AS THE U.S. AND THE SOVIET UNION ENTER AN ERA OF FRIENDLY RELATIONS, A FANATICAL OPPOSITION GROUP DETONATES A NUCLEAR MISSLE OVER A RUSSIAN CITY. SUDDENLY, A CHAIN REACTION OF ACCUSATIONS AND ACTIONS BEGIN THE GROUNDWORK F... more »OR WORLD WAR III, AND TWO AIR FORCE PILOTS ARE POISED TO STRIKE.« less
A taut thriller dealing with the initial stages of a nuclear war between the US and USSR which takes place in 1991. Rip Torn and James Earl Jones star in this film which features the Secretary of Interior assuming the duties of the president as the first strikes take out the majority of the leaders in Washington. Keeps the watcher interested despite the limited budget and few sets. The love story was really unnecessary and seemed to be added for merely Hollywood convention.
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Superb, but definitely not for the faint-hearted
S. Smith | Denver, CO | 12/22/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I have for a long time been a fan of apocalyptic, WW3-type thrillers, and this HBO Original tops my list as one of the best ever! Based on the novel Trinity's Child by William Prochnau and starring Powers Boothe and Rebecca DeMornay, By Dawn's Early Light is an excellent cautionary tale of what would happen if a nuclear exchange were started by dissidents in another country's military and how the members of two different governments would work together to stop it. It is also the tale of Captain Moreau (DeMornay) and Cassidy (Boothe), two B-52 pilots assigned to knock out the leadership bunkers of the Russian military, and their struggle to do what they believe is the right thing. At first they feel themselves bound by duty to their country, but as they begin to grasp the full scope of just what it is they're doing, each of them must struggle with their own doubts and fears about what would happen if the conflict they're involved in were to escalate into an all-out war.Boothe and DeMornay are just two of a very great cast in this film. Martin Landau turned in a bravura performance as the President of the United States, who is disabled in the aftermath of a nuclear strike on Washington and who alone holds the key to stopping the conflict. I loved Darren McGavin's trigger-happy Secretary of the Interior who, thinking the President is dead, issues orders that could lead to the destruction of his country. James Earl Jones was great as "Alice", commander of Strategic Air Command's "Looking Glass" plane and a man with moral and ethical doubts of his own about this conflict, and Ally McBeal's Peter MacNicol as Sedgwick, the young Emergency War Orders officer who is with the President when he is injured, was just terrific. I also want to give a nod to Daniel Benzali as Bascombe, director of the FEMA bunker at Olney. Although his was a minor role, he made the most of it.As stated before, this is a superb film, but it's definitely not for the faint-hearted. It probes deeply into the American psyche and forces us all to think of just what we would do in a situation such as the one presented. Overall, though, it is an excellent film."
Pray it's only a nightmare. . . .
John A. Kuczma | Marietta, GA USA | 12/14/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"In the tense, edge-of-the-seat tradition of Fail Safe, By Dawn's Early Light is a vivid depiction of how the hair-trigger reactions of the superpowers can be manipulated by persons outside ordinary power circles, and how the technology and pre-ordained response patterns take on an inexorable life of their own.As a retired military man, I found that this film grew more frightening as the initial nuclear exchange faded into the background and both the civilian and military leadership struggled with the apocalyptic question of how or even whether to turn off the brutal cycle of escalating retaliation. The technical accuracy of the film, both in the equipment and the tactics displayed, heightened the effectiveness.What makes this movie stand out from other doomsday thrillers is its ability to show the terrible strain of responsibility and indecision on people at all levels of the command structure, and the personal price paid by those who could handle the pressure and those who could not. One particularly harrowing and very plausible scenario shows two Navy fighters in the process of preparing to shoot down an Air Force bomber that has been judged to have "turned", both figuratively and literally.There are many superb dramatic performances in this film. Foremost among them are Martin Landau as a desperate and badly injured President, Darren McGavin as the Secretary of the Interior, suddenly thrust into a position of leadership for which he is unprepared, and James Earl Jones as an Air Force General commanding the Looking Glass command center aircraft.Powers Boothe is excellent as a hot-shot pilot who finds himself slowly beginning to question his black and white view of the nature of warfare and his place in the overall picture. Rebecca DeMornay shows that, when she isn't given the makeup and fancy costumes to rely on, she has considerable acting talent to fall back on.This is a nerve-wracking, very credible journey on the tightrope of nuclear devastation, tautly directed and masterfully paced, from its suspenseful beginning to its thought-provoking end. By Dawn's Early Light remains an effective thriller even after the end of the cold war. Highly recommended."
