Kodak recently developed a special black and white film specifically for use in the movie “Oppenheimer.” The film, called Eastman Double-X Black and White film in 65mm, was created for IMAX and Panavision System 65mm film cameras.
This unique film distinguishes between two time periods in the movie, which tells the story of J. Robert Oppenheimer, the father of the atomic bomb. Director Christopher Nolan and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema made the bold choice to shoot in black and white, resulting in a visually stunning outcome.
Equipment specifics were a challenge for the production team. Van Hoytema contacted Kodak early on to inquire about the availability of 65mm large-format black and white film.
Kodak had never manufactured it before, but they rose to the occasion and supplied a prototype film stock, the Double-X 5222 65mm. The film, bearing hand-written labels on the cans, was specially manufactured for this project.
Due to its unique nature, it required adjustments to be made to the laboratory film processor and IMAX cameras in order to achieve optimal results.
Despite the complexity of the engineering process, van Hoytema and Nolan were blown away by the initial tests they saw, featuring actors Cillian Murphy and Robert Downey Jr. The analog image captured on the film possessed a level of resolution, depth, color, and roundness that digital cameras can’t compete with.
For van Hoytema, shooting in black and white brought back memories of his film school days in Łódź, Poland, where he learned to understand the intricacies of greyscale, work with spot and incident light meters, and make subjective artistic judgments.
In the end, the final film reel for “Oppenheimer” weighed a staggering 600 pounds and stretched over 11 miles. The movie, shot with this special black and white film stock, is now playing in theaters.