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Countdown to Zero: U.S. missile

Countdown to Zero | A film review by Gary Chew

GARY CHEW/Sacramento

An 8 and-a-half year old boy on August 6, 1945 can't appreciate what a horrific, yet historic day he has just lived. It took a few years for the gravity of what was wrought on that bright Monday morning across the incongruously named Pacific Ocean to soak into his naive mind.

Here on August 6, 2010 (a Friday), that same person feels familiar, old chills up and down his spine watching "Countdown to Zero." He'd felt them before while seeing films like, "On The Beach," "The Bedford Incident," "Fail-Safe" and "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb." All of them seen well after fully comprehending the meaning of Hiroshima.

"Countdown to Zero" has an agenda: to scare the living hell out of you. But the documentary, directed by Lucy Walker, does it in a first class way---in every way.

"Zero" lays it out. So long as nuclear weapons exist or are not under heavy safeguards against proliferation and detonation, the question is not IF, but WHEN one or more will explode, either by planned launch, terrorist act or accident. The movie has a few, what I call, Gulp moments in it.

Famous people are seen agreeing that eradication of nuclear weapons is really something that shouldn't be put off a lot longer. It's been 65 years since August 6, 1945.

Robert Oppenheimer


The most interesting person I saw in "Countdown to "Zero," is Robert Oppenheimer, the guy who invented the damn thing. I found Oppenheimer's image on the big screen to be as a character from a 40s vintage black and white feature film. Not that he seems phony or contrived, but that Oppenheimer should cast such a striking figure on seeing and hearing him speak his caution---and, let me say---the downbeat predictions he felt about what he created in that peaceful and remote outback of New Mexico, USA.

Valerie Plame Wilson

Valerie Plame Wilson

Another prominent figure is Ronald Reagan, as well as former Russian leader, Mikhail Gorbachev (Remember Reykjavik?). Jimmy Carter, Valerie Plame Wilson, Tony Blair, James Baker III, George Schultz and Barack Obama are also seen, along with other notables, standing in agreement.

As strange as it may seem, there'll likely be those who won't go along with any re-initiation to lessen the nuclear threat. Although a 100-square-mile iceberg just detached itself this past week from Greenland, it's still more difficult to discount global climate change than the danger nuclear weapons pose. But even that surely won't quell the predictable opposition for de-nuking the planet: one underlying reason being merely because the opposers won't want to be seen as sanctioning anything certain other people support.

Having been, in the past, one who feels doing away with nukes is not an irrational concept, I've noticed there are many who've been the point of ridicule for taking such a position. It goes with the territory, but the names some people conjure up to call the anti-nuke crowd can really get tiresome.

General Ripper schools Group Captain Mandrake on his philosophy of war.

It struck me, while watching "Countdown to Zero," that hawkish citizens who accuse the more dovish of disloyalty is a lot like the doves thinking their more jingoistic accusers are guilty of treason for caring more about their own partisan victories than what's best on a given issue for the largest number of Americans.

This film allots much time to international terrorism and weapons of mass destruction. It begins with a sequence of news footage showing several terrorist blast sites over the past several years. One is the devastation of the federal building in Oklahoma City.

The only comic relief (if one can call it that) "Zero" allows is a clip from the masterful 1964 film "Dr. Strangelove" by the late director, Stanley Kubrick.

An example of what might happen if a "loose cannon" in military uniform decides to take world annihilation into his own hands (without benefit of presidential order) is made with the scene in which General Jack Ripper (Sterling Hayden) tells Group Captain Lionel Mandrake (Peter Sellers) that, nukewise, the s#*t will soon be hitting the fan due to the good General's effort. Truly a classic comedic moment in cinema---of catastrophic proportions. Today, the appreciation of humor so black and important is so not-so keen, it's scary.

But, as a banner waving over a deserted street says at the close of "On the Beach," "There's Still Time, Brother."

"Countdown to Zero" participatory site.

Now showing. See Yahoo Movies-Tulsa for theaters and times.

U.N.C.L.E., SAGE, SABRE, Strangelove & Tulsa: Connections

Gary Chew can be reached at garychew@comcast.net,
Facebook.com/justin.playfair and Twitter.com/orwellingly.

Copyright © 2010, Gary Chew. All rights reserved.

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