Oppenheimer: Nolan Continues To Push Cinematic Boundaries with Black-and-White IMAX

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Christopher Nolan is a director that has a reputation of doing things differently. He has managed to disrupt Hollywood for decades with the releases that he provides, with many of them changing the movie industry for the better as he goes about his business.

His latest epic, Oppenheimer, has managed to do just that once again, as Nolan being Nolan, has decided to try and reinvent cinema by providing viewers with an entirely new viewing experience.

The filmmaker has decided to go back to black-and-white filming for part of the film while remaining in color for much of it elsewhere. It is the first time he has used this technique since his 2000 release of Memento, but he has brought something new to the method with his 2023 3-hour blockbuster: using IMAX to shoot in black and white for the first time.

Why did Nolan use black-and-white in Oppenheimer?

Speaking in an interview, Nolan recently revealed that he chose to go back to an old-school way of shooting and using black-and-white because of the different plot strands that the film had. He had acknowledged that he had two different plots and stories that needed to be followed, thus the decision to use contrasting visuals throughout.

The director had noted that he and Hoyte van Hoytema had to come up with and invent the format that did not already exist. This required a lot of engineering. After the tests which were conducted left impressive results, they got to work and started to produce the shots that were needed.

Nolan also acknowledged that the editing process was difficult. While editors may have used tools such as Adobe Premiere Pro, given its popularity across the movie industry, a number of challenges were presented. The filmmaker noted that there needed to be a balance between the color sequences and those that were shot in black and white, meaning they had to balance subjectivity with objectivity. He also noted that it required a different type of editing than some of his other films.

How has the use of IMAX made Oppenheimer different?

Nolan decided to make his Oppenheimer the first film to use black-and-white IMAX. He has managed to do this through Kodak, as the film company is making 15 perforation 65mm film in black-and-white for the first time ever, thus bringing something different to the industry.

IMAX cameras are high-resolution film equipment designed for use in theaters with large screens and tall aspect ratios, giving audiences a truly cinematic experience. Producing crystal-clear images coupled with tailored theatre geometry and powerful digital audio creates an atmosphere that engages audiences.

Recently, the IMAX fleet has been expanded to include 12 film cameras. This expands filmmakers’ options immensely – particularly Nolan who made great use of these cameras in Oppenheimer to achieve intimacy rarely seen on large-screen films.

How well has Oppenheimer been received?

Given that Nolan had continued to try and push the boundaries of cinema, most would have already known what they were in for when it was first announced that he would be working on Oppenheimer.

The World War II epic is a 3-hour spectacular that is based on the story of physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who was appointed to design and develop the atomic bomb over several years as part of the top-secret Manhattan Project. They were able to see their work come to life when the world’s first nuclear explosion took place on July 16, 1945.

The film has already received critical acclaim, with the early figures at the box office perhaps backing that up. As of the beginning of August 2023 – just a couple of weeks after its release – it is thought to have amassed over $410 million in revenue. This is four times the amount budgeted to make the film ($100 million).

The figures are also perhaps rather strong given that it was released at the same time as Barbie, subsequently creating the “Barbenheimer” internet phenomenon. Greta Gerwig’s portrayal of the famous Mattel character has been a bigger success (generating almost $800 million in the same period).

Nonetheless, Nolan’s imagination and determination to push cinematic boundaries as much as possible with new formats and viewing experiences are likely to continue to help advance the film industry even further in the future.

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