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Jordan Peele's Nope (out in theaters later this month) isn't your average, run-of-the-mill summer blockbuster. If you take a peek under the hood of grand visuals and larger-than-life story about a sinister alien presence terrorizing a small California hamlet out in the middle of the desert, you'll find a meta statement on our ever-growing desire for explosive cinema.
"I started off wanting to make a film that would put an audience in the immersive experience of being in the presence of a UFO," Peele explained during an interview for Empire Magazine's August 2022 issue (now on sale). "And I wanted to make a spectacle, something that would promote my favorite art form and my favorite way of watching that art form: the theatrical experience. As I started writing the script, I started to dig into the nature of spectacle, our addiction to spectacle, and the insidious nature of attention."
Daniel Kaluuya (Get Out) and Keke Palmer (Lightyear) lead the project as OJ and Emerald Haywood, the sibling operators of a Hollywood horse-training business and descendants of the horse-riding man depicted in what is considered to be the first motion picture ever made: Eadweard Muybridge's Horse in Motion from the late 19th century. In many ways, Nope represents a response to the unjust anonymity of the Black man who made Muybridge famous.
"We know who Eadweard Muybridge is ... but we don't know who this guy on the horse is," Peele continued. "He's the first movie star, the first animal trainer, the first stunt rider ever on film, and no one knows who he is! That erasure is part of what the lead characters in this movie are trying to correct. They're trying to claim their rightful place as part of the spectacle. And what the film also deals with is the toxic nature of attention and the insidiousness of our human addiction to spectacle."
When the cosmic visitors turn up out of the blue and start wreaking all sorts of supernatural havoc, OJ and Emerald hatch a plan to film the UFO and get rich off the evidence that life does indeed exist beyond our little blue marble. To that end, they bring in an old cinematography professional played by Michael Wincott. Luckily, Peele had his own veteran director of photography in Hoyte van Hoytema, whose filmmaking resume includes ambitious genre outings like Interstellar, Spectre, Ad Astra, and Tenet.
"In a movie that is about capturing a UFO in film and that adventure, the first thing I asked Hoyte was, 'If you had to capture the most importance piece of footage of all time, how would you do it?' And we approached it like that," said the writer-director. "So we kind of approached making the film like the adventure within the film. We shot a third in IMAC, which is a totally immersive experience, and the rest of it in 65mm film, and he's just done beautiful work."
Nope arrives in theaters everywhere Friday, July 22, and may warrant multiple viewings from eagle-eyed audience members who share Peele's love for pop culture that is both mainstream and deep-cut.
"I'm obsessed with Easter eggs," he admitted. "I'm obsessed with connection. I love to reward the person who wants to come and just watch a movie and forget about it. I love to reward the person that wants to watch [it] 100 times. So yeah, I've gone deep into this movie, and I think it's probably an audience's choice how far they want to go."