By Dawn's Early Light (TV Movie 1990) Poster

(1990 TV Movie)

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One of the best war movies I have seen
das4177 December 2004
I have never heard of this movie until recently. After watching it, I have decided that it is one of the best war movies I have ever seen. It's not too flashy or over dramatic (for the most part), and shows what would happen with our government if it were to respond to a nuclear strike.

The best thing about the movie was the fact that it was able to show both sides of the story without trampling, or placing too much emphasis on one of the other. The bomber crew and the political players were each given equal time in the story giving a more full picture of a world coming apart.

Powers Boothe is one of the more underrated actors. He had a strong performance in this movie. It would be good to see more of him. He plays the military officer role better then many others I have seen lately. Here he shows that he does deserve more because of the flair he gives his characters.

In comparison to Sum of All Fears, I say this was the better movie when it comes to nuclear warfare. This was a more realistic view of what it would be like.
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Top notch nuclear thriller.
Doctor_Bombay7 April 1999
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.
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When technology goes wrong...
Yorkie6 December 2001
This film is, in my mind, all about what could happen if terrorists got their hands on nuclear weapons and technology did not take account of it. Russia's automatic retaliation to the strike on Donetsk triggers utter political turmoil as Russia realise, too late, that they are victims of terrorism, rather than under US attack. The big mistake was not keeping China informed of what was happening.

The acting in this film is excellent. Most of it seems very plausible, but would anyone really agree to a limited retaliation? Of course, the Soviet Union probably could not have made much contribution to rebuilding back then, so maybe it would be more plausible for the time.

The mind battle between Condor and the real President is excellent. This is a "must see" film for anyone interested in world politics.
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Uncannily close to the real thing
nigelpwsmith1 June 2005
There have been many attempts to portray some of the overall horror of supposed conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States. For many who have been in the forces, By Dawn's Early Light came very close to everything we were taught, everything we had to prepare for, if the real thing ever happened.

Whilst some films seek to show the madness of nuclear conflict (Strangelove) and others try to portray what might happen if things went wrong (Fail-safe), By Dawn's Early Light shows the picture from both the crew doing their job, delivering nuclear ordnance, to the President trying to turn the war off whilst his successor, badly advised, seeks to strike back with all his might to destroy the enemy and win the war. In the end, the conclusion that both the crews and the executive branches reach, is that global thermonuclear war IS madness and that the only safe solution is not to play.

In the film, the conflict is started with a renegade/terrorist attack on the Soviets. All we can hope, is that when the first terrorist nuclear weapon is used (probably on the west), the executive branch realise that the only solution is to find a way to a) take the weapons out of the hands of the irresponsible and b) try not to take retaliatory action.

The performances by James Earl Jones, Rebecca De Mornay and Powers Boothe are exceptional. The film would have been better without the personal relationship between the last two, but even with the limited budget for special effects, they managed to pull off a believable and tense drama.

