Oppenheimer

4K ULTRA HD BLU-RAY REVIEW:

Universal;
Drama;
Box Office $325.37 million;
$34.98 DVD, $39.98 Blu-ray, $49.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘R’ for some sexuality, nudity and language.
Stars Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Robert Downey Jr., Florence Pugh, Josh Hartnett, Casey Affleck, Rami Malek, Kenneth Branagh, Benny Safdie, Jason Clarke, Dylan Arnold, Tom Conti, James D’Arcy, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Alden Ehrenreich, Tony Goldwyn, Jefferson Hall, David Krumholtz, Matthew Modine, Scott Grimes, Jack Quaid, Christopher Denham, Olivia Thirlby, Gary Oldman.

Director Christopher Nolan’s meticulously crafted Oppenheimer is a bit of a throwback to the kinds of epics stocked with all-star casts Hollywood used to pump out in the 1950s and ’60s.

Yet this biopic of J. Robert Oppenheimer, labeled by history as the “father of the atomic bomb,” is also distinctly Nolan, marked by his penchant for nonlinear storytelling and pushing the boundaries of traditional filmmaking. It’s a testament to Nolan’s skill as a director that he’s able to craft a riveting character drama from what is essentially three hours of people just talking to each other.

Based on the book American Prometheus by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, Oppenheimer frames the story of its title subject through the proceedings of two political hearings. One, set in 1954, finds Oppenheimer (longtime Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy) attempting to restore his security clearance in the face of efforts to silence him from influencing nuclear policy. The other, set in 1959, focuses on the Senate confirmation hearing of Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.), a former member of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission who sheds light on Oppenheimer’s ouster.

Nolan uses similar points of discussion from the testimony given at both events to explore Oppenheimer’s life through flashbacks depicting the young scientist’s study of physics in Europe and his efforts to expand the field of quantum mechanics research in the United States.

Oppenheimer is poised to pioneer the study of black holes when World War II breaks out, and he is recruited by Gen. Leslie Groves (Matt Damon) to head the Manhattan Project to create an atomic bomb before Nazi Germany.

Scenes stemming from Strauss’ point of view are presented in black and white and meant to convey a more objective reality, while scenes in color represent Oppenheimer’s perspective and a more subjective interpretation of events.

The highlight of the three-hour film is obviously the middle section depicting the creation of the atomic bomb, with Oppenheimer and Groves bringing many of America’s top minds to a makeshift town in the New Mexico desert in order to turn theory into reality, culminating in the Trinity test.

Oppenheimer, however, is constantly dogged by earlier associations with left-wing causes, and friendships with a number of Communist Party members and Soviet sympathizers, that will ultimately be used as a sledgehammer against him.

Nolan in the Blu-ray bonus features describes the film’s structure as moving from the beginning of the hero’s journey, to a heist movie (the recruiting of a team for a caper of sorts), to a courtroom drama.

Through Murphy’s transformative performance, Oppenheimer comes to life as a man constantly struggling to balance the accolades of his historic achievements with the moral weight of their implications.

The last hour of the film depicts this sort of tug-of-war between America’s efforts to maintain nuclear superiority in the face of Russia developing the technology, and Oppenheimer’s desire to pursue international policies to contain the genie he helped escape from the bottle.

Nolan famously shot the film using large-format Imax cameras, and the results are evident in a pristine 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray presentation. The 4K and Blu-ray disc versions of the film take advantage of this with a variable aspect ratio that shifts between a letterboxed 2.20:1 image and an immersive 1.78:1 that occupies the entirety of a big-screen TV. The DVD and digital presentations are locked at a consistent 2.20:1 ratio.

Sound is booming but dialogue is easy to understand despite most scenes taking place in a conversational tone.

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The 4K and Blu-ray combo packs include a bonus disc containing nearly three-and-a-half hours of supplemental material, led by the seven-part “The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer” behind-the-scenes documentary.

Clocking in at more than 72 minutes, the program offers a comprehensive look at the making of the film and the exquisite level of detail employed by Nolan in re-creating the period settings, for the most part. Of note, the set of Oppenheimer’s office includes the actual clock he had in his real office, and scenes taking place at the Oppenheimers’ home were filmed at their actual house in Los Alamos. Nolan was also keen on using practical in-camera effects as opposed to CGI, which lends to the film’s air of authenticity.

The seven featurettes are also available with digital copies of the film. The remaining extras are exclusive to the Blu-ray.

