguably more effective.
A complicated story with endless moving parts, Oppenheimer’s style is often egregiously overdone, with endless music cycling through even basic dialog exchanges and converging timelines doled out between edits that happen far too quickly to gain nuance from these characters. It’s needlessly showy, even confusing in the early going, and director Christopher Nolan’s clout undoubtedly gives him final cut. It’s a messy, imprecise means to tell this story, and appears as a lack of confidence on screen, as if Nolan didn’t believe viewers would stick with something more direct.
It’s a masterfully photographed film, and while detours (necessary as they are) into Oppenheimer’s personal relationships stunt the pace, they do serve the overall narrative, in particular the final act. Oppenheimer has its villains – it has to, in many ways given the subject – but this movie lives up to its title, telling a complicated man’s story in a digestible way even if it feels like a persistent montage rather than an accessible narrative.
A monstrous, stunning, sharp masterpiece of home video, Oppenheimer’s astonishing detail enriches every frame. Texture is everywhere, in close, at distance, or in the mid-range; it’s perfection behind a thin, consistent grain structure. Opening up to 70mm IMAX footage from a 2.35:1 frame, the precision improves even further.
A mix of black & white and color, HDR brings a stable, rich level of contrast to both. The elegant gray scale, intense shadows (slight crush in spots aside), and striking peak brightness all excel. A glaze of warmth permeates much of the color, with occasional drifts into cooler tones for effect. All look great on this disc, giving Oppenheimer punch regardless of the palette.
Aspect ratio changes happen frequently, never to a point of distraction but they are difficult to ignore purely for their increased fidelity. Every one of them is breathtaking.
Not one of Christopher Nolan’s infamous dialog-dimming mixes, the DTS-HD 5.1 track is as reference grade as 5.1 can be in 2023. It’s wildly spaced and aggressive where possible, even while spending three hours mostly on quiet chatter. Oppenheimer plays with these scenes too, adding echo to committee hearings or classrooms, then ambiance during any gatherings.
The real kicker comes from the bass. Likely contentious for some, the overall intensity and volume is among the highest on the format, and it’s a constant presence. Oppenheimer regularly considers his theories, which appear whenever he’s deep in thought. Each can shake a foundation with enough volume, the tightness exquisite and the shock often surprising. A sandstorm and the explosive tests before all perform remarkably.
A third disc in the set contains all bonus features. A four-part making-of runs 72-minutes long, and it’s a fantastically produced piece, certainly among the best from a major studio on a new release this year. Next is an eight-minute look at shooting 65mm footage. A press Q&A runs 34-minutes. Finally, a near 90-minute documentary on Oppenheimer himself, produced by NBC, is detailed and nuanced.
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At three hours, Oppenheimer still moves too fast to cover the breadth of science and character development, but it’s fascinating history when it works.
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The following six screen shots serve as samples for our subscription-exclusive set of 51 full resolution uncompressed 4K screen shots grabbed directly from the UHD: