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SYFY WIRE Oppenheimer

Christopher Nolan's 'Oppenheimer' somehow recreated a nuclear detonation without using CGI

The WWII thriller arrives on the big screen Friday, July 21.

By Josh Weiss

Christopher Nolan's commitment to cinematic realism seems to have reached its apex on Oppenheimer. The upcoming World War II thriller — which centers around the man who helped develop the world's first atomic bomb on behalf of the United States government — apparently recreates the famous Trinity detonation...without the use of computer-generated imagery. Now, we're not saying Universal Pictures allowed Nolan to drop an actual nuclear weapon in New Mexico, but...wait, did they?

"Andrew Jackson — my visual effects supervisor, I got him on board early on – was looking at how we could do a lot of the visual elements of the film practically, from representing quantum dynamics and quantum physics to the Trinity test itself, to recreating, with my team, Los Alamos up on a mesa in New Mexico in extraordinary weather, a lot of which was needed for the film, in terms of the very harsh conditions out there — there were huge practical challenges," the filmmaker explained during an interview with Total Film.

Longtime Nolan collaborator Cillian Murphy (Batman Begins, Inception) leads the biopic as J. Robert Oppenheimer, the gifted scientist and leading egghead on the top-secret Manhattan Project, which brought a fiery end to WWII and ushered in a terrifying new age of human hubris. Once the devastating secrets of the atom were unlocked, the world would never be the same as American and the Soviet Union built deadlier and more accurate nuclear weapons, threatening to irradiate the planet over dueling economic principles. In fact, Oppenheimer vehemently opposed the development of the hydrogen bomb and was blacklisted for it during the McCarthy era.

"It’s a story of immense scope and scale," Nolan teased. "And one of the most challenging projects I’ve ever taken on in terms of the scale of it, and in terms of encountering the breadth of Oppenheimer’s story. There were big, logistical challenges, big practical challenges. But I had an extraordinary crew, and they really stepped up. It will be a while before we’re finished. But certainly as I watch the results come in, and as I’m putting the film together, I’m thrilled with what my team has been able to achieve.”

Emily Blunt (Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer), Matt Damon (General Leslie Groves Jr.), Robert Downey Jr. (Lewis Strauss), Florence Pugh (Jean Tatlock), Josh Hartnett (Ernest Lawrence), Michael Angarano (Robert Serber), Benny Safdie (Edward Teller), Kenneth Branagh, Rami Malek, Alden Ehrenreich, David Dastmalchian, Dane DeHaan, Jack Quaid, Matthew Modine, Dylan Arnold, and David Krumholtz comprise the supporting ensemble.

Nolan produced the film with Emma Thomas and Charles Roven.

Based on American Prometheus (the Pulitzer-winning biography written by Kai Bird and the late Martin J. Sherwin), Oppenheimer arrives on the big screen Friday, July 21. While we await the countdown to detonation, check out a fresh poster below. Just make sure to shield your eyes...

Oppenheimer (2023) Poster

Jonesing for another thriller based on true events? A Friend of the Family is now streaming on Peacock.