A superb adaptation of Prochnau's 'Trinity's Child'
M.R.Davis@pol-as.hull.ac.uk | Beverley, United Kingdom | 07/27/1999
(5 out of 5 stars)
"This is a very good representation of what a nuclear war really would be like from two different perspectives - that of the national leadership, and that of the crew of a B-52 sent to undertake a nuclear strike mission. By far the most impressive aspect of this movie is the very realistic sequence portraying the US Strategic Air Command detecting and responding to a Soviet nuclear first strike, alerting the President, and then him having to make the decision on how best to retaliate. They have done their homework in this regard. Martin Landau turns in an excellent performance as a confused, afraid President being confronted with armageddon in the early hours of the morning. In SAC HQ, CINCSAC confronts the President of his own imminent demise, with a warhead a mere two minutes away from destroying his facility, thus highlighting the sacrifice of many in order to give the President the chance to retaliate against what is clearly an unprovoked attack.As a strategic analyst who has done extensive research on nuclear strategy, the representation of the roles of the General (James Earl Jones) in the EC-135 Looking Glass plane, and the 'Presidential Replacement' (Darren McGavin)in the E-4B NEACP plane are quite accurate, with a dramatic conclusion perfectly timed. The movie also explores the interesting aspect of the psychological pressures on the crew of the B-52, knowing their families are dead, and their world destroyed. Good special effects with a dramatic confrontation between two MiG-25s and the BUFF over the pole, and an innovative counter to the Foxbats keep the movie going at a cracking pace.Also interesting is the idea of 'intra-war' deterrence and dialogue. The movie takes quite a sophisticated approach to the issue of whether the US National Command Authority would want to talk with the Soviets even after the missiles had flown on both sides, and the importance of preserving command and control assets on both sides in order to allow war termination.This certainly is one of the best nuclear war thrillers since 'Failsafe', and 'The Bedford Incident'. Powers Boothe and Rebecca DeMornay do a great job as the pilot and copilot of the B-52, but they are overshadowed by the best thing about this movie - its a realistic representation of nuclear war, something that is often lacking in many other movies of this sub-genre. I recommend this movie for both the defence/security studies enthusiast, and also for someone just wanting a good, dramatic movie that makes you think."
"We're going with the Grand Tour. History can't wait."
Jeffrey Leach | Omaha, NE USA | 06/18/2004
(4 out of 5 stars)
""By Dawn's Early Light," an HBO film based on the novel "Trinity's Child" by William Prochnau, holds the honorable distinction of being the final cold war nuclear armageddon thriller. Released in 1990 a mere year before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the film clearly harkens back to such memorable thrillers as "Fail Safe," "Dr. Strangelove," "The Day After," and "Testament." Remember those halcyon days when we all lived under the threat of nuclear annihilation? When the Looking Glass plane flew over your house every twenty minutes or so? Well, I do. Nuclear doomsday thrillers really turn my stomach into knots because I lived, and still live, in Omaha, Nebraska. As you will see in the movie, the Strategic Air Command (SAC) sat in Bellevue, Nebraska, mere miles from my home. Those planes roaring overhead while I played in the yard were the aircraft responsible for keeping the national chain of command viable in the event of a Soviet missile attack. We always wondered what we would see first: the vapor trails of the incoming missiles or the flash. Either way it would have been the last thing we would see. Watching these movies now is sort of a trip down memory lane, albeit a horrific one. Films like "By Dawn's Early Light" still tie my stomach up in knots.The nightmare here begins when the Soviet Union, wracked by internal dissolution, suddenly comes under attack by a group of rogue military officers hoping to force the high command to respond to internal threats. A nuclear missile wipes out a city near the Turkish border, and the Russian computer system orders up a limited launch on the United States before the leadership can stop it. Several missiles rain down on American military bases, including Andrews outside of Washington, D.C., SAC in Nebraska (See? I told you so), and a few other places around the country. The generals urge the president (Martin Landau) to