WWIII Pop Culture: By Dawn’s Early Light Part II

By Dawn’s Early Light’s greatest asset is its combination of cast and perspective. The story structure is the engine that propels the plot. Instead of one storyline, By Dawn’s gives the viewer four major plotlines moving in the same direction, all closing in on the same convergence point. It has more in common with a technothriller novel than with a late-80s motion picture. The solid cast’s acting helps to make the storyline work. However, the accurate military details in the film are what really sell it. This goes for the settings, procedures shown throughout the film, and even the personalities of the higher-ranking characters. The general officers especially come across as one would expect them to in middle of a major crisis where seconds count, and the fate of the nation hangs in the balance.

The settings look realistic and apparently a good deal of research was undertaken to help bring the SAC command center, and interiors of the command planes, and B-52 to life. It was laid out  like the interior of a BUFF, looked like, and seemed to fly like one. The same goes for Looking Glass, although I found the interior spaces of the aircraft to be very dim compared to real life. Maybe the director opted to keep it dark to help bolster the foreboding mood. The SAC command post gave the feeling of a real-world headquarters instead of an overdone Hollywood perception of what a headquarters should look and feel like. The way NORAD was made to appear in the movie Wargames comes to mind. It was sexy, exciting, and nothing like the real-world NORAD.

The various procedures were presented with a high degree of realism.  From Missile Warning, and Attack conferences to how the presidential line of succession works under wartime conditions. During the later Cold War years, the Looking Glass airborne command post was airborne 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In the film this is presented properly, as is the role of the alternate E-4B. It was launched with a battle staff aboard and orders to pick up whoever is next in the line of succession, wherever that person may be. Again, true to real world plans.

Instead of digging deep into the parts of By Dawn’s that I’m not too fond of and have issue with, I’ll just present my main gripe: The B-52 crew. Honestly, it was like watching an airborne version of McHale’s Navy meeting a soap opera. Once the klaxon went off and the valid launch order was received, our B-52G crew turned to jelly, more or less. Out of the six members of the bomber crew, the two who performed their jobs professionally ended up being sucked out of the plane when the navigator finally flipped out. Yes, Tyler the nav started to slowly grow unhinged when he realized that his family was dead following the destruction of their home base. Radnor, the radar navigator tries to help him through it but he’s reeling from his own losses. Then there is Lieutenant O’Toole, the EWO ( Electronic Warfare Officer). He didn’t even live to the first waypoint. Somehow, getting strapped into his seat must’ve slipped his mind because when the shockwave from the Fairchild blast reached the plane he was thrown into his instrument console and killed. Hooks, the gunner, takes over his duties.

That leaves the pilot/aircraft commander Major Cassidy, and his female co-pilot Captain Moreau. It should be mentioned that the two had spent the night before Armageddon doing the horizontal-mambo together in a motel room 30 miles from base. On the morning after, Cassidy reverted to his macho pilot nature and Moreau was less than thrilled. The tension follows them to the cockpit. Cassidy tries to hold the crew together while Moreau falls to pieces. First, when the time comes to draw the blast curtains, Moreau refuses, citing the large amount of civilian air traffic still airborne. Cassidy tries to draw the curtain on Moreau’s side of the cockpit but fails. By the time Moreau gets around to closing the curtain herself, she leaves enough of a space open for the nuclear blast flash to half-blind her. Later on after incinerating two MiG-25 pilots with a lob-tossed B-61, Moreau develops a conscience when the crew receives orders to destroy suspected Soviet leadership sites. She refuses to go, Cassidy hands her a suicide pill but then begs her not to take it. They decide to disobey the orders and not go. Cassidy informs the rest of the crew and this is when Tyler goes batshit crazy. He attacks Cassidy and is subdued. Later, he tries to shoot the two pilots for cowardice, fails, and ejects himself from the bomber, along with Hooks and O’Toole.

Seriously, for those of you who haven’t seen By Dawn’s Early Light yet, the bomber crew interactions, and scenes are reason enough to check out the movie. On a scale of 0-5 airbursts, I’ll give it 3 and ½. Solid movie, but with the potential to have been even better.


4 Replies to “WWIII Pop Culture: By Dawn’s Early Light Part II”

  1. Read the book thisfilm is based upon – “Trinity’s Child” by William Prochnau – written in 1983 it maybe the first of the technothriller genre – certainly the first I read – and it dispenses with the romance in the cockpit. It predates Red October by a year and Team Yankee by 4, or Hackett’sbooks too……

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’ve read that book too. It was a good early technothriller. A little too literary in some areas but I think Prochnau deserves more credit than he’s gotten.


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