Search - Wonders Are Many: The Making of "Doctor Atomic" on DVD

Wonders Are Many: The Making of "Doctor Atomic"
Wonders Are Many The Making of Doctor Atomic
Actors: John Adams, Peter Sellars
Director: John Else
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
NR     2009     1hr 32min

The spectacular opening to Jon Else's critically acclaimed Wonders Are Many - nuclear blast after blast in the desert, under the ocean, high in space - intimates what is to follow: a profound and triumphant fusing of art a...  more »


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Movie Details

Actors: John Adams, Peter Sellars
Director: John Else
Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Musicals & Performing Arts, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Special Interests, Educational, Documentary, History, Music & Performing Arts
Studio: Docurama
Format: DVD - Color
DVD Release Date: 02/24/2009
Release Year: 2009
Run Time: 1hr 32min
Screens: Color
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 0
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

"In our Century, Some Things in our Society must remain Unsp
K. Draper | oklahoma | 10/22/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

""Wonders are Many" is a fascinating film about the making of "Dr. Atomic", a 2005 opera by composer John Adams. The opera focuses on the complex and genius physicist, Robert Oppenheimer and his orchestration of the building of the atomic bomb. The opera specifically concentrates on the last 24 hours leading up to the actual detonation of the first test bomb at the "Trinity", Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1945. The film not only depicts the actual processes of the production, but also interweaves much historical, scientific, ethical and even poetic aspects of this crucial moment in time. This film, just as in the opera itself, begins and end with the heightened tension of ticking---the countdown to the Zero Hour.

I found this film to be very exciting, even though I have not yet had a chance to view the film of the Opera. History, art, physics and moral questions are beautifully interwoven in a way that helps the viewer not only learn many interesting facts, but provides much food for thought. "Wonders are Many" is a wonderfully creative treatment of a time period which we "all know about but don't really know". Although it happened over 60 years ago, this event holds urgent currency in modern time. War and destruction continue to rage in our world today, despite Oppenheimer's hope and belief that his creation would lead to a "war to end all wars".

Bravo to all involved for the powerful opera, "Dr. Atomic" and this fascinating film, "Wonders are all Around." I count down the time until I get to own and view the DVD of the opera."
I was riveted
Diane Kistner | Georgia | 11/08/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"I was surprised at how riveting this documentary was. I wasn't familiar with Peter Sellars' work before this, and I was so impressed with his creativity and sensitivity to the nuances of the history and the opera, Dr. Atomic, that seeks to capture its lingering, terrible profundity. (And what an interesting character Sellars is! Even his hair "do" suggests how hair-raising a moment it was when that first bomb went off.)

I couldn't resist thinking that the real Oppenheimer looked like Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka, dreamy and sweet and shocking and scary at the same time; that association cast the whole documentary in an almost trippish light for me; and the whole Los Alamos nuclear experience WAS very much like a "seeing God" acid trip, replete with inspirations and depletions and bizarre too-present flashbacks that persist to this very day. I think Sellars and Adams nailed it: One trip and the human race would never be the same.

I couldn't take my eyes off this brilliant blast of a documentary. Now I MUST have Dr. Atomic for my DVD collection!

Many Wonders Indeed!
G P Padillo | Portland, ME United States | 10/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"Continuing in my current obsession with John Adams' new opera, "Doctor Atomic" I recently learned of a documentary filmed at the time the opera was being created in San Francisco. Of course, I had to have it. Now I do.

What a fascinating film this is. It comes at you from two interesting perspectives as both historical documentary and a major art project. In easily digestable format director Jon Else combines interviews, rehearsal footage and commentary by the cast and creators of Doctor Atomic - weaving in the story of the development of the atom bomb and the Manhattan Project. All of it is narrated by the mellow voice of Eric Owens, the baritone who has sung (I beleive) every performance of the role of General Groves.

The marriage of these two stories into a cohesive whole works wonders itself, as a perfect balance is struck between following the creation of a new opera and the history of nuclear physics involved in creating the bomb. For those whom this sounds bizarre, to say the least, let me say, I can't think of anyone who's interest would not be held - or even riveted by the manner in which its done.

There is fascinating interview footage with Oppenheimer himself, disturbing shots and clips of bombs testings (not easy to watch) and one truly gets a sense of the project as well as a sense of the bizarre community that occupied Trinity. It was interesting as well to see and hear the singers approaching their music in the first rehearsals, taking suggestions from the composer who was still very much working on the piece, changing things as they went along. Peter Sellars can bother some folk, but his infectiousness and thoughtfulness clearly command the respect of all of his cast members, as well as the composer himself.

