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Christopher Nolan’s anticipated introduction of his upcoming film Oppenheimer at CinemaCon didn’t disappoint. The filmmaker got a hero’s welcome from theater owners, who cheered and whistled as he walked onstage to show an extended look at the film.
The World War II-set biopic, which opens July 21, stars Cillian Murphy as physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “father of the atomic bomb” for his role in the Manhattan Project.
The pulse-pounding footage (below) looked at a moment in history Nolan was particularly interested in: when Oppenheimer knew that testing the atomic bomb might ignite the atmosphere and destroy the world, but he hit the button anyway.
“In learning about that story, I wanted to be there in that room with them and see what that must have been like,” said Nolan. “I wanted to take the audience there. To do so, I’ve assembled the most incredible cast and the finest technicians.”
The footage showed that, yes, Nolan had turned the historical story into a thriller, with what he described as the highest stakes imaginable. A key point comes when Robert Downey Jr.’s character delivers the news that the Russians are on the path to the bomb, suggesting there was espionage under Oppenheimer’s watch. At one point in the trailer, Oppenheimer grapples with the ethics of creating the bomb: “I don’t know if we can be trusted with the weapon, but I know the Nazis can’t.”
Said Nolan, “Like it or not, J. Robert Oppenheimer is the most important person who ever lived. He made the world we live in — for better or for worse. And his story has to be seen to be believed, and I am certainly hopeful audiences will come to your theaters to see it on the biggest screens possible.”
Nolan’s appearance was highly anticipated among theater owners, who count him as a favorite director thanks to his genre-pushing fare and strong championing of the theatrical experience. Nolan famously left longtime home Warner Bros. for Universal following the studio’s controversial move to send its 2021 slate day-and-date to HBO Max. Oppenheimer is the director’s first release that didn’t involve Warner Bros. since 2000’s Memento.
Writer-director Nolan — known for his preference of film to digital cinematography — reteamed with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to give Oppenheimer an epic visual style, lensing with large-format film, involving Imax cameras and including stark black-and-white cinematography. The film will be released on all of the premium large formats including Imax 70mm, 70mm and Dolby Cinema.
Based on the 2005 book American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, the film also features Emily Blunt, Matt Damon, Rami Malek, Florence Pugh and Kenneth Branagh. Nolan is producing with Emma Thomas and Charles Roven. Part of the draw of Oppenheimer, the footage reveals, is seeing this cast in character-actor-style roles they usually do not take on.
In delivering his remarks, he reflected on an early appearance at CinemaCon.
“I was here some years ago to unveil footage of a film we made about a very fanciful dream-sharing technology,” Nolan said, referencing 2010’s Inception. “I think it has taken me these intervening years to realize there is already a wonderful dream-sharing technology, and it is run and owned by you.”
May 8, 6 a.m. Updated to include the trailer after its wide release.
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