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Countdown To Zero
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on June 12, 2010
From the people who brought you "An Inconvenient Truth" comes "Countdown to Zero," written and directed by Lucy Walker and produced by Lawrence Bender. After the Cold War, nuclear arms were scaled back and the public naively felt the danger had passed. Although only nine nations developed and continue to possess nuclear weapons, forty others have the knowledge to do it and it is only a matter of time before human error or terrorist pursuits could make a huge lasting impact on this planet.

"Countdown to Zero" does a fantastic job of setting up the situation first with the history of the bomb, the Manhatten project, and the horrors they caused. It reveals many shocking instances where due to human or machine error, we or other countries were mere minutes or even seconds away from firing the first missile. With all these nuclear weapons set to a hair trigger that can be fired within one minute of receiving the order, we live in a dangerous reality indeed.

The film also explores the ways to obtain highly refined uranium and how surprisingly easy it is if you know the right people. We assume that even with the materials, it would still be difficult to construct a usable bomb but that also proves false. A large team might be needed but bomb construction can be as easy as pie and the beauty of it is that it does not need to be perfect, it just needs to go boom! and the end result will be the same. It is far too easy to smuggle the uranium into the United States should anyone want to and even the best detection equipment makes mistakes. So basically there are three ways to get bombs: make them, steal them, or buy them and it is almost impossible to keep up with preventing all these ways so it would be much easier to eliminate them altogether.

The impact different types of bombs could have and how far the fall out would spread would be devastating anywhere at any time. The goal of the film is to remind the public that this threat still exists and with a large enough outcry from the people, more progress could be made to eliminate ALL nuclear weapons everywhere.

This documentary is informative and engrossing and I would highly recommend checking it out. It is easy with all the other problems out there to forget about nuclear weapons being an issue since it seems so Cold War era, but it still is an issue that needs to be resolved and this movie serves as a great reminder. It opens in theaters July 23, 2010.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on August 2, 2010
Upon the demise of the Soviet Union, many of us thought the nuclear threat is all but gone. After all, the weapons' manufacture is diabolically complex, there is no "evil empire," no arch rival to keep us occupied. So the issue no longer exists, right?

WRONG!

I ran across a short piece in Everything You Know Is Wrong: The Disinformation Guide to Secrets and Lies which indicated that those whom we have labled as "terrorists" may not put a lot of value on life, and/or many not really comprehend the degree of damage they may inflict should they use such weapons. (Those are my words, not those of the article's author, or those of the volume's editor, Russ Kick.) It certainly gave me something to think about. Then I talked with an old friend who has for decades been a rival of nuclear energy. He suggested the waste from nuke plants could, if taken by an adversary, be used for acts we cannot yet imagine. That too gave me something to think about.

So I was compelled to see this film.

The film begins with a Kennedy speech, with President Kennedy at the UN on September 25, 1961 warning us of "the nuclear sword of Damocles, hanging by the slenderest of threads, capable of being cut at any moment by accident or miscalculation or by madness." That speech was used as a visual technique throughout the film guiding us through the words, their applicability, even in some ways their irony. (Back in the Kennedy era, I don't know that we anticipated accident or madness, probably to our near demise!) And the film eventually led to the Kennedy speech applying it to today, when it's no less important than the nearly half century ago when the speech was originally given!

I was surprised by little of the film except that to make such weapons is not anywhere near as complex as we'd been led to believe. What's more, while there is uranium, one of the fissionable elements (the other is plutonium, which I think is man-made) all over the world, a fraction of one percent of the element could be used for nuclear weapons. But to make the weapons grade element, one only needs a centrifuge. And that item isn't particularly complex, and is readily available. Indeed, Iran has several; President Ahmadinajad apparently sees having access to such weapons an item of prestige: if you have 'em, why can't we?

That, of course, was an element of the level of nuclear proliferation throughout the world. The US began producing such weapons in 1945. We were followed by the Soviets, the British, the French, Israel, now India and Pakistan also have nuclear weapons, as does China and other countries.

While the film was covering that issue, there was also discussion of the military officers who manned the missile silos. While that issue may seem dated, the proliferation issue certainly is not. As the ability to produce such weapons spreads, so does the ability of someone to steal some fissionable material and sell it. Sure enough, there were such thieves, one of them only caught because he was trying to market his "product" with some of his buddies who were selling something more innocuous.

How much of the fissile material may be on the black market worldwide? Heaven only knows. And, again, for someone to make it is not as complicated as many of us would like.

Then there were the accidents; at a few times, we were closer to a devestating nuclear war than many of us now. Boris Yeltsin for some reason did not attack when the Russians were apparently under attack by US. (Maybe for the first time in my life, I could think, "Thank heaven for Yeltsin!)

People interviewed for the film included Valarie Plame Wilson, and even Mr. Gorbachev. He and even Reagan apparently recognized the danger of having such weapons. While they were on the verge of eliminating the weapons during their summit in Iceland, apparently the US wouldn't yield on the Reagan fantasy, SDI ("Star Wars.") Had we given in, we may today be closer to eliminating what could be the end of our planet!

The director also interviewed citizens all over the world. They apparently were no more aware of the nuclear threat than most of us. But towards the end of the film, all agreed: for all of us to be safe, the weapons must be eliminated.

So, no, we're not free of a nuclear threat. Indeed, the threat may be more grave now that it was during the cold war.

