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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan Explains How Atomic Blast in Oppenheimer Differs from The One in Dark Knight Rises

Is Nolan pledging to never utilize CG effects moving forward?

By Josh Weiss

The irradiated seeds of Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer (in theaters everywhere this Friday) go back over a decade to the nail-biting denouement of The Dark Knight Rises, in which Batman (Christian Bale) carries a nuclear device far away from Gotham City just seconds before it detonates. The blinding flash and subsequent mushroom cloud were realized with CGI, which Nolan famously did not want to rely on while putting together his 3-hour exploration into the life and career of theoretical physicist and father of the atom bomb, J. Robert Oppenheimer.

Oppenheimer's Christopher Nolan Talks Using Computer Graphics

"Computer graphics are a touch anodyne to me," the filmmaker explained to NBC's Chuck Todd this past Saturday at a post-screening discussion attended by SYFY WIRE and NBC Insider (the event was held in commemoration of the Trinity test's 78th anniversary).

RELATED: Watch This 5-Minute First Look at Christopher Nolan’s Epic Oppenheimer

"They’re very versatile, but they tend to lack threat," added the writer-director. "Of course, now they’re seeming threatening in other ways [referring to the rapid rise of AI]. But as far as your actual use of them and as a filmmaker, you’re trying to gauge what colors are in your paintbox. What techniques are you gonna use? What’s the feeling?"

Christopher Nolan on What Differentiates Oppenheimer's Atomic Blast from the One in Dark Knight Rises

The atomic blast in Dark Knight Rises, he continued, was meant to feel "far away enough that it’s not going to affect you. You’re actually meant to have a sense of, ‘Okay, we got away with it.’ We did that with CG, it was beautifully rendered [by] my team [who did] incredible research." Depicting the Trinity test, on the other hand, required a wildly different approach. "It was like, ‘Okay, this has to feel dangerous. This has to feel beautiful and terrifying in equal measure.’ And real-world imagery, real-world things have that bite."

Starring Cillian Murphy (Inception, Dunkirk) as the managing mind behind the Manhattan Project, Oppenheimer draws on American Prometheus, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biography by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin. Also speaking on the panel, Bird stated that Sherwin, who passed away in late 2021, would have "been blown away" by the epic, 3-hour film.

Kai Bird on How Faithful Oppenheimer Is to American Prometheus

"Marty worked on this book for 25 years and when we learned from Christopher that he was doing this, it was welcome news, but we were skeptical, I have to say. Because it’s a complicated, 700-page book," he confessed. "And then I had a meeting with Christopher and he explained what he was doing. I came back and reported to Marty and reassured him that I thought that this was actually something special and real. Then he died two weeks later. But he would’ve been just overwhelmed and pleased with what you’ve done. It’s a brilliant artistic creation and it’s faithful to the book."

Oppenheimer arrives on the big screen this Friday, July 21. Click here for tickets!

Want more blockbuster thrills in the meantime? Jaws, Jurassic Park, The Da Vinci Code, The Hunger Games, Fast Five, Jurassic World, Knock at the Cabin, Cocaine Bear, Renfield, and more are now streaming on Peacock!