On the one hand, this manages to out-Michael Bay Michael Bay. You may think he has large explosions, but it's nothing compared to a genuine, full-on nuclear bomb going off. This documentary covers the development and testing of, mostly, America's atomic weapons program, beginning with the work in World War II, but going through until the end of atmospheric testing in the mid-1960s. The film contains footage of the competing Chinese and Russian programs, including the Soviet's 57 megaton monster, tested in October 1961, which created a fireball almost three miles across, and broke windows in Norway and Finland. There's also interviews with the likes of Edward Teller, the "father of the hydrogen bomb," who doesn't exactly express much remorse about his support of a strong nuclear arsenal [he was also in favour of using them for non-military uses, such as Operation Plowshare, a plan to excavate a harbour in Alaska using a hydrogen bomb].
On the other hand, the same problem is present here as in Michael Bay movies. When you don't have much apart from things exploding, the viewer grows desensitized or even bored. Oh, look: another giant fireball. There's only so much of this you can take before your brain starts to glaze over, even though the blossoming mushroom clouds possess a surreal beauty, especially when accompanied by William Stromberg's ominous score. The film would benefit from better variety, perhaps by using footage to put these events in a social and cultural context: what made it seem sensible to create such terrible weapons? The footage which packs the most wallop are those depicting the effects, as we see houses obliterated in a flash - this gives you a sense of scale which is difficult to appreciate from yet another giant fireball. The lack of significant background leaves this feeling like "nuke porn" more than anything else; while impressive on that level, it didn't pack the emotional wallop I expected.