“Video games can never be art”, wrote the great film critic Roger Ebert back in 2010. The implications of that claim have since riled developers, players, and endless comment sections online, like a shard big enough to injure but too small to cleanly excise. If Ebert were still alive today, we could rather ask him if cinema can one day be a video game. And with the mess surrounding Christopher Nolan’s Oppenheimer, the answer is clearly yes.
No, the director’s three-hour Dark Knight and Interstellar saga about the most violent chain reaction in human history isn’t playable and doesn’t have multiple endings, the kinds of qualities we usually tend to associate with interactive film. However, everything surrounding the period piece’s summer blockbuster seems straight out of the wider world of gaming culture. It’s all there: massive shortages, technical malfunctions, high-stakes storytelling, and superfans ready to document, react to, and amplify every new development in the cinephile spectacle.
Maybe you noticed it too. The making started for me when interviews with Nolan gushing about how he forced Hollywood to invent even bigger 70mm film reels that could hold Oppenheimer’s 180 minutes started circulating online. Clips of him standing next to a Ferris wheel meant to help save the film industry were comedic but also flying paper for enthusiasts who pride themselves on confusing pedantry with personality.
Audiophiles willing to kit you out with a $3,000 setup to listen to The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds share a similar exuberance for small differences, but they don’t have a massive commercial event to channel it to. Only Nolan, a master of investment “greatness and novelty in conventional themes“, i.e. heady blockbusters, could marry technical sophistication with the promise of the biggest blast on the biggest screen as Nvidia showcases ray-tracing detail for its latest $1,600 graphics card that comes bundled with a free copy of Cyberpunk 2077.
Maybe the 11 miles long, 600 lbs of 70mm cut by Oppenheimer should have been a dead giveaway that it wouldn’t be your standard IMAX experience, but lo and behold, only 20 theaters in the United States are showing it right now. Finally drunk on Nolan’s cinematic geek, everyone collectively realized during the July 20 opening weekend that every Oppenheimer 70mm screening would nearly sell out for weeks, if not months. Unless of course you want to be that person sitting on the other side of the front row with their ears blown by Ludwig Göransson’s “”unplayable” score.
It feels like the PlayStation 5 shortage (which only eased this year) or the race to grab a high-end graphics card when they were all being used to cryptomine the planet to death. People even try to Scalp Oppenhiemer IMAX Tickets as they often do with limited edition consoles and copies of physical games. would you like to pay $1,000 for eight tickets to the fourth row seats of the Midtown AMC?
And those who got tickets to early IMAX screenings were understandably anything but cold about it. TikTok and Reddit are full of people sharing photos from their theater screenings, some in the middle of the film. The acts of theater vandalismsomewhere between receiving the sacrament and desperately chasing influence online, left everyone stuck at home participating in the madness in some way, while elsewhere revive the debate on the etiquette of being a jerk in public. The game has its Twitch streamers and YouTube unboxers. Oppenheimer has a guy share blurry images by Cillian Murphy looking haunted by the razor’s edge between genius and crimes against humanity.
But no big-budget gaming experience would be complete without the specter of bugs, glitches, and, in a small but not zero number of cases, epic disaster. Almost no modern game launches smoothly these days. Star Wars Jedi: Survivor had terrible framerate performance on some PCs and crashed frequently on PS5 when it was first released. Fans who paid extra for Diablo IV to play it early found themselves kicked out of the game due to a weird glitch whose workaround initially seemed to require them to pay for more microtransactions.
The Oppenheimer IMAX screenings were also flawed. Some had pictures that were desynchronized with sound. Others would have been upside down. A few have completely closed when the light bulbs burnt out Or other equipment malfunctioned. A modest and perhaps predictable price to pay for the biggest reel of film ever created on the biggest bomb to explode. All we need now is for Nolan to personally apologize on Twitter with text overlaid on a mushroom cloud and a promise to fix the theater issues by next weekend.
Perhaps most game-like is the complete collapse of online movie discourse. The pre-launch hype about a pivotal moment in history getting a big-budget meditation on the big screen in 2023 immediately gave way to the usual cacophony. Does Oppenheimer make the invention of the atomic bomb too cool? Why didn’t Oppenheimer concern anyone other than Oppenheimer? Why does everyone hate Oppenheimer? Why does everyone hate everyone hate Oppenheimer? Beautiful. Glorious. Even better than Diablo IV players with 100 hours of gameplay complaining of being bored, or Final Fantasy fans being absolute freaks about anyone who says nonsense.
Commenting on Barbenheimer-mania opening weekendeditor of Slate Sam Adams wrote, “The collective joy from July 21 to 23 was not limited to dazzling images on the big screen. It was the feeling that watching a movie actually made you participate in something. To paraphrase Kidman, we didn’t just “come here to do magic.” We were magic.
Players have always been the magic of games. They are the final cog, the driving force that makes everything click into place, the very one who made Ebert’s skeptical plays might be art in the first place, their artistic visions and intentions seemingly contaminated by outside agency. However, no work of art can exist apart from the person who experiences it, whether on a 7-inch Nintendo Switch screen or an eight-story IMAX screen. We bring to it our complex histories and identities, our hopes and traumas, our idiosyncratic tastes and our petty allegiances. Sometimes it threatens to consume the art itself, or at least our perception of it. Godspeed Oppenheimer.
Article source https://kotaku.com/oppenheimer-christopher-nolan-70mm-sold-out-imax-1850674440