Managing Editor; Dallas, Texas, US (@peteramartin)

To the making of atomic-age movies, there is no end, sorry to say.

To End All War: Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb (2023)
Now streaming on Peacock.

Our own Mel Valentin reviewed Christopher Nolan's Oppenheimer, giving it high praise in a thoroughly considered article, which I encourage you to read (again).

Directed by Christopher Cassel, this documentary could be considered an official companion piece -- it comes from NBC News, which is owned by NBC Universal, the parent company of Oppenheimer distributor Universal Pictures -- featuring Nolan and Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin, authors of American Prometheus, the incredibly detailed and beautifully written biography. (Sherwin is only heard in an audio recording; he passed away in 2021). It never gets into Nolan's film, though, instead giving a straightforward account of the major events in Oppenheimer's life, leading up and following the atomic blasts in 1945.

Fashioned in the modern style, with plenty of graphics and diagrams to adorn the talking head interviews with authors, historians, and scientists, as well as Jon Else, who directed The Day After Trinity (see below), the documentary is snappy and informative. It also avoids duplicating any material in Jon Else's doc, save for one bit near the end, so it's complementary viewing, if you've now found yourself bitten by the atomic-age bug, like me, and have multiple streaming services.

Unlike Oppenheimer, it includes testimony by a Japanese survivor of the first atomic bomb in Hiroshima. Just 10 years old at the time, she lost her mother, cousin, and best friend; she says plainly that she wishes that she too had died.

The Day After Trinity (1981)
Now streaming on The Criterion Channel.

Reflecting its era of documentary filmmaking, The Day After Trinity is a blunt-edged sword that gets to the heart of Oppenheimer's dilemma.

Director Jon Else interviews younger brother Frank Oppenheimer and fellow scientists Hans Berthe, Haakon Chevalier, Freeman Dyson and Robert R. Wilson, among others. It's buffeted by archival footage, rather than graphics or reenactments, and the interviewees are heard at greater length.

It's concisely edited and thoughtful, with space allowed for the viewer to contemplate the points under discussion, without ever getting bogged down in the scientific or political complexities. In other words, it explains its subject well, digging into a few subjects well, and considers them thoroughly. It's well worth a viewing.

Manhattan (2014)
Two seasons, now streaming on AMC+.

Disclaimer: I've only watched the first episode so far. But that's because I didn't realize the series was on a streaming service that I already have! The series has been on my personal 'seek it out' list for some years now, I suppose ever since it debuted on cable nearly 10 years ago.

Created by Sam Shaw, who would go on to create Castle Rock for TV, the quite good first episode picks up in 1943, as wartime tensions increased and security at Los Alamos, New Mexico, tightened. The series follows the scientists as they work frantically to figure out how to make the bomb, as well as their families who had been dragged along and left (basically) to themselves on the base.

Rachel Brosnahan, Olivia Williams, Daniel Stern, and John Benjamin Hickey are among the familiar, stressed-out faces; David Harbour, William L. Petersen, Peter Stormare, Bill Camp, Mamie Gummer will show up in the multiple episodes as well. I'm putting this on my personal watch list to catch up with it entirely as soon as I can.

Fat Man and Little Boy (1989)
Now streaming on Kanopy.

And now for something a little Hollywood. Directed by Roland Joffé, who was coming off The Killing Fields (1984) and The Mission (1986), this was a prestige picture that did not fare well with critics or audiences.

Paul Newman stars as General Groves, the character played by Matt Damon in Oppenheimer; here he is in the lead role, making sure that everyone knows who is in charge, including Oppenheimer, played by Dwight Schultz (?) from The A-Team, with Bonnie Bedalia as Kitty Oppenheimer and Natasha Richardson, briefly, as Jean Tatlock. Rising star John Cusack, who starred in Say Anything released earlier in the year, plays the most notable young scientist on the base, romancing Laura Dern as a nurse, and bending the ear of Oppenheimer.

It's an ungainly film, and keeps pulling away from its main subjects, distracted by the Cusack/Dern pairing. Perhaps it's because of seeing the other films, but it seems quite strange for Oppenheimer to be relegated to a less-than-starring role, in service as the necessary opponent to Newman's crusty star turn.

The Atomic Cafe (1982)
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD, and on various Video On Demand platforms, all via Kino Lorber.

I first watched The Atomic Cafe during Los Angeles' Filmex in 1982. Watching it again in 2021, it "prompted me to think more deeply at what I was watching and contemplate the years that have passed since the film's release nearly forty years ago, as well as the ways in which modern culture has not truly advanced very far beyond the early 50s.

"We still see fear and mistrust, we are still confused and frightened by misinformation, we still hope that all the world's problems will just go away. And bombs that can blow up the world are still out there, waiting to be used.

"The documentary, originally put together in 16mm, was restored in 2018 and looks amazing. All the archival footage, of course, retains its primitive glory, but I don't think that makes a lick of difference. The Atomic Cafe remains a terrific film."

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Christopher NolanJon ElseOppenheimerPaul NewmanRoland Joffe

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