If America ever has to commit to nuclear war, I hope they have men of the character of James Earl Jones's General. A man who follows orders, but is just as prepared to question if the orders are illegal and insane and act against them.
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Compelling cold war tale
goya-418 March 2001
When a nuclear missile is launched by presumably Soviet forces toward Turkey, the beginning of the ultimate war to end all wars WW 3 is started. Powers Boothe, his girlfriend and copilot Rebecca DeMornay and their flight crew take off in a B 52 on what they believe is just another drill only to find out that this is the real deal. While they fly their mission toward Russia the US and Russia exchange nuclear blasts. The movie, originally made for HBO, tells a realistic tale of what could be if the controls of the nukes get in the wrong hands and with Russia, being the way it is today, this could be a prophetic movie. A very well done drama with some good acting, a little over the top by Booth, but it will keep you watching and most importantly make you think. On a scale of one to ten... 8
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Top Notch Nuclear Thriller
degracia22 October 2000
It's a shame that there are few movies that depict the procedures, tactics, and escalating stages of nuclear warfare in as much detail and accuracy as "By Dawn's Early Light." Adapted from the novel Trinity's Child, Jack Shoulder's "By Dawn's Early Light" hits all the right notes in portraying the professionalism, training, and courage of American nuclear forces. The film's numerous scenes, including the E-4 NEACP (National Emergency Airborne Command Post), RC-135 "Looking Glass" plane, and even the Strategic Air Command operations room are incredibly realistic and well-detailed. The numerous conflicting personalities depicted in the film also give it great texture, taking the film a step closer to reality. Cold War buffs and military fans are sure to get a kick out of this film, especially with its stunningly dramatic, hardcore finale. "By Dawn's Early Light" is proof that low budget constraints do not have to derail an entire film.
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Armageddon a'la Hollywood...
pc_kpr9 January 2000
This is by far one of the best "Armageddon" movies of the 20th century. A superior cast lend due credit to the complex plots/subplots. The dialogue and direction are right from the military politico. Any vet will be on the edge of their seat!! A true-to-life humdinger!!
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Great Movie
cuffdaddy9 August 2003
A great movie about how war can get out of hand very quickly. The book the movie was derived from "Trinity's Child" is EXCELLENT. It is ironic that the President was played by Martin Landau and in the book, the president was watching "Mission Impossible" when SAC HQ calls him. As you know, Martin Landau starred in "Mission Impossible. Also, James Earl Jones plays an Air Force SAC General in this movie. He also played an Air Force Lieutentant on board a B-52 in "Dr. Strangelove".
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A view from one who remembers
elquemas12 February 2003
Having flown on board NEACP and the now defunct Looking Glass as well as worked in the former SAC underground Command Post, I could not help but reminisce of the 'old' days in Blue. From the EAM's (Emergency Action Message) to the SIOP (Single Integrated Operation Procedures) procedures, the feel of authenticity was great. This is not the best of apocalyptical films I have seen and the acting left something to be desired (Powers Boothe HAS done better) While I disagree with the way the NCA (National Command Authority) was portrayed, it's still not too bad a movie. Better acting, remove the sexual issue between the Pilot and the Co-Pilot, and much better special effects would have made this a better film.
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Well done and scary
pghmoe19 December 2000
An terrorist nuclear strike on a Russian target leads to a limited nuclear exchange between the superpowers while a gravely injured President attempts to stop both sides before going all out. Top notch production values capped off by excellent performances. "Welcome to Tomorrow."
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Calamity of a Disaster Movie
I wanted to watch this movie based only on claims of authenticity. It just so happened that various members of its cast (Boothe, Jones, De Mornay, Torn & De Munn) made me believe it could even be one of those undiscovered gems that make you ask "why have I not seen this movie before?" Well I'll tell you why; it's LAME! Authenticity goes as far as the bomber plane Boothe and De Mornay are in control of. Apart from that, Boothe's dialogue alone would have made sure his character was grounded. Beyond that, it relies heavily on a lack of knowledge and suspension of disbelief.

It may have been good enough for an audience in 1990, but even a college student would be lambasted for making the same mistakes in a short film.

Tries to be serious. Silly as hell!
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Too busy for greatness
Maury Markowitz26 November 2014
There are actually a lot of things to like of this movie, but unfortunately the writers didn't know where to stop. The result is a mash of sub-plots that do nothing to advance the core plot of the movie. Whether or not that core is enough to keep the movie afloat is hard to say, but there's some fine moments from both Martin Landau and James Earl Jones, offset only to a degree by Darren McGavin's hammy performance.

To be honest, I think the entire bomber subplot could be removed without effecting the outcome much. Especially at the end, it seems the writers just kept adding new events to that plot line without any obvious need or plan. Reduced to its core there's maybe 1 hour of movie here, and that might have worked on its own. But as a two hour movie I think it fails.
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Suspenseful techno-thriller
januaryman-129 October 2013
By Dawn's Early Light is tautly paced and very suspenseful.

It chronicles a mistaken nuclear exchange and the aftermath. The cast is very strong and extensive. There is much intrigue at work in BDEL and it involves players you wouldn't expect.

My complaint about BDEL involves some improbable happenings in the relationship between pilot Booth and co-pilot de Mornay. There is early establishment that Booth is the alpha of the pair. That is quickly and inexplicably reversed very soon after. Suddenly de Mornay is ordering Booth around and he follows instruction with no hesitation. Second, de Mornay has one eye exposed to a nuclear flash. She says she is blind in that eye. No more mention of the injury for the rest of the film. No visible evidence of the retinal burns. No red eye. No swelling. No watering. Nothing resulting from this painful injury. Baffling.

Despite that, I thoroughly enjoyed this 1990 HBO production. Back in the day....
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Fantastic and realistic
kristanm14 July 2000
Dawns Early Light is possibly the most realistic film ever with respect to it's military content and hence enjoyable to armchair dictators everywhere.

It manages to combine wonderful characters (I defy you not to empathise with James Early Jones as Alice) with this realism and still create a very watchable and, in some places, moving film.

There's almost certainly some propaganda (The marine guarding the door with a Nuke about to fall, his final words being 'Give em hell, Sir' for example) in here, but it doesn't interfere with the plot or the realism, and there is some fantastic cathartic acting by some of the members of the cast; James Earl Jones, Jeffrey DeMunn and Rebecca De Mornay being notable.

