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Christopher Nolan recreated an atomic test ‘without computer graphics’ for new movie

Oppenheimer’s biopic demands no less than nuclear commitment

christopher nolan on the set of the dark knight rises, using an IMAX camera Photo: Warner Bros. Pictures
Austen Goslin (he/him) is an entertainment editor. He writes about the latest TV shows and movies, and particularly loves all things horror.

Christopher Nolan is hard at work promoting his next film, Oppenheimer, a biopic all about the life of famed nuclear scientist J. Robert Oppenheimer. This means that he needs a new ridiculous practical effect to brag about, and he may have outdone himself in truly apocalyptic fashion this time. According to an interview with TotalFilm magazine, Nolan says he recreated an atomic test without “computer graphics.”

Now, does this mean that Nolan built a prototype nuclear device to detonate at Los Alamos? Probably not. But the best part of his increasingly ridiculous commitment to (mostly) practical effects is that you really can’t rule much out. After all, he did crash a real 747 into a building on the set of Tenet. Nolan technically just says that he and his team “recreated the Trinity test,” which could mean just the conditions, or the feel, but not the explosion itself. That being said, it’s awfully hard to imagine Nolan passing up the opportunity to engage in the great American tradition of detonating a massive explosive device in a remote New Mexico dessert.

While Nolan’s vague implication that he and visual effects supervisor Andrew Jackson created a (fake) nuclear weapon is certainly attention-grabbing, so is his insistence that they did so “without the use of computer graphics.” Given Nolan’s love of practical effects, this is no surprise, but it also shouldn’t be misunderstood. Not using CGI for the real-world recreation is one thing, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the footage they shoot of the explosion won’t be touched up with a few flourishes before release, similar to a movie like Mad Max: Fury Road.

One thing Nolan’s latest comments about Oppenheimer make clear is that should he ever cast Tom Cruise — Hollywood’s other foremost practical effects advocate — in one of his movies, it’s possible no one would be safe from their CGI-less shenanigans.

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