The director, along with cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, worked with Kodak on the movie.
Over the past decade, there has been much discussion over the importance of ‘intellectual properties’ or franchises, superhero movies, and ‘soulless’ big-budget popcorn movies with zero substance, which have taken over from true ‘auteur’ filmmaking – according to some, at least. One thing is undeniable: you can be an auteur and put butts in seats, something which (unless it’s the middle of a pandemic) you can associate with Christopher Nolan.
Like a new Avengers film, a new Nolan picture is something more than just a cinematic release. Having established himself both as a filmmaker of precision and craft, he – to the delight of accountants – knows what audiences like, and as a result his movies are events. His latest film, Oppenheimer, is no exception. The story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the man behind the creation of the atomic bomb, stars Cillian Murphy in the title role.
The film takes place over a sprawling time period, thought to be at least a decade. And as a result, Nolan decided to go back to some of his formative work to influence the way his latest epic would be shot – including his favourite way of filming: IMAX. This meant putting his head together with Hoyte van Hoytema, his trusted cinematographer, with whom he has worked since Interstellar, to come up with a solution to a new problem.
I very much loved the structural assistance and the aesthetic charge of shifting between color and black and white that I had on Memento. I’d always been looking for a reason to go back to that. And in the case of Oppenheimer and the way in which we tell this story, it’s very subjectively told, but also with a more objective story strand that intertwines with that. It was really the perfect time to go back to that device that I loved so much.
Memento was shot on 35mm anamorphic, but after shooting first-of-their-kind action scenes on The Dark Knight using IMAX cameras, the large-format film has been a go-to for the director, with all of his major releases being shot on the ultimate cinematic format. The challenge for Nolan, on Oppenheimer, at least, was that nobody had actually shot on large-format monochrome before, which meant that some imagination was required.
“So we challenged the people at Kodak photochem to make this work for us,” said Nolan to Total Film. “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 Hoyte and I saw the first tests come in, we just knew that this was a format that we were immediately in love with.”
The results, at least from the intial trailers, are stunning, and the film is set to be another visual masterpiece from Nolan, if nothing else. It stars an ensemble cast of Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Benny Safdie, Josh Hartnett, Dane DeHaan, Jack Quaid, Matthew Modine, Alden Ehrenreich, David Krumholtz, Michael Angarano and Kenneth Branagh.
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