Not long into Christopher Nolan’s latest opus we begin to understand that, despite its three-hour runtime, Oppenheimer isn’t bloated, it never drags, and in fact it dares the viewer to keep up with the many characters and plot developments. There’s less of a scientific emphasis than you might expect, but what we need to comprehend is clear without ever dumbing down the subject matter. Instead, this is the epic story of an extraordinary genius, physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy), tasked by the U.S. government to lead the team that would deliver the world’s first atomic bomb.

The Manhattan Project assembled many of the world’s brightest minds in a makeshift town in the far reaches of the New Mexico desert, inevitably igniting clashes of styles and personalities. In a race against time to devise a weapon like none ever created, they had to overcome all manner of obstacles and faced unknown risks — could a chain reaction ensue and engulf the entire planet in a firestorm? — to complete their assignment and contribute to a decisive end of World War II.

Even after the great victory, however, many of the same people who hailed Oppenheimer as a hero turned against him for his vocal positions on the burgeoning nuclear arms race. The intent of this movie is to help us understand someone every bit as complicated as the physics he mastered, a man who stood at the center of one of the most significant events in human history. And Nolan succeeds wonderfully with an engaging biography brought to life with bold storytelling and an exceptional — and very large — supporting cast.

Oppenheimer was shot by director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema on a combination of 35mm and 65mm film, including many scenes captured in the IMAX process. The video master was born of a native 8K scan, finished in 4K and presented primarily at 2.2:1 with a screen-filling 16:9 for the large-format scenes. I’ve seen a lot of movies with shifting aspect ratios, but here I found the experience to be somewhat distracting. Select moments were captured in 65mm black-and-white, a creative challenge that required the creation of a new film stock.

Detail is stunning, from facial imperfections in gargantuan close-ups and the nap of J. Robert’s suit to the mysterious swirling specks in the Los Alamos air. The production utilized many of the original A-bomb locations and the vistas are breathtaking. Overall, the image is tremendously sharp, to the point where I felt there was no grain: I confirmed that grain is, indeed, there — it’s just extremely fine.

The movie is presented on a spacious 100GB Disc One platter with no bonus content, perhaps to accommodate the expansive runtime and high quality imagery. To my eye, the casualty is the black levels, which too often appear crushed and lifeless. Similarly, the HDR10 grade is wholly adequate, but for a filmmaker who sets such notoriously lofty visual standards, why not use Dolby Vision high dynamic range?

Be sure to reach minimum safe distance because the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack can be a sonic assault, at times in artistic and unconventional ways. Surround levels are generous and immersion is appreciable during instances of desert wind and thunder, even though there are no overhead channels. Ludwig Göransson’s essential musical score is perfectly balanced and the dialogue is thankfully clear throughout. Minute atmospherics are on display as well, as when a group is chanting inside a crowded room.

An HD Blu-ray and Movies Anywhere digital copy are provided. A third disc is where all the supplements reside, notably a seven-part “making of,” a recent feature-length NBC documentary about the man and the bomb, and a rather scientific Q&A panel with Nolan and others. The thoughtful and talented writer/director typically shies away from commentary tracks, doing so again here in favor of extensive on-camera musings.

STUDIO: Universal Studios, 2023
ASPECT RATIO: 2.20:1/1.78:1)
AUDIO FORMAT: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
LENGTH: 180 mins., R
DIRECTOR: Christopher Nolan
STARRING: Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Alden Ehrenreich, Scott Grimes, Jason Clarke

Billy's picture

In a world filled with Marvel based flicks, it is so nice to have this available, and indeed, appreciated. There is nothing wrong with popcorn flicks, but why can't we have more thoughtful movies of substance? I feel this is the best movie in a decade.

trynberg's picture

Agree, it was a fantastic film, and one of Nolan's best.

robertoliver's picture

This is an extraordinary film that captivated my senses from start to finish. This historical drama, directed by the brilliant Christopher Nolan, weaves a mesmerizing narrative that delves deep into the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the brilliant physicist whose work changed the course of history during World War II. I love this movie and suika game which is truly awesome