I'll agree with those from all the countries in which people testified for the film: If I hadn't been convinced of it before, the film convinced me of the need to end the use and/or preparation of nuclear weapons.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 11, 2010
Format: DVD
Countdown to Zero treats a subject that everyone needs to know more about, but almost no one wants to face. Hopefully, this professionally produced film will help overcome that. I found it riveting. And don't let "but zero is dangerous" scare you off. The film is not advocating immediate, much less unilateral, nuclear disarmament. Colin Powell and other military leaders wouldn't be involved if that were the case! Rather, what's proposed is a step-by-step process to take us back from the nuclear abyss in a way that enhances our security. Too many people jump to the wrong conclusion that posing the vision of a world free of nuclear weapons requires rash action. It's a vision and a goal, not a call for impossible and dangerous action.

The review here that says nuclear deterrence works, so there's nothing to worry about, is just dead wrong -- as is the societal belief it reflects. One of the most frequent such "What me worry?" arguments points to the last 65 years without a world war and says "It ain't broke, so don't fix it!" Given that a child born today has an expected lifetime of 78 years and we have had a number of near misses in the last 65 years, that is weak evidence at best.

While the Cuban Missile Crisis is the best known near miss (and, for many people, the only one they know of), there have been many, many more. 1961 Berlin, 1983 Able Archer, the 1991 Soviet coup attempt, the 1993 Russian coup attempt, the 1995 Norwegian rocket false alarm (the one time the Russian nuclear launch codes were opened in front of a leader -- thank God Yeltsin was sober enough to make the right decision), and the 2008 Georgian war are just the ones that come to my mind as I write this. And, then there's the specter of nuclear terrorism. Countdown does a fantastic job of conveying the horrendous risk that society is neglecting. Hopefully more people will watch this film and start demanding that we defuse the nuclear suicide machine we've constructed.

If you want more info than this review can convey, do a web search on "defusing the nuclear threat" -- with the quotes.

Other things to look at:

Nuclear Tipping Point DVD: A web search on its title will bring up links for getting a free DVD. Imagine Henry Kissinger and Colin Powell calling for a world free of nuclear weapons? You don't have to. Watch the DVD and hear them do it, along with Bill Perry, Sam Nunn, Mikhail Gorbachev and others.

Peter Vincent Pry's book War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink has details on most of the near misses I listed, plus one more.

David Hoffman's book The Dead Hand: The Untold Story of the Cold War Arms Race and Its Dangerous Legacy won the Pulitzer for non-fiction and includes a description of a Soviet doomsday machine -- the "dead hand" that can reach from the grave and retaliate even after the leadership was destroyed in an American attack. But what about the chance for the system failing?

Tad Daley's book Apocalypse Never: Forging the Path to a Nuclear Weapon-Free World is another great read. Lots of useful info.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on June 30, 2014
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
I forgot how good this tv show was. Steampunk before there was steampunk . If you're an 80's child or just an animation fan you need to revisit Limbo and revel in duplicitous space cabbies, gambling robots, crazy rocker aliens and space noir.
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on December 11, 2010
Format: DVD
Excellent documentary. Extremely informative, interesting, eye-opening, and concerning. Along with vivid explanations of facts and figures, this movie uses historical footage and interviews of many former world leaders and national security experts to give a stark warning about why our current state of nuclear weapons and their proliferation is so precarious. This isn't a topic most of us normally think about (at least I didn't), but this movie makes a convincing case of why it has to be one of our top priorities to solve. It's easy to see why this is so concerning: We (mankind), with all our fallibilities, are in charge of tens of thousands of bombs, each capable of instantly killing tens of millions of people. Just one mistake, one miscommunication, one glitch, one misjudgment can set off an unimaginable nuclear holocaust. As bleak as this sounds, this movie gives us reasons to hope, empowering us to work towards a nuclear-free world.
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on September 19, 2013
Format: Blu-rayVerified Purchase
Stunning account of what has transpired and rather freighting of what could happen. A must see. This really makes you think. An edge of your seat production very well done with historical footage.
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Format: Amazon Instant Video
This is one VERY frightening film about the nuclear genie and how hard it continues to be to get him back into the bottle. Back in the 1980s the public's biggest concern was the Cold War and the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the United States and the Soviet Union. Now that the old Cold War is over, we don't have to worry much about nuclear weapons, right? WRONG. And this film explains in no uncertain terms why. Along the way we get nightmare tales of nuclear devices being lost, launch codes being sent accidentally to the dry cleaners, uranium plant workers making a little money on the side by selling little bits of fissionable material here and there, and how relatively easy it would be for terrorists to construct a nuclear weapon in the middle of a major city like New York. This isn't fear-mongering, it's REALITY. People used to worry about massive thermonuclear wars. But even if terrorists managed to detonate a single nuclear device in a major city, it would be tremendously destabilizing and demoralizing on a global level, as this film make clear.
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on June 23, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant Video
The documentary highlights the challenges with nuclear weapons and how surprisingly it can be to obtain the necessary products to make one. Long gone are the days of just a few countries having the "bomb". Now the bomb is available to the highest bidder.
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on May 16, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant VideoVerified Purchase
Never heard of this film? It's because it's so hard to watch. I taught the History of Technology at the City University of New York and showed this the last week of class. It, along with the classic Atomic Cafe, both opened up so much conversation, alarm and action every time they were shown. A modern classic and also an important film for anyone interested in their children's welfare.
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on April 19, 2013
Format: Amazon Instant Video
This is the second time I have watched this documentary, and both times I have come away with a determination in my heart to work towards global peace. The makers of this movie carefully and thoughtfully lay out the historical background, and their arguments along with practical examples and practical ideas on how proliferation can be reduced and actually eliminated. This is one of those movies that should be assigned homework in every high school. Only by making people aware of this problem, can we move towards elimination of this global menace from our lives for good.
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