Personally I would have dropped the relationship between De Mornay and Powers Boothe could have been dropped, or at least de-emphasised as I think it gets a little in the way. You can still retain the tension in the cockpit simply as she's a female pilot in a 'mans' airforce without having the two sleeping together. The rest of the characters interaction with each other are more than enough to hold the interest of the viewer for the duration of the film.

The film actually appears to be based around the book "Trinity's Child" by William Prochnau but I can't remember if it mentions it in the credits or not.

Technically flawless, with pretty reasonable special effects, and first rate acting, combined with a reasonably interesting story make this an excellent film.
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Nuclear Warfare
karl_consiglio17 September 2007
Quite a good movie considering the fact that it appears to me to be a low budget film. I like films that hit upon this theme of Nuclear Warfare. This is a serious Dr Strangelove. For those of you that like this kind of movie though I would recommend "Threads" which I definitely prefer, it brings us the situation from the people's experience whereas this gets the political situation and military situation. Someone, we are not entirely sure who, drops a nuclear bomb and The Soviet Union who immediately blame the states by hitting back and then so on and so forth, how are we going to end it type of thing. there are some parts though which are utterly non convincing like the way the president survives and his poor acting, and also the pilot on a mission to blow a civilization with his loving girlfriend as co pilot.
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Now I am afraid!!!
jtfsouth8 August 2000
This movie was one that makes you really think about our leaders and what type of decisions they would make in regards to our Nations defense in time of war. It would actually scare the hell out of me if this is what is is really like.

Hell, dealing with some of these same type people I have in the military scares the crap out of me.

The movie had it's share of sub-plots that all made their way into the big story made the film better.

However, had this film been based on acting alone, it would not have done so well. The acting in some parts had seemed to be a bit overdone and unrealistic. Thank god for the decent story line or this movie would have truly flopped.
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Well paced thriller/action
apocalypselloyd8 March 2003
Srong cast and good premise, make this an enjoyable film to watch. De morney and james earl jones both deliver good performances. Seeing james earl jones in a film like this makes me think back to his role in Dr. Strangelove and i wonder if he was cast in this film as a homage to Kubrik's attempt to deal with the countdown to destruction type film?
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I finally found a great what if wwiii thriller!
mike_7120 January 2008
I have been looking for a world war iii thriller for years. I came across a list on wikipedia of nuclear war based movies. So I finally located this one which looked the most promising on the list considering its good actors and being produced by HBO who is known for excellent miniseries. And let me tell you, it does not disappoint! We are talking about no joke nuclear war and started in a way you can swallow. No annoying love stories, just one close relationship between a b52 pilot and his co-pilot but at least its done in flight. All and all a great thriller. If you are a wwiii movie junkie like me, you MUST see this film!
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A modern military thriller masterpiece!
fuzzz29 August 2003
Warning: Spoilers
What a cast and story! James Earl Jones rocks in his role as a general and the ending is chilling. Martin Landau plays the President credibly.

HBO needs to release this title on DVD with extras....and it's very tough to get a vhs copy.

Although this film is often compared to Fail Safe, it's story is taken far beyond the situation room and the US President's conversation with the Russian leader.


Fascinating insight into the chain of command, line of succession to the Presidency and the links between the Army and the Navy.
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Severely good, the missing link of nuclear war films
LF-34 August 1999
Dr Strangelove was an excellent black comedy. Fail Safe covered the moral aspects of automatic nuclear retaliation. "By Dawn's Early Light" is something else - it focusses on the _people_ involved in the conflict, with the end of the world as just a backdrop, and in doing so drives home the sheer magnitude of the events portrayed (Fail Safe didn't seem to quite pull that off). Very few films since have managed this level of contrast between fine plot details and the big picture. James Earl Jones' performance is not to be missed.
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Tense and Chaotic.
Robert J. Maxwell23 October 2013
Warning: Spoilers
It's rather like "Fail Safe" except that this time it's some renegade group of Russian rebels who launches a missile at a Russian target. The Russian defense system launches its missiles automatically in the direction of American targets. Boom -- and it hits the fan. Communications are cut off. Cities are blasted. The president's helicopter is downed. Control of American war gear and war policy is now turned over to the semi-conscious Secretary of the Interior, who's first question of his advisers is, "Are we losing?" (As if there will be a winner and a loser, as in a high school football game.)

Thereafter, it gets complicated. It's fast paced. No time is wasted on personality or reality intrusions, except for the first few minutes, when Powers Boothe as the pilot of a problematic B-52 falls drunkenly into bed with his girl friend and co-pilot, Rebecca DeMornay. There must be a romance between a pilot and a female staff member or it's not an airplane movie.

