Magnolia Pictures // 2010 // 89 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Adam Arseneau (Retired) // January 8th, 2011
From the folks who brought you An Inconvenient Truth comes a sobering documentary about nuclear proliferation and repeated observations about why nukes suck. A well-made and powerful documentary, Countdown To Zero is as persuasive and one-sided as films get; a bombardment of facts and scary imagery that leaves it virtually impossible to have a dissenting opinion. Not that you'd ever want one, you freak.
Countdown To Zero makes the persuasive and passionate argument that nuclear weapons are simply redundant in a modern society. The need for mankind to annihilate itself tenfold is illogical. Once a deterrent to the superpowers in keeping a Cold War chilly, too many countries possess the technology, and unstable nations like Pakistan and North Korea equate nuclear weaponry with the key to evening out an unbalanced world playing field. The film is loosely structured into three sections, discussing how the delicate balance of the world could be disrupted by one of three scenarios: an act of terrorism, an act of failed diplomacy, or a simple accident. All three are chilling in their own right.
When one considers that a nuclear bomb itself is simple enough to assemble that a few graduate students can make one with parts from Radio Shack, the careful safeguarding of nuclear material is of the utmost importance. And yet the former Soviet Union has misplaced a staggering amount since communism took a fall. Mathematically speaking, it is literally just a matter of time before something dreadful happens. As anxieties go, this is a doozie, and one the film squeezes for every ounce of palatable fear, like the endless five mile circles showcasing the destruction of major metropolitan centers around the world. Doomed, I say! Doomed!
Truth be told, the accidental scenario is the one that kept me up at night after watching this film. At the end of the day, this reviewer has basic faith in humankind; a belief that we don't really want to light the world on fire, despite our many religious and ideological differences. As for stupidity, yeah, we got that -- and Countdown To Zero recounts some genuinely alarming incidents in which the world was nearly plunged into full-scale nuclear meltdown, accidentally. A failed computer chip worth pennies, or a misinterpreted radar signal, or an overzealous first strike officer itchy on the trigger finger -- it all makes Dr. Strangelove seem far too factual for comfort.
Scaremongering aside, this is an exceptionally well-made documentary. Assembled (like all good documentaries) from a wealth of archival footage, historical photographs, interviews and dissertations, Countdown To Zero features everyone from President Jimmy Carter to Tony Blair, Mikhail Gorbachev to Pervez Musharraf, Zbigniew Brzezinski to F.W. de Klerk. The film is tense and brooding, but is edited and assembled with the polished panache of an experienced documentary filmmaker, Lucy Walker (The Devil's Playground, Blindsight).
On Blu-ray, the film features some seriously sharp sequences presented in 1080P, like slow-motion panoramic shots and crisply detailed interview footage that look surprisingly good for a documentary. Upscaled footage looks respectable; colors are balanced and pleasingly saturated. Equally well performing is the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, featuring clear dialogue, a predictably moody score and solid bass response. The mix is primarily focused in the center; there is little for rear speakers to get too excited about, save for the occasional burst of a Radiohead song or ambient street noise during man-on-the-street interviews.
Countdown To Zero (Blu-ray) features the same supplementary features as its standard definition counterpart: deleted scenes, additional interviews, extra archival footage, a letter from the filmmakers and a Ploughshares Fund PSA, which amounts total to about an hour of extra content.
If your average everyday citizen in America represents the choir, Countdown to Zero is a very angry preacher, preaching. Strenuous and grim, the documentary pounds home a point that very few people would disagree with, save for the most right-winged hawks. Who would argue in favor of nuclear bombs? The title of this film is quite literally the entire point; as a society, we should be demanding zero from our governments.
Sound farfetched? We did it with chemical weapons. We backed away from the abyss, unilaterally outlawing their manufacture and stockpiling, and in a few short generations, they have practically vanished from the face of the world. Why not the bomb too?
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
* 1.78:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 89 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Deleted Scenes
* Bonus Footage
* Take Part: Countdown To Zero