reply with a full retaliatory response, but the chief executive hesitates. Then he receives a message from the Soviet premier expressing horror at the mistake and offering three options. The first is to simply ignore the attack. The second is to launch an assault on Russia similar to the one made on the United States. The third is to reply with overwhelming force, which will require the Soviets to do the same. Trusting the Russians is a tough decision, but the president wishes to avoid all out destruction. Perhaps global destruction will not occur when the president decides to follow the second option. Then, disaster strikes.The president's chopper goes down somewhere over Maryland in the flash of a nuclear bomb. Our government, which cannot find the vice-president or many cabinet members, finally locates the Secretary of the Interior (Darrin McGavin) in Louisiana and declares him president as they load him on the E-4 plane. Known by the code name Condor, the new president is an unapologetic hawk that won't hesitate to escalate the war. Despite the advice of "Harpoon" (Jeffrey DeMunn), an admiral who always preaches restraint but who must ultimately give the president nuclear authorization codes if ordered, Condor falls in with Colonel Fargo's (Rip Torn) line of thinking. This guy advocates a "grand tour" of the Soviet Union, a plan that will use American bombers to vaporize Soviet leadership installations. Of course, this course of action will result in a massive strike on American cities. Also in the mix is the Looking Glass plane-helmed by "Alice" (James Earl Jones)-another back up command aircraft that must carry out the president's orders. Too, we follow the crew of a bomber as it prepares to sweep into the Soviet Union. Flown by Major Cassidy (Powers Boothe) and Captain Moreau (Rebecca DeMornay), the crew of this bomber undergoes several crises both physical and mental as they prepare to nuke their targets. "By Dawn's Early Light" exclusively focuses on the military and the national chain of command and how the two would work together to respond to a nuclear attack.I first saw the film on cable when it originally aired. I thought it wonderful at the time, a taut, dramatic thriller that had me on the edge of my seat. A recent viewing allowed me to step back and analyze the finer points of the film. I still think it works, especially the hair raising conclusion, but there are numerous problems to contend with. I took exception with a map that showed SAC south of Plattsmouth, Nebraska when the base actually sits due north of that town. I also had difficulty believing the bomber crews sat on the ground for as long as they did. Harpoon even mentions later that most of the bombers were caught on the ground. Why? The head of SAC even says in the film that the nuke aimed at the base won't hit the ground for twenty some minutes. If we can't get our bombers in the air within half an hour, we are in big trouble. Too, other problems plague the film. Continuity errors, poor acting on the part of DeMornay, and mediocre editing brings the movie down a bit in my estimation. Still, the positives outweigh the negatives. The inclusion of James Earl Jones in the cast is probably a sly wink to "Dr. Strangelove," and Darren McGavin and Rip Torn do a great job as the dynamic duo willing to turn the world into a charcoal briquette.The DVD is unfortunately a disappointment. The picture quality is flawed, there are no extras-not even a trailer-anywhere to be found, and the transfer is fullscreen. HBO discs, at least the ones I have seen, usually don't have much in the way of extras. Fortunately, the movie is good enough to overcome a dearth of goodies. Give this one a watch."
Top notch nuclear thriller.
John Cobb | Austin, TX | 02/05/2000
(4 out of 5 stars)
"There have been many global nuclear war stories, and this is not the best, but I've always loved this film.It's a combination of cast and perspective. Whereas most films have a single strong storyline, and maybe a couple of smaller sub plots, this film bypasses that usual structure, preferring instead to use 3 or 4 main plotlines, all moving forward, all converging on the same point. Good non-traditional approach managed by a great non-traditional director, Jack Shoulder (The Hidden).And for a film that did not go to theatres, this one has a strong cast: Powers Booth teams with Rebecca DeMornay to fly the nuclear bomber. James Earl Jones and Jeffrey DeMunn battle Darren McGavin and Rip Torn as they try to overthrow our world during the ensuing panic. And Martin Landau as the Prez trying to keep it all together.Nice story, good pace, strong finish. I like it."