By Nathan Durr

Films of great spectacle have existed long before they were synonymous with summer blockbusters. Think of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954), David Lean’s Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), and William Wyler’s Ben-Hur (1959). These are films that are widely considered to be standouts within a predominately oversaturated market of spectacle films. What makes these films stand the test of time is their ability to superintend the micro and macro of filmmaking.

Movies within this space, especially as of late, tend to gravitate toward the macro: establishing scale, yet tend to lose sight of what’s more important, the micro: providing well-written characters with depth, threading a cohesive plot, and fleshing ideas out. As we progress through the summer, Nope feels like the first summer film to have successfully conveyed an understanding of capturing the macro without losing sight of the micro.

It’s not a secret that Jordan Peele’s third feature, Nope, aims to capture the essence of summer blockbuster filmmaking. Nope wears it’s influence heavily on its sleeve, signifying homages to the classic works of Spielberg, Hitchcock, and even Shyamalan to an extent. Yet, instead of relying on the tropes and clichés inherently encompassed in the sub-genre space of spectacle films, Peele finds a way to have a meaningful discussion about a multitude of compelling societal topics embedded in a movie that ultimately entertains, as a summer blockbuster should.

Jordan Peele’s Nope revolves around two siblings, played by Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer, keeping their storied horse ranch afloat amidst the presence of a disquieting unidentified aerial phenomenon. The film’s scale is captured by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, primarily known for his work with Christopher Nolan and other notable films such as Let the Right One In (2008), Her (2013), and Ad Astra (2019). It is the collaboration between Jordan Peele and Hoyte that allows Nope’s awe-inspiring macro scale to become fully realized, conceptually and visually.

Although the film lacks a variety of locations, it’s the way the handful of locations are presented that stands out. A good third of the film was captured with IMAX cameras, giving the film’s sci-fi iconography a sense of scale and wonder. One remarkable image that stuck with me captures the UAP from a low angle as it hovers over the house of Emerald and Otis, exuding itself of various contents, almost in a taunting nature, whilst painting the house in its victim’s blood. From a thematic perspective, scale is also used as a humbling experience. The film’s themes largely revolve around human nature, our tendencies to believe we’re at the top of command, and unobservant of the harm we cause with such a mindset. Peele and Hoytema flourishingly capture this notion through their use of perspective, framing, extreme wide shots, and long shots – photographing humans as relatively small subjects in comparison to the UAP, fundamentally cementing their ideas about our relation to our surroundings and how small we are in the grander scheme of it all.

   Nope unquestionably fits the mold of a summer blockbuster. What makes it stand apart is its punctilious approach to providing rich themes, thoughtfully constructed characters, and just enough ambiguity to provide interpretations and conversation. As large in scale as this film is, the core of it remains to be those microelements, never overshadowed by its macro nature. Ultimately, it’s these smaller elements that have permeated my mind long after seeing it. While paying its respects to the classics within the UFO sub-genre, Nope puts its twist on what we’ve come to expect from a film of this scope. Where films of this nature feel hollow in comparison, purely catering to the visceral aspects of filmmaking, Nope appeals to the senses but perseveres with its characters, themes, structure, and originality.

A recurring issue with films concerning great spectacle is their inability to develop fully fleshed-out characters, complete with character progression and compelling arcs. Jordan Peele’s films, Get Out and Us, display Peele’s understanding of providing the audience with a well-written screenplay, Nope is no different. Instead of spreading ourselves thin with a large ensemble cast, we’re treated to a relatively small group of characters, each with a specific quality that defines their characters. Daniel Kaluuya plays OJ Haywood, a family member of a historic horse ranch just on the outskirts of Hollywood, tasked with keeping the family business afloat after an unexpected event occurs. Keke Palmer plays Emerald Haywood, the high-spirited sister of OJ, devoutly set on creating a name for herself in an overcrowded industry. Steven Yeun plays Jupe, a former kid actor haunted by his past, seeking a career resurgence. It’s these three characters that give Nope its depth. OJ is stuck in this dichotomy of carrying on the family tradition yet experiences a disconnect with his peers. Emerald attempts to make a name for herself with an upbeat attitude yet is internally struggling to come to terms with a childhood event, causing a certain separation to occur between herself, her brother, and the family business. Jupe, most interestingly, tries to recapture his former child acting status after experiencing a horrific circumstance in his youth. Cohesively, these characters explore a larger discussion about our ability to come to terms with traumatic events, each with a different response. How we process trauma and how that affects our path, for better or worse.

Similarly, to Get Out and Us, these characters are a part of a larger discussion regarding the film’s themes. Whether it be themes of exploitation and the manipulation of power, the culture behind monetizing traumatic events, or the idea of “bad miracles,” Nope provides the subtext to enable a long-lasting and relevant discussion. It’s these very themes, discussions, and characters that allow Nope to separate itself from the films that reside within the U.F.O. sub-genre. There are still plenty of familiarities and resemblances of films such as Steven Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977) and M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs (2002), however, Nope finds a way to encapsulate the spectacle aspects of those films, and twists the genre’s conventions on its head in a refreshing way. In a film that features otherworldly phenomena, breathtaking cinematography, and scale to the greatest extent, it’s the smaller aspects of this film that leaves the largest impression.