‘Oppenheimer’ fever grips cinemagoers in Saudi Arabia, UAE

DAMMAM: Movie fans are flocking to the Middle East to see director Christopher Nolan’s long-awaited summer blockbuster “Oppenheimer,” which has already broken the 2023 record for advance ticket sales in Saudi Arabia, according to the country’s major theaters.

Advanced bookings began last week and, after just six days, the film has become the country’s biggest pre-release seller this year, the Kingdom’s biggest operator confirmed.

Cinemagoers in the Kingdom spoke to Arab News after watching the film on July 20 when it premiered across the GCC.


Advanced bookings began last week and, after just six days, the film has become the country’s biggest pre-release seller this year, the Kingdom’s biggest operator confirmed. (AFP)

Saudi-born high school friends Rayan and Hassan watch a movie at the Muvi cinema in Dhahran Mall.

Rayan, who says he has an insatiable appetite for science and was familiar with the Oppenheimer story before the film’s release, drags his friend Hassan to see it.

“If you don’t have a background in the story of the making of the atomic bomb, you won’t understand the first scenes,” Rayan told Arab News. “It was three long hours, but they didn’t use the time wisely. They kept important parts of the overall story and took too long in other parts. Like the test at the end, it dragged out too much.

“I was happy when I heard about the movie and how it focused so much on a very important thing that everyone will talk about – because everyone should know and talk about it. But I felt that they tried to make the US as good or better in relation to Japan than reality shows,” he added.


The film stars Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer. (AFP)

Hassan watched with little knowledge of the story but still enjoyed it. “It was a good movie, honestly, but it was a bit long. They showed us how many times they tested atomic bombs, it was a lot, it was more than four or five times – one or two times was enough. In the beginning, I didn’t understand anything then it started to make sense,” he told Arab News.

Written and directed by Oscar-nominee Nolan, who shot the film specifically for IMAX screens, “Oppenheimer” charts the story of theoretical physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer who was pivotal in developing the first nuclear weapons as part of the Manhattan Project.

“We put a lot of effort into shooting the movie in such a way that we could show it on these large format screens. It’s really a great way of giving people an experience that they can’t get at home,” Nolan told the Associated Press.

In the UAE, fans are just as excited.

“Oppenheimer is truly an unparalleled masterpiece … The magnificent performances combined with the captivating visuals and of course powerful storytelling create one of the greatest pieces in cinematic history,” said Fairouz Shalaby.

American-Egyptian fan Yasmeen Abdelfatah said: “In terms of production and acting, it’s absolutely perfect. The story puts you in an existential trance where you question the foundations of morality entirely. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched a movie this much.”

However, not all reviews are positive.

Fuad Maktabi, who is Lebanese and based in Dubai, believes the film is “overrated.”

“The storyline is like lightning, but at the same time, it’s very slow. There are a lot of different details that are not necessary to the main plot, which is also a bit vague,” he told Arab News. “They also make you worry the whole time for no reason. It would have been nice if they played with what the Germans and Russians were really doing. The only good part was the sound effects.”

The film stars Cillian Murphy as Oppenheimer and Golden Globe winner Emily Blunt as his wife, biologist and botanist Katherine “Kitty” Oppenheimer.

Oscar winner Matt Damon plays Gen. Leslie Groves, director of the Manhattan Project, and Robert Downey Jr. stars as Lewis Strauss, a founding commissioner of the US Atomic Energy Commission, with Florence Pugh as Jean Tatlock, and Josh Hartnett as pioneering American nuclear scientist Ernest Lawrence.

Middle Eastern fans – including those who haven’t seen the film – are sharing their thoughts about the film on Twitter.

“For me, Cillian Murphy is an okay actor, but after the movie ‘Oppenheimer’ my view of him changed 180 degrees. I swear he is a great actor,” wrote one user, while another said: “Deserves a clap? Yes, strong.”

Other fans are worried that they won’t enjoy the movie. “I feel like after the strong hype ‘Oppenheimer’ is getting, I won’t like it,” said one user.

Some shared glimpses with their followers of their experiences at the movies. One user wrote: “These are the rituals of preparation for ‘Oppenheimer.’” It was accompanied by photos from the car ride, a movie poster, popcorn and a short clip from the film.

Meanwhile, the film garnered favorable reviews from Hollywood critics, despite some criticism of its three-hour runtime.

Associated Press film writer Lindsey Bahr wrote on Twitter: “Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ is truly a stunning achievement with its realistic, concise adaptation, inventive storytelling and nuanced performances from Cillian Murphy, Emily Blunt, Robert Downey Jr., Matt Damon and the many, many others involved.”

US journalist and filmmaker Bilge Ebiri tweeted: “’Oppenheimer’ is … incredible. The word that keeps coming to mind is ‘scary.’ A relentlessly paced, insanely detailed, intricate historical drama that builds and builds and builds until Nolan drops the hammer in the most spectacular, devastating way.

Former critic Kenneth Turan, writing for the Los Angeles Times, praised “Oppenheimer” as “perhaps Nolan’s most impressive work in the way it combines his acclaimed visual mastery with one of the deepest character dives in recent American cinema.”

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