The next film from writer-director Christopher Nolan is Oppenheimer. It’s about the man who led the US’ efforts to create the first atomic bomb in World War II. It officially hits theaters on Friday, July 21.
Nolan loves the IMAX film format and has used it in most of its films. He shot the three-hour R-rated movie with that in mind. If you are lucky enough to live near a supported IMAX theater, you can see the film running on a 70mm print. However, that would not have been possible were it not for some interesting backward engineering from the folks at IMAX.
A recent TikTok video showed how IMAX was getting the 70mm print of Oppenheimer ready for its shipment to the theaters. Those theaters will use massive platters to hold the print, which is 11 miles long and 600 pounds in weight. These platters are known as Quick Turn Reel Units.
The video also showed a display connected to those units that showed a PalmPilot on the screen. As it turned out, those original IMAX units were first designed to be connected to Palm devices.
The one on the screen is the PalmOne m130, which launched over two decades ago. Now, a virtual version of the PDA is being run on an Apple iPad so people can watch the 70mm print of Oppenheimer.
In a statement to Motherboard, an IMAX spokesperson explained why they were using a PalmPilot emulator. Apparently, it was just easier to do that rather than come up with a new solution using modern hardware:
The original Quick Turn Reel Units operated on Palm Pilots. In advance of the release of Oppenheimer, IMAX Engineering designed and manufactured an emulator that mimics the look and feel of a Palm Pilot to keep it simple and familiar for IMAX film projectionists.
Even though this was the easiest solution, it’s also a pretty clever one. It shows that sometimes working with old technology is the best way to solve a particular engineering problem.