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I got up late one night and turn on the telly. I watched in disbelief
that soviet troops had entered west Germany, and the nuclear issue was
being waved about.
The crosses to an air craft carrier that was actively hunting a Russian sub made me wonder what was going on. Who do I call?. This can't be real, even though we have been trained by the media to trust what the news channels tell us. This can't be happening, the super powers have been getting along fine, but what would it take to start a war. Could world war 3 break out, be fought,be won or lost in a flash. Maybe it was because I was tired and came in part way into the movie, but I got an insight into how those listening to H.G Well's original radio production of War of the worlds must have felt. Never been so glad for an ad break.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Don't read if you want to be surprised (Spoiler alert)
CTLG was another in the line of "nuclear war/confrontation" movies of the early 80s, along with "The Day After", "Threads", "By Dawn's Early Light", and "Special Bulletin". And of the "nuclear war" movies ("Special Bulletin" was about domestic terrorism using nukes), it was clearly the most chilling, at least to me.
Although I'm not certain, I believe that the movie was Canada's contribution to the genre; most of the actors are Canadian, and the "newscasts" during the movie happen on a network that begins with the letter "C".
The movie begins with a group of countries forming a "debtor's cartel" and defaulting on billions of dollars of payments to the US for loans made, and escalates from there into an oil embargo, and then clashes in the middle east. Through the movie we get the inside scoop on what's going on in Washington from a reporter working the story (Helen Shaver) and her boyfriend, who works in the White House (Michael Murphy). And we get how it is presented to the public on a network news program.
As the movie nears it's climax, the network's star reporter (Scott Glenn, doing some of his finest work as one of the most underrated actors of all time), aboard a US battleship in the Persian Gulf, is on the air with the network, live, when two nuclear bombs are used. All hell breaks loose.
The final shot of the movie is the President's Plane taking off from Andrews AFB in Washington late that night and the shot freeze-frames on the engines of the plane heading into the distance as the news coverage in the background goes to the piercing alarm used by the Emergency Broadcast System, and the announcer entones that the code name for nuclear war is Looking Glass. I was barely out of my teens when I first saw this movie, and it chilled me to the bone...and to this day, the site of a plane arching off into the night will bring the end of this movie back to my mind...
The movie is extremely (and I mean EXTREMELY) hard to find; i've long lost my video of it, and I would LOVE to see it come out on DVD. To my knowledge, at least where i've been, it's been seen or made available only three times. It originally aired as a feature on either HBO or Showtime (I forget which), then made it's way to the Fox Network as a "movie of the week" entry early in that network's history, and I have seen it only one other time, in a syndication movie package that aired on my local UPN affiliate sometime in the mid 90s.
If it ever airs in your area, GO OUT OF YOUR WAY TO SEE IT. Especially if you like this genre of film. It can be a bit slow moving at times, but overall, the experience will be a satisfying one.
My Score (out of 10) 9.5
"The Day After" tried to scare us with it's vision of nuclear horror. It failed. But "Countdown To Looking Glass" worked because it fictionalized the events leading up to a nuclear conflict. You basically watch it like you were watching CNN coverage of a Middle East crisis (except you get a little bit more omniscience.) It was made in 1984 yet I can still remember scenes from it. Scott Glenn's live shots from an aircraft carrier in the Persian Gulf were so much like Peter Arnett, John Holliman and gang broadcasting from the Al-Rasheed hotel in Baghdad during the first invasion of Iraq. The film doesn't appear to be on DVD which is a shame. This film perfectly captured my fears of nuclear war at this time (I was 18.)
There were Threads, Day After, By Dawn's Early Light, plus more but I say this movie was the most believable nuclear war starting theory ever made. Never a dull moment in the movie and good acting throughout. A must have and see. A very scary movie - haunted me for days thereafter.
One thing has changed since this movie was shown in 1984. ... At the
time, it had been a decade since the war in Vietnam had ended. America
had lost its stomach for war, and this film about getting into another
one would touch lots of nerves.
Now, three or four wars later (who's keeping count anymore?), it should be required viewing.
"Looking Glass" is the name given to the President's flying command post, called that because there are two such planes that look very much alike, mirror images of each other. One is real, the other is the decoy. A chilling piece of information that would convey, if the two planes ever took off, that we really are in a shooting, nuclear war. And as the steps towards the Big War are taken, there is a "countdown" to the takeoff of the Looking Glass command post and decoy. Hence the title.