The eight-minute “Innovations in Film” focuses on the use of 65mm to shoot the picture, delving into the cinematography and editing challenges presented. Of note, the production had to invent black-and-white 65mm film stock to achieve the film’s visual style. There’s also a segment on how the film was prepared for digital projection and home video, with the digital version of the film being carefully rendered to match the look and feel of the 70mm Imax presentation.

For some comparisons of the different presentation styles of the film, there’s a full package of the film’s trailers, including an Imax trailer that displays footage from the film in the square Imax ratio, plus the five-minute promo video that played during the early summer. The footage in these trailers isn’t as refined as the film presentation, which demonstrates how much care went into making the film look the best it can be.

A 35-minute “Meet the Press” episode features a Q&A from July 15, 2023, featuring Nolan, author Bird, physicist and Nolan science advisor Dr. Kip Thorne, current Los Alamos director Dr. Thom Mason, and physicist Dr. Carlo Rovelli. It’s an interesting discussion about the relationship between science and policy, and includes some tidbits about how Nolan the screenwriter went a bit deeper than the book in depicting the Strauss confirmation hearing by digging up the actual transcripts.

Rounding out the extras is the hour-and-a-half To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb, a great biographical documentary about the real Oppenheimer that gives a better context to the events depicted in the film. Seeing the copious footage of the soft-spoken Oppenheimer — he comes across as a bit of a professorial Mr. Rogers — really crystalizes how much Murphy was able to embody him in his performance. This is the kind of bonus feature more movies about real events should include on home video but just don’t anymore.

Being the Ricardos

STREAMING REVIEW: 

Amazon Prime Video;
Drama;
Rated ‘R’ for language.
Stars Nicole Kidman, Javier Bardem, J.K. Simmons, Nina Arianda, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jake Lacy, Clark Gregg, Christopher Denham, John Rubinstein, Linda Lavin, Ronny Cox.

Leave it to Aaron Sorkin to chronicle the life of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz while making “I Love Lucy” from the perspective of the show’s writers.

The entertaining docudrama Being the Ricardos provides a thorough look at the challenges of television production, focusing on a week behind the scenes of the iconic sitcom while Ball tries to save her marriage while dealing with the potential fallout of being accused of being a communist in the 1950s.

Writer-director Sorkin uses a number of narrative tricks at his disposal, beginning with a framing device involving older versions of the show’s three primary writers — Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh and Bob Carroll — played by John Rubinstein, Linda Lavin and Ronny Cox, respectively as if being interviewed for a documentary (Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat and Jake Lacy play the younger versions).

The trio end up telling the story of how Lucy (Nicole Kidman) met Desi (Javier Bardem), navigated the tricky waters of show business, got married and created an iconic show that changed the course of TV history.

During the week in question, tensions run a bit higher than usual. As Ball wonders if her career is about to end over HUAC, she argues with the writers over jokes in the show and deals with rumors of Desi’s womanizing. Meanwhile, the couple also wants to turn her impending pregnancy into a storyline, much to the chagrin of network executives at CBS, as Desi appeals to the show’s sponsor to force the issue.

It’s a lot to process in two hours, but Sorkin keeps it pithy with his trademark crisp dialogue, and the performances are terrific throughout. One clever conceit involves peering into Ball’s comedy mind as she imagines a scene coming to fruition, allowing Sorkin to re-create moments from the sitcom in black-and-white.

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Unlike with his previous film, The Trial of the Chicago 7, which was dripping in political commentary, Sorkin manages to keep any overt politicization of the subject matter at bay, hinting at the debate between the theories and realities of communism without delving too deeply into the particulars (though in interviews he likens the hysteria to modern cancel culture). He also isn’t so uncouth as to point out how “I Love Lucy” was sponsored by the Philip Morris tobacco company, and both Lucy and Desi would eventually die of illnesses known to be exacerbated by smoking.

The particulars of the story are mostly accurate in the aggregate, though in typical Hollywood fashion Sorkin has changed some details and rearranged the timeline for dramatic effect. For instance, the episode shown being produced, “Fred and Ethel Fight,” was the 22nd episode of the series, not the 37th as stated in the movie. And the communist controversy came about a year later, apparently around episode 68, months after Little Ricky was born. The episode in particular was likely chosen because its topic paralleled Lucy and Desi’s own marital troubles in the film, and provided a nice insight into Lucy’s penchant for physical comedy.

On another note, the casting as Lavin to play the older Pugh is a nice touch, as Pugh and Carroll were among the executive producers of the sitcom “Alice” that starred Lavin.