Release Date(s)2022 (October 25, 2022)
Studio(s)Monkeypaw Productions/Universal Pictures (Universal Studios Home Entertainment)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: A
- Audio Grade: A
- Extras Grade: B
“OJ” Haywood (Daniel Kaluuya, Sicario, Black Panther) and his sister “Em” (Keke Palmer, Hustlers, Akeelah and the Bee) are Hollywood royalty of a kind, having inherited their family’s cinema horse-wrangling business from their father, Otis (Keith David, The Thing, Pitch Black), who was killed in a freak accident on their Aqua Dulce, California ranch by random objects raining down from the sky. But Otis’ death isn’t the only strange thing that’s happened on the Haywood Ranch of late—hikers have gone missing in the area, the power often fluctuates, their horses are continually freaked out, and a strange cloud hangs over the place—both literally and metaphorically—that never seems to leave.
Things are just great for their neighbor though; Ricky “Jupiter” Park (Steven Yeun, The Walking Dead) is a former child TV star who’s extended his fifteen minutes of fame though a successful western-themed amusement park with a decidedly out-of-this-world stunt show. Meanwhile, when OJ and Em discover the surprising cause of all their troubles, they decide to exploit it for a little fame and fortune of their own. Not only do they hire a local Frys Electronics nerd to set up a security network to capture the phenomenon, they recruit an eccentric IMAX cameraman to join the effort too. Unfortunately, the allure of surefire success blinds all of them to a much deeper truth: When you sow the wind, you’ll eventually reap the whirlwind.
Directed by Jordan Peele, Nope is a savvy blend of Close Encounters by way of Jaws (or maybe Signs by way of Moby Dick), replete with Peele’s characteristic “uncanny valley” touches and biting social satire. It cleverly blends horror, western, and science fiction tropes, while adding deftly-observed Hollywood insider comedy for good measure. Its protagonists are every bit as fascinating as they are funny and refreshing, thanks to terrific performances by Kaluuya, Palmer, and Yeun. All of this is supported by an eerie Atmos surround mix and immersive cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema (Spectre, Dunkirk, Tenet), who pioneered a new way of shooting 65 mm and IMAX footage for this film, in a first for the horror genre. (You can read more about it here on the Kodak website.)
But while Nope has much to recommend it, the film is also decidedly uneven. Every time it builds up a bit of momentum, it squanders that tension with an odd shift of perspective or flashbacks that enhance character but take you out of the moment. Peele is a really smart filmmaker, and his commentary on exploitation and spectacle is sharp indeed, but what you really want from Nope is the very thing its trailers promise: A creepy, edge-of-your-seat UFO thriller. Peele does deliver some great thrills early on but fails to build on them, so his tale never becomes more than the sum of its parts. The film also gives away too much too early, sometimes by telling you rather than showing you. As a result, its climax is more intellectually compelling than viscerally so. And when Nope’s “white whale” is finally revealed, it’s… well… certainly weird, but also absurd, and unfortunately very far from scary (unless balloons, parachute silk, or sailcloth freaks you out).
Nope was shot in a unique combination of 35 mm film (for the Gordy’s Home footage), 5-perf 65 mm film (for most dialogue scenes), and 15-perf IMAX film blended with large format infrared digital photography (for ranch exteriors and nighttime scenes), using a combination of Panavision System 65, Panavision Panaflex, ARRI Alexa 65, and IMAX cameras with Panavision Primo and Sphero lenses. The digital footage was captured in 6.5K resolution, while the large format film was scanned in 8K, all of which was then scaled down to 4K for post production and Digital Intermediate finishing in a variable aspect ratio for IMAX theaters. Universal’s Ultra HD release preserves that variable ratio (shifting from 2.20:1 to 1.78:1), while adding an excellent high dynamic range grade (HDR10 only). The resulting image quality is largely breathtaking, with a striking clarity of detail and some of the most crisply and cleanly refined texturing you’ll ever see. There are times when the imagery almost hits you in the face, it’s so impressive. And the HDR grade renders color that’s naturally richer and more refined that you’ll experience on Blu-ray. The nighttime footage is also impressive, in that you’re able to see much more detail—not just in faces and foreground objects, but also in the distant landscapes—than would normally be possible on film, thanks to Hoytema innovative process that enhances the IMAX footage with infrared wavelengths. It creates a truly immersive feeling, with genuine depth even in the darkest scenes. The only knock on all this is that everything that’s being filmed—set pieces, costumes, and the landscape itself—is so subdued in its colors and contrasts. Bleak isn’t quite the right word for it, but it’s close. These visuals are striking, but they’re not bold or dazzling. So while the cinematography is remarkably effective, rarely does it qualify as true eye candy.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is offered in a fantastic English Dolby Atmos mix that is—in many ways—an auditory reflection of this imagery. The soundfield if big, wide, and highly atmospheric, enveloping you in the film’s sonic environments. And the mix cleverly blends real natural environmental sounds with eerie little touches that set the listener on edge. Is that the wind howling, or are those human screams? Is that a horse, or something unnatural? Distant music, or something more sinister? You’re never quite sure until the film wants you to be sure. Dialogue is clear at all times, there’s pleasing dynamic range, and the mix features wonderfully deep and rich bass. Additional audio options include 7.1 Spanish Dolby Digital Plus and 5.1 French Dolby Digital, with subtitles available in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
Universal’s Ultra HD release includes the film in 4K on UHD and also 1080p HD on Blu-ray. Each disc includes the following special features (obviously in HD only on the Blu-ray):
- Deleted Scenes (4K SDR – 5 scenes – 9:25 in all)
- Gag Reel (4K SDR – 5:29)
- Shadows: The Making of Nope (4K SDR – 56:05)
- Call Him Jean Jacket (4K SDR – 14:22)
- Mystery Man of Muybridge (4K SDR – 5:03)
The deleted scenes don’t really offer much that feels as if it should have been included in the final cut, but the gag reel is cute. Better still, the hour-long documentary is straight-up excellent—thoughtful, compelling, and reflective. Peele talks about his inspirations for the film, we get to see his creative process and the way he collaborates with Hoytema and his actors. Each major location and story sequence is covered in some detail, and all of the key participants get a chance to weigh in. There’s also a piece on the film’s “white whale” so to speak—the way it was conceived and how it was realized on screen. And finally you get a bit of background on the iconic footage of the Black jockey riding his horse—the so-called Muybridge clip, which was one of the first ever pieces of motion picture footage (whether or not it was the first, it’s certainly the oldest surviving such clip). The quality of these extras is such that I really wish the disc featured an actual audio commentary with Peele, but one isn’t included. You do at least get a Digital copy code on a paper insert.
Ultimately, Nope is a worthy addition to Jordan Peele’s cinematic oeuvre, if not quite a fully successful one. So many ideas are competing for prominence here that the work as a whole falls a little short of the mark. But it’s still an impressive effort—Peele is definitely swinging for the fences. I have no doubt that he’ll knock one out of the park at some point (and I’ll happily watch anything he makes in anticipation of it). Nope also rewards multiple viewings, so the film could certainly grow in appreciation with time. And Universal’s UHD release delivers an A/V experience that’s well saying “Yep” to. For many reasons then, both this film and the Ultra HD are easy to recommend.
- Bill Hunt