Gritty realism, a strong strong strong feeling in my gut that, if "it" ever happened, "it" could look exactly like this. I remember that sober churning inside, when I saw this some time in the 1990s. Only this week I was reflecting on how little they actually spent on special effects, but what an explosive wallop they got out of the effects they had, fast paced by the script, the sets, the commentators, everything that HBO had available to tell the story from a network's point of view.
The film had to make me think, and I immediately realized what was the most hard hitting memorable scene for me.
(Not a spoiler, discloses nothing, and is very early in the film) The news anchor turns to interview a "talking head". It is Newt Gingrich, as he was back then, a young young congressperson on his way up.
The anchor points out that the crisis is very deadly. Gingrich agrees.
"We may die," the anchor persists. Again, an agreement.
Then the anchor asks "Is there anything worth dying for?" And Gingrich responds "Tragically, the answer is 'yes'".
He points out that if the US were to back down, we would be submitting to slavery, and that our freedom is worth dying for. Freedom does not come cheaply and should not be yielded. He comes across as more than a leader, certainly a statesman, and in this film performs the thankless job task of saying something we might not want to hear.
I have said this before -- I say a movie is very, very good if I have continued to remember and ponder on it, years and years later. And Looking Glass has stayed with me in that way.
I remember when this movie was first shown on HBO...it had the kind of gripping action that made you sit, watch, and fear for your life...the actors did a great job of realistically portraying their roles...with special kudos to Patrick Watson as Don Tobin and Helen Shaver as Dorian Waldorf...Watson's uneasiness at the end of the movie does not spoil the ending, which will set the hair on your neck straight up and send chills down your spine...but it does provide a view into what might face the American public should the unthinkable occur...add this movie to the growing list of selections that should have been out on DVD way before now...it is dated to some extent, but the overall premise still rings true...and will scare the daylights out of you...
Countdown to Looking Glass is a good speculative thriller examining the
outbreak of World War III. Made during the Cold War, it is rife with
the tension of the period. It also gives a haunting portrait of how the
apocalypse could have happened.
Through a series of news reports, we see events spiral out of control following a financial collapse in South America. We see both the televised reports and the behind the scenes debates among the reporters and their producers. The film not only has a keen eye for political developments, but also a good sense of the role of media in shaping the world.
The film also wisely avoids showing the actual nuclear exchange. Rather than imitate The Day After, which had come out a year earlier, the film keeps its focus on the lead up to disaster, heightening the tension. It is a worthy entry in the early 80s end of the world genre.
Outstanding Cold War TV movie. I loved this film, it's very shocking. Possibly my favorite Scott Glenn movie next to Gargoyles his debut film. The ending is excellent and, being in the Navy, very scary. Great end of the world as we know it flick. Remember it was made when Breshnav was Leader of USSR!
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Because of the inability of several South American countries to pay their debts the United States is plunged into an economic crisis which has far-reaching repercussions. Oman, for example, experiences a revolution and this results in a communist government which tilts the balance of power over to the Soviet Union and further escalates tension in the Middle East. Soon the United States and the Soviet Union become directly involved in a high-stakes military standoff which neither side seems to be able to resolve. Anyway, rather than disclose the rest of the story and risk spoiling the film for those who haven't seen it I will just say that for a "made-for-television" movie this was a pretty good political thriller. While I didn't particularly care for the ending I liked the performances of Scott Glenn (as "Michael Boyle") and Helen Shaver ("Dorian Waldorf"). I especially liked the scene involving the U.S.S. Nimitz when it reached the Gulf of Oman. Good tension. Be that as it may I think this is a movie that most viewers will probably enjoy and I rate it as above average.
Very uneven, but ultimately effective tale of the build up to a nuclear
showdown between the US and USSR, told almost entirely by news reports,
using real life commentators like Newt Gingrich, Eugene McCarthy and
The problem is when the film 'breaks character' to get into the personal lives of Michael Murphy as a government official and Helen Shaver as a reporter. Not only do these (few) scenes feel clunky, melodramatic, and not well written, but they interrupt the whole style and flow of the film, without adding much.
Also, some of the 'news' interviews are frustratingly short if you're going to go to the trouble to get such interesting real people to play along, why not give them time for more in depth thoughts?
Last, the 'War of the Worlds' type disclaimer at the top of the show isn't great, since it sort of gives away the ending.
But all that said, this is still mostly chilling, thought provoking stuff. Similar to, if not quite as effect as the great 'Special Bulletin'.
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