Fifty-three boxes marked ‘fragile’ and bearing the codename ‘Gadget’ arrived at BFI IMAX last Friday. Inside were 53 reels of celluloid: the 11 miles or 260,006 frames of 15/70mm film that make up Christopher Nolan’s monumental new atomic-age drama Oppenheimer. ‘Gadget’ was also the nickname the Manhattan Project gave to the atomic bomb.
This is one of only 30 prints of Oppenheimer in IMAX 15/70mm in the world, and it nearly didn’t get to us in time. Customs officers had evidently viewed the packages with suspicion, causing hold-ups at the transport company. With rehearsals looming, a mad dash was required to collect the boxes, pile them into the back of a car and bring the precious load to London.
Then came the huge task of splicing the reels together to construct a runnable print. Each reel amounts to about 3.5 minutes of screentime, with the exception of reel 53, which runs more like 1.5 minutes. Joining them together ready for screening took 23 hours over the course of the weekend, with projectionists Tiana Pisano and Michael Ford working around the clock.
Oppenheimer is the longest of Nolan’s 15/70mm features to date, which meant custom-made extensions were needed for the steel discs known as platters that hold the film alongside the projector. Also needing modification was the QTRU – that’s the Quick Turn Around Unit that saves time afterwards by rewinding the film as it plays.
It was an epic task, but deadline was hit for the Monday morning rehearsal, when BFI IMAX became the first UK cinema to run Oppenheimer in its entirety.
Oppenheimer is now showing at BFI IMAX.
Oppenheimer: the view from ground zero
By George Iskander
Oppenheimer: Nolan’s dazzling expressionistic flourishes bring this sombre chamber drama to life
By Jonathan Romney
10 great films about the atomic age
By Wang Sum Luk
Stream hand-picked cinema
A free trial, then £4.99/month or £49/year.Get 14 days free