Nuclear war movies generally share similar plotlines, components, and even underlying messages. In probably 99% of these films the viewer is treated to graphic scenes showing the wanton destruction of cities, and wholesale slaughter of millions of innocent men, women, and children. The obligatory towering mushroom clouds and flashes of blinding white light are presented in a manner that highlight the foolery of using nuclear weapons. If done properly, these movies can effectively horrify millions of people and convince them that a nuclear war would automatically mean the end of life as we know it. Threads and The Day After are excellent examples of this.
By Dawn’s Early Light is nothing like the above-mentioned films. If anything, this movie more closely resembles Crimson Tide or Dr. Strangelove minus the satirical element. It tells the story of a limited nuclear exchange between the United States and Soviet Union, and the looming threat of escalation to Armageddon entirely from the perspective of US military personnel and political leaders. More importantly, it portrays what a limited nuclear war could look like in accurate detail. This is the movie Cold War buffs, and anyone who has been involved with US strategic forces should see before any others.
There are no children and mothers melting on the playground as in Terminator 2, but the movie does explain meticulously what happens from the moment incoming ICBMs are detected through the first impacts on US soil and beyond. In this regard, By Dawn’s Early Light (By Dawn’s from this point forward) is exceedingly helpful in showing the average TV viewer that nuclear warfare is not as simple as pressing a big red button and watching the world explode. Contrary to what liberal Hollywood, and pacifists want you to think, destroying the world isn’t so easy.
By Dawn’s is an HBO Original Movie that was released in May, 1990. It was based on the novel Trinity’s Child by William Prochnau. As was the case with many HBO Original Movies of the time period, the cast was first rate. It even included some actors who were no strangers to World War III-themed films like Powers Boothe (Red Dawn) and James Earl Jones (Dr Strangelove). Rebecca DeMornay, Martin Landau, Rip Torn, and Darren McGavin are some of the other familiar names who had roles in the film.
By Dawn’s is set in 1991. The Cold War is all but over and relations between the US and Soviet Union continue to improve. Hardliners in the Kremlin are worried about what the sweeping geopolitical changes will mean for their nation, and decide to act. They steal a nuclear missile (and TEL, I assume) from a depot in the southern Soviet Union and launch it from inside of Turkey, a NATO member-state. It detonates over the Soviet city of Donetsk and prompts an immediate response. Soviet leadership, believing a NATO attack has been initiated, launch a limited counterforce strike against strategic targets in the continental United States. This unleashes a chain of events that causes untold destruction to the US and Soviet Union and brings the world to the brink of complete destruction.
Since the movie is freely available on Youtube I’m not going to write up a full summary of the movie. If anyone would like to screen it though, here’s the link:
Part II of the review will be up tomorrow night. In it, I’ll discuss the military and political details of the film, specifically what the producers got right, and wrong.