There are -- let me think -- there are two fist fights, three drawn pistols, two premature ejections, one bitch slap, one mid-air collision, one rude Russian premier, one and a half blindings, and a handful of thermonuclear bombs.

It's taut. How could it not be? It's another movie about the accidental attack of one nuclear power on another, and the subsequent attempts to call the whole thing off. But it's not "Fail Safe" or "Doctor Strangelove"; it's a commercial product. The characters aren't uninteresting and they show the kind of diversity required for a movie like this. But they stay the same throughout.

The novel, I would guess, is more accessible because in a book you have time to stretch things out -- get to know the people and their milieu. A movie is by nature more concise. It must leave things out. This film is marred by so many lacunae that it left me confused enough that the climax came as a complete surprise. Maybe I'm just dumb. That's what my friends keep telling me -- my former friends, anyway.

If you want to see a serious dramatic film about a subject like this, do watch "Fail Safe." If you want to watch a masterpiece, try "Dr. Strangelove."
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Smoking won't kill you as fast a nuclear war!
Syl17 August 2015
This made for television movie is about the Soviet Union during the Cold War years attacking America with nuclear bombs. The cast is first rate with Emmy winners James Earl Jones and Powers Boothe along with Rebecca DeMornay, Martin Landau, Rip Torn, Darren McGavin, Peter McNichol, Nicolas Coaster, Daniel Benzali, and others. The film is outdated now sincere Cold War has been over for some time. The film shows the fear of nuclear attacks during the Cold War. The film shows the possibility of life and terror. I didn't get the ending of the film at all as to what really happened to the planes. They do give you final notes about what was going on. Thank God, it's not based on reality.
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Excellent Nuclear Thriller!
GeorgiaDixie6 June 2015
"By Dawn's Early Light" is one of the best nuclear thriller's around. It came out as the Cold War was ending, but it is even more prevalent now, as it opens with accidental launch by Russian dissidents. The current situation in Ukraine comes to mind. In any case, the movie does a great job, especially for made-for-TV (HBO) film that also has pretty good special effects for the time and budget. The acting is top notch, with special nods going to James Earl Jones as the tough, fair, and smart Major General Alice, Powers Boothe as the determined Major Cassidy flying the main B-52, and Martin Landau as the President trying to do the right thing. Also, the short appearance of Nicolas Coaster as General Renning at the beginning to the film is also notable. This is a great nuclear thriller, right up there with the classic Dr. Strangelove but from a different perspective. Highly recommended!
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a chilling "doomsday" thriller
dtucker8624 October 2003
Warning: Spoilers
This film tells the most terrifying stories imaginable, keep in mind it was made just the year before the collapse of the Soviet Union. What would happen if a group of fanatical Russians made a nuclear strike against their own country so they would blame the United States. This film is so masterfully done that it is horrifying! Martin Landau as the President of the United States and Powers Boothe, Rebecca de Morney and James Earl Jones as the military officers who have to see the horrible words "this is not a drill" all do a first class job! Boothe is one of our most under appreciated actors. He won an Emmy award for the title role of the 1980 tv film "Guyana Tragedy: The Story Of Jim Jones". De Morney is probably best remembered for her role in The Hand That Rocks The Cradle. They both give wonderful performances and have fine chemistry between them. The tension is almost unbearable as they have to make the decision to drop the bomb or not. This is a doomsday thriller like Dr. Strangelove or Fail Safe. Martin Landau is also excellent as the President faced with a decision that only Harry Truman faced before. He is such a brilliant actor that it makes me angry that Hollywood overlooked him for so many years before he made a brilliant comeback as Bela Lugosi in Ed Wood. Darren McGavin is also good as an idiotic Cabinet member who takes it into his own hands to start World War III. He is a first class idiot all the way! James Earl Jones rounds out this fine cast as a heroic officer named "Alice" who makes the most courageous decison imaginable. SPOILER ALERT He realizes that McGavin is about to give the orders that will lead to Armageddon. He orders his pilot to deliberately crash into Air Force One to stop it.
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Not bad for the end of the world!
Paul Chambers (WileE)14 January 1999
A TV movie about the end of the world did not inspire confidence, but I was pleasantly surprised by this film. Taking the accidental triggering of a nuclear war as its cue, the film deftly deals with a number of sub-plots, including one bomber crew as well as the political attempts to end the nuclear exchange. Superior acting lends the film a weight that is often missing, although I must confess to thinking of Dr Strangelove more than once! Give the film a chance if you can, and I think you will be presently surprised.
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