Oppenheimer Blu-ray Review: Prometheus Bound

Based on Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin’s 2005 biography American Prometheus, Oppenheimer‘s screenwriter/director Christopher Nolan has crafted a compelling film about theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, dubbed “father of the atomic bomb” for his managing the component of the United States’ Manhattan Project that developed the first nuclear weapon. And like the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer succeeds because of the many talented people assembled to work on it under the genius overseeing its creation.

Nolan’s screenplay is non-chronological, yet no matter the setting, the scenes are dramatically engaging as the puzzle of the story reveals itself. In the late 20s/early ’30s, Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) studies abroad at Cambridge and other European colleges. He starts a school of quantum theory at UC Berkeley and associates with Communists, which include his brother Frank and psychiatrist Jean Tatlock (Florence Pugh), whom he has a romantic relationship. He joins the Manhattan Project in 1942, moving to Los Alamos, New Mexico where he and his team race against the Germans and the Russians to develop an atomic bomb first. He is accompanied by his wife Kitty (Emily Blunt); their marriage a result of their affair leading to a pregnancy and her husband granting a divorce.

At the start, the film references the mythical Prometheus, a fitting parallel. Seen over an exploding fireball played in reverse, titles reveal “Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to man. For this he was chained to a rock and tortured for eternity.” After the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Oppenheimer is tortured by the realization that his work has given mankind the power to destroy the world, a power they may be incapable of controlling. After WWII, Admiral Lewis Strauss (Robert Downey Jr.) hires Oppenheimer at Princeton but they are not of the same mind, frequently butting heads about the future of technological weapons.

There are also two procedures that run through the film. In 1954, an Atomic Energy Commission security board hearing meets to determine extending Oppenheimer’s security clearance. In 1959, the Senate holds a confirmation hearing for Strauss, who is up for Secretary of Commerce in Eisenhower’s cabinet.

Oppenheimer should be recognized during award season by the bodies and guilds that honor different areas of the best in film. Production designer Ruth De Jong and her teams create authentic worlds for the characters to inhabit. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and his team, shooting in color and black and white, capture stunning visuals sure to be remembered for years to come. Composer Ludwig Göransson’s score is evocative, augmenting scenes by matching the emotions when called upon.

Murphy leads a stellar cast, with many doing their best work including himself as he conveys the various stages of Oppenheimer’s life over five decades. Downey Jr. captivates in a a career-best portrayal of the flawed, power-hungry Strauss. Blunt’s Kitty has been restrained by choosing marriage and motherhood over her career as a scientist. She drowns her sorrows in alcohol, but the times she unleashes her rage are like bombs going off. Jason Clarke as Roger Robb, an interrogator for the security board, is self-righteous and makes a great nemesis. Even actors with small roles, like Casey Affleck and Gary Oldman, shine in their limited screen time.

The video has been given a 1080/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at aspect ratio 1.78:1 and 2.20:1. Sourced from the original 65MM film elements, the image impresses throughout with a flawless presentation. There is noticeable film grain. Colors appear in rich hues, particularly the orange seen in fire. Blacks are inky and don’t crush. The black and white footage offers a wide spectrum of grays. Fine texture details and a sharp focus demonstrate the video’s clarity which looks flawless.

The 5.1 DTS track immerses from the start as the score and the concussive bass of nuclear blasts are mixed together and envelope the viewer. Later, subtle scene ambiance can be heard. Dialogue is consistently clear and understandable. The elements are balanced well together in the mix, which has a wide dynamic range.

Special Features:

  • The Story of Our Time: The Making of Oppenheimer (72 min) – A seven-part feature that explores different aspects of the production.
  • Trailers (14 min) – Five different trailers
  • Innovations in Film: 65mm Black and White in Oppenheimer (8 min) – A discussion about using a film stock that hasn’t been manufactured in decades for the shoot.
  • Meet The Press Q&A Panel: Oppenheimer (35 min) – Moderated by Meet the Press anchor Chuck Todd, Nolan, Bird, Los Alamos National Laboratory director Dr. Thom Mason, physicists Dr. Carlo Rovelli and Dr. Kip Thorne are gathered for a discussion about the film
  • To End All War: Oppenheimer & the Atomic Bomb (87 min) – A documentary by NBC News.

Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, a standout film of the year and of his career, will long be remembered. Not just for being a great film, but a film that defied industry expectations considering a three-hour, R-rated biopic about a 20th-century scientist nearly made $1 billion at the box office like it was a sequel to a successful blockbuster franchise. Probably my favorite film of the year and the high-definition presentation is very satisfying, especially considering most of us don’t have IMAX capabilities at home. Highly recommended.

Buy Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer
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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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