Here’s a look at a pair of recent films on the Blu-ray disc format starring legendary researchers, both real and fictional.
Oppenheimer (Universal Studios Home Entertainment, rated R, 1.78:1 and 2.20:1 aspect ratio, 180 minutes, $39.98) — Filmmaker Christopher Nolan’s latest blockbuster that covered the pivotal moments of the life of the father of the atomic bomb explodes onto the high definition disc format with an extra Blu-ray disc packed with extras.
Viewers learn over a whopping three hours about Jewish American theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer (Cillian Murphy) covering the time period from the 1920s to the early 1960s.
The biographical drama explores his years as a doctoral candidate at Cambridge to teachings at California universities, his leading the Manhattan Project during World War II to build the ultimate weapon of mass destruction and the disgracing loss of his security clearance handled by a corrupt committee investigating his un-American Communist activities.
Mr. Murphy delivers the performance of a lifetime and is massively supplemented by a heavyweight ensemble cast including Robert Downey Jr. as the backstabbing founding commissioner of the American Energy Commission, Lewis Strauss; Emily Blunt as Oppenheimer’s wife Kitty; Matt Damon as the director of the Manhattan Project, Gen. Leslie Groves; Kenneth Branagh as Nobel-winning physicist Niels Bohr; Tom Conti as Albert Einstein; and Gary Oldman as President Harry S. Truman.
The presentation embraces Mr. Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema expanding and contracting color and black-and-white styles shifting from a widescreen screen aspect ratio to IMAX-sized visuals when required such as during an atomic bomb blast and horseback riding across the panoramic American Southwest.
A thrilling epic of both visual scope and narrative to spotlight the downfall of a man who’s demanded upon to deliver the horrors of science, “Oppenheimer” is one of the best films of the year.
Best extras: The package includes an extra Blu-ray disc with extensive bonus content that I would expect for a movie of this magnitude.
First, viewers get a new 90-minute biographical documentary on the life of J. Robert Oppenheimer produced by NBC News Studios and directed by Christopher Cassel.
Packed with expert interviews from primary and secondary sources, mixed in with vintage words from Oppenheimer, the line-up includes authors of the book that the film was based on, Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherman; Oppenheimer author Jennet Conant; theoretical physicist Michio Kaku; the daughter of a Los Alamos scientist; and even a survivor of Hiroshima.
Although a fantastically informative dive that also authenticates much of the movie’s narrative, I do question a serious expose about Oppenheimer using Bill Nye as a science authority source.
Next, a 75-minute, seven-part overview of the production covers topics such as building a new Los Alamos; production design; shooting in the original locations; the invention of a new 65mm black-and-white IMAX film stock (expanded upon in a separate featurette); Mr. Nolan demanding practical effects throughout including reproducing the atomic blast; costume design; the musical score; and the leadership of the director.
Finally, a 34-minute “Meet the Press” panel moderated by Chuck Todd from July of 2023 offers a discussion with Mr. Nolan, Mr. Bird, Los Alamos’ current director Thomas Mason, and physicists Carlo Rovelli and Kip Thorn.
A Haunting in Venice (Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment, rated PG-13, 1.85:1 aspect ratio, 103 minutes, $34.99) — Distinguished actor Kenneth Branagh once again returned to the big screen for the third time as Agatha Christie’s world-renowned Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, and his latest adventure moves to the Blu-ray disc format.
An opening salvo of some of the most attractive spots in Venice during the Halloween season brings viewers in touch with the famous and now retired investigator hounded by those in need of his services.
Poiret meets a friend, crime novelist Ariadne Oliver (Tina Fey), looking for help with debunking medium Joyce Reynolds (Michelle Yeoh) and is invited to a séance at a Halloween party in a palazzo supposedly haunted by the spirits of children.
Poirot accepts the challenge and after he is almost drowned by a mysterious assailant while bobbing for an apple, our hero finds the psychic impaled and a new murder to solve with nine possible suspects.
Mr. Branagh commands the scene with every utterance consumed by the role of the great detective, while Ms. Fey provides the perfect companion, slightly sardonic with just a pinch of American sass.
By the time the mustachioed icon solves the homicide, viewers have been treated to a nail-biting evening of entertainment.
The screen-filling presentation looks good in high definition but really needed an ultra-high definition release to showcase the beauty of Venice with even a fireworks display, the 1940s period costuming and production design, and some of the spooky masks and interior palace visuals.
Best extras: Viewers get a 26-minute production overview starting with a quick exploration of the previous films “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Death on the Nile” before discussing Christie’s story “Hallowe’en Party,” which was retitled in the film as “A Haunting in Venice.”
The segment covers story themes, character motivations, casting, period costuming, shooting in Venice, the non-rehearsed séance scene and Mr. Branagh’s multifunctional role in the film.
It would have been nice if Mr. Branagh had been available for a solo optional commentary track as the starring actor also directed and produced the effort.
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