Why Jordan Peele’s Nope is the biggest IMAX extravaganza of 2022

The following contains spoilers for Nope, which is in theaters now.

IMAX is a wonderful cinematic tool. At a time when the cinematic experience is increasingly competing with the possibilities of home theater, IMAX serves not only as an enhanced viewing experience to draw viewers to the cinema, but also as an intriguing artistic opportunity for filmmakers to take advantage of. And while there have been a lot of great movies that used IMAX in recent years, Jordan Peele’s nope is destined to go down in history as one of the most innovative uses of the form audiences will see this year – and possibly this entire decade.

What is IMAX? IMAX Corporation specializes in the manufacture and sale of high-resolution cameras that record on larger film format and aspect ratio, as well as pioneering its own film projectors and cinemas. The self-proclaimed “most immersive film experience” uses higher resolutions, larger screens, revolutionary audio systems and innovative sound design to present a cinematic experience that is explicitly linked to the filmmaker’s intent. That’s why filmmakers like Chris Nolan and James Cameron love IMAX and shoot everything on it; With its cameras and theater systems, they have much greater control over the audience’s cinematic experience in every aspect.

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IMAX is designed for spectacle. Almost all films shown in the IMAX theaters are not in the IMAX aspect ratio for their entire run, but only for certain sequences in which the aspect ratio is expanded to cover the entire screen. Common examples of what gets the IMAX treatment would be something like a huge action set piece in a blockbuster movie. Top Gun: Maverick made great use of the shape earlier this summer, with his aerial shots all captured with IMAX cameras. The result was a broader, grander canvas for the film to enact its massive storyline. Similarly, nearly every film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe over the past decade has used IMAX to some degree, often for their biggest action sequences with dozens of characters having to fit into a single frame, à la the finale of Avengers: Endgame.

This is how IMAX is most commonly used: as a tool to add scale to a sequence and make everything appear huge. But in nope, Jordan Peele and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema use the IMAX format for purposes entirely unique to their film. In stark contrast to everything else audiences might see at IMAX this year, nope uses the form in a very subjective, brutally effective way to capture the minute against the existential vastness.

The first IMAX sequence in nope comes as Daniel Kaluuya’s character OJ has his first up-close encounter with the creature in the sky they refer to as Jean Jacket. Holding the massive IMAX camera as low as possible to the ground, Peele looks up from Kaluuya. The result is a gigantic IMAX frame where the bottom third of the frame is the back of Kaluuya’s head, while the rest is the vast night sky. Keeping Kaluuya in the foreground while the sky swallows him whole makes for harrowing images that make him feel downright tiny.

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The real genius is how Peele captures and sustains these shots. The editing here is unobtrusive, allowing large chunks of the action to be played back in individual shots. This elongated nature, paired with the absolute subjectivity of the recordings, makes the screens the enemy of the audience. Viewers’ eyes are designed to peer through the clouds of the night sky, just like OJ’s, but by keeping the framing so focused, Peele makes the gargantuan frame seem claustrophobic and purposely denies the audience a fuller view. The results are startling and tangible. When Jean Jacket falls off and attacks OJ, she is too tall to even fit in the frame. The shot is huge, and yet its restraint implies something even greater.

Every facet of Peele’s IMAX filmmaking is on display nope is designed to immerse the audience completely in the headspace of these characters, and nowhere is this more evident than in the Gordy sequence. The flashback to the tragedy on the set of Gordy’s Home is shot entirely in IMAX, and it’s agonizing for it. While young Jupiter hides under the table after the chimp’s rampage, Peele holds the camera explicitly with Jupiter under the table. Everything is captured from Jupiter’s perspective with the IMAX cameras, making the relatively intimate set feel gigantic. Peele spoke about his use of IMAX in nope“I wanted an immersion in awe and fear and wonder that we all had when we were kids,” and this is a chilling crystallization of that desire.

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Both OJ’s first interaction with Jean Jacket and the Gordy sequence also illustrate how much Peele and his team maximize IMAX’s audio interface. The sound design largely eschews traditional scoring for each sequence, instead rooting them fully in the diegetic sound. The sound design is invasive and guttural in its execution. From the deeply disturbing sounds of Jean Jacket himself, to the screams of the horses, to the popping of balloons on the set of Gordy’s Home, to the terrifyingly saturated sounds of the chimpanzee smashing into the actors’ skulls just out of frame, the sound envelops the audience inevitably.

The ultimate culmination of all this comes in the form of one of nopeKey sequences from , the Star Lasso Experience. As Jupiter and his show’s guests are swallowed up by Jean Jacket in Jupiter’s Claim, Peele cuts to the IMAX ratio to take the audience inside the monstrous bowels of Jean Jacket. When you put the IMAX camera in that horrifying space where the walls of his stomach are closing in, and the sound of both Jean Jacket’s natural sounds and these people’s screams of sheer terror are turned all the way up, that sequence is nope in its most experiential and invasive form. It’s Peele who uses the IMAX not for the sake of grandeur, but to stifle claustrophobia and convey humanity’s sheer smallness in the face of that unshakable vastness.

nope is a cinematically well-versed film. Peele has delivered an existential metatextual masterpiece about the horrors of trying to film something bigger than yourself. It’s about the blood, sweat and tears that go into capturing the “money shot.” So it feels great to see Peele completely redefining what IMAX can do in this process. While every other film uses IMAX to catalog the big set pieces, Peele’s nope uses it to capture intimacy, making it the most immersive and inescapable experience imaginable.

To catch the biggest IMAX event of this year, Nope is in theaters now.

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