Especially moving for me was seeing Finley rehearsing his big first act aria for the first time . . . this piece simply destroying me every time. To hear his own connection with it, how he wishes it had been something he had actually written, speaks volumes about his identification with the piece. It's overwhelming.

It is unnerving watching film clips of bombs 60 years ago - then seeing life- sized props being brought into the War Memorial Opera House (the name of the building really taking an unusually strong symbolism here).

There was some REAL backstage drama which I remembered reading about when it happened, but since forgotten (til now, of course!). Tom Randle - a favorite of many of ours - and portraying Robert Wilson in the opera was let go a little more than a week before opening night, replaced by his understudy, Thomas Glenn. The scene of Randle reading the announcement is one of those horrifying things every performer dreads.

I can't stress enough how unusual a movie this is - very powerful on all accounts. If I've a gripe it's only a wish for some extras, deleted scenes, photo galleries, more bio material, etc. Other than that, it's one amazing movie."
The Cosmic Irony and Beauty of "Wonders Are Many"
Author-Poet Aberjhani | Georgia, United States | 10/27/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)


In addition to killing almost 300,000 people when the United States dropped atomic bombs on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, and Nagasaki on August 9, something else happened. Fallout from the explosions altered human genetics worldwide by depositing within our bones traces of the radioactive isotope known as Strontium 90 (Sr90) that exist within us--regardless of age--to this day. Considering those facts, it is a bit mind-boggling to imagine why a brilliant composer like John Adams and gifted director such as Peter Sellars would choose to make an opera, DR. ATOMIC, about the man history holds responsible for the creation of the atomic bomb: Robert J. Oppenheimer.

As Sellars put it in WONDERS ARE MANY, THE MAKING OF DR. ATOMIC, director Jon Else's phenomenal docudrama, "Oppenheimer is every dramatists dream because he's so complex..." And that he truly was: a genius of a soul much on par with Albert Einstein, Oppenheimer was considered politically progressive, a passionate educator whose work as such continues to influence academia, a lover of literature who both read and wrote poetry in several languages, and a pioneering theorist on the nature of black holes. As a physicist employed to create a functional weapon of mass destruction, he thought of himself, according to at least one colleague, "as a good soldier working for his country."

The docudrama "Wonders Are Many" traces the development of two exceptional events: the creation of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, New Mexico, during the final weeks of June 1945; and the world premier of the 2005 opera "Dr. Atomic." The result is off the chain in a major way as viewers are drawn in and tied to a succession of contrasting, yet connecting scenes and images. In one series we witness explosion after explosion of atomic fury from a variety of perspectives: sweeping across earth and erasing every form of life; mushrooming like a giant golden jellyfish floating up into space.

In a second thread we join Adams, Sellars, and members of the San Francisco Opera. The singers are a marvel to watch as they push their talents to perform lyrics that at times describe the simple everyday intimacies of the scientists' communal life at Los Alamos; but that at other times are straightforward scientific theories and formulas that few would envision as "songs" per se.

Among the most eerie of the scenes are those of Oppenheimer himself responding to an interviewer's questions. He appears to be precisely as the narrator Eric Owens describes him: "an unlikely prospect for a warlord." Indeed, despite his invention, he never really was inclined to become anything like a "warlord." While he held himself responsible for the bomb's actual creation, Oppenheimer held humanity responsible for however it chose to use it. He nevertheless wrestled with his country's choice to use the bomb in Japan after Germany had already surrendered. Following its detonation, he hoped "the bomb would not only end World War II but make future wars unthinkable."

In the decades following the war, Oppenheimer warned against any further use of the atomic bomb or the more deadly hydrogen bomb that came after it. Ironically, he was stripped of his security clearance at Los Alamos and denied entry to the labs he created. In this, he was without question like Prometheus of Greek mythology, the demi-god who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans to benefit their existence, only to be punished for his generosity by being chained to a rock where an eagle devoured his liver. That kind of cosmic irony is a difficult thing to capture in the grandest of human terms but in "Wonders Are Many, The Making of Doctor Atomic," director John Else seems to have done exactly that.

by Author-Poet Aberjhani
author of The American Poet Who Went Home Again
and Encyclopedia of the Harlem Renaissance (Facts on File Library of American History)