Countdown to Looking Glass

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Countdown to Looking Glass
Countdown to Looking Glass Cover.jpg
Genre Mockumentary
Directed by Fred Barzyk
Produced by Fred Barzyk
W. Paterson Ferns
David R. Loxton
Written by Albert Ruben
Starring Scott Glenn
Michael Murphy
Helen Shaver
Patrick Watson
Cinematography Miklos Lente
Editing by Bernie Clayton
Peter C. Frank
Leah Siegel
Country Canada
Language English
Release date October 14, 1984
Running time 86 minutes

Countdown to Looking Glass is a Canadian made-for-television movie that premiered in the United States on HBO on 14 October 1984 and was also broadcast on CTV in Canada. The movie presents a fictional confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union over the Strait of Hormuz, the gateway to the Persian Gulf. The narrative of the film details the events that lead up to the initial exchange of nuclear weapons, which was triggered by a banking crisis, from the perspective of an on-going news broadcast.

Unlike similar productions such as the previous year's Special Bulletin and the later Without Warning, the producers of this film decided not to make the entire production a simulated newscast, but instead break up the news portions with dramatic narrative scenes involving Shaver and Murphy. The appearance of real-life newscasters, as well as noted CBC host Watson (although he does not appear as himself in this film) lent additional authenticity to the production.

One of the CTV rebroadcasts of the film in the mid-1980s occurred only days before an actual confrontation in the Persian Gulf occurred between American and Soviet ships, although the outcome of the real-life dispute was rather more positive.


The CVN news network's nightly program, starring Don Tobin (Watson), with reports from correspondents Michael Boyle (Glenn) and Dorian Waldorf (Shaver), discusses a terrorist bombing of the American embassy in Saudi Arabia that killed the American ambassador. The week before, a global banking crisis was caused by several South American countries defaulting on their loans, leading to turmoil in Southwest Asia. Before the unrest spread to Saudi Arabia, Soviet-backed militants led a coup in Oman when the Omani economy collapsed. Shortly after, a new report shows that the banking crisis may soon begin to ease.

The following day, it is revealed that a large military operation was launched to keep the peace in Saudi Arabia, with many American soldiers, ships, and planes being sent at King Fahd's request. This move was heavily criticized both abroad and domestic. In response to this move, which the Soviet Union saw as provocative, the Soviet-backed puppet government in Oman imposes a $10,000 toll for every oil tanker who wished to pass through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. The Soviet government claimed it would remove the toll if the Americans withdrew their troops from Saudi Arabia. The captains of the tankers refuse to pay the toll, effectively creating an economic blockade in which no oil could be transported through the Persian Gulf.

A breaking news alert on the fifth day of the Middle East crisis reveals that a short battle between American warplanes and unidentified enemy warplanes, presumed to be from Iran or Kuwait, took place, in which one American reconnaissance plane was shot down over the Persian Gulf before two of the five attacking planes were shot down. The attacking aircraft were believed to be aiming for the oil refinery in Ras Tanura, in retaliation for Saudi Arabia's requesting of American troops.

On day six of the crisis, an American aircraft carrier, the USS Nimitz and its battle group, armed with both nuclear and conventional weapons, are sent by the U.S. President to the Persian Gulf to ensure the free passage of oil tankers in the region. The Soviet Union quickly responds to this action by sending submarines to the Persian Gulf. CVN sends Michael Boyle to the Nimitz to cover the deployment.

On day eight of the crisis, in response to the growing urgency of the situation, CVN begins to broadcast 24 hours a day until further notice. On day nine, the crisis deepened on when an Omani gunboat attacks and apparently destroys an unarmed Dutch vessel which tried to go through the Strait of Hormuz; the CVN broadcast also notes the presence of Soviet attack subs[N 1] near the site of the attack. At this point, people begin to evacuate cities, overseas air travel is suspended by the FAA, many schools begin closing, the Strategic Air Command redeploys B-52 bombers throughout the nation's airports, and people are urged to stay off their phones. By nightfall, an evacuation of the White House is ordered. During the night, a battle erupts between Omani gunboats and the U.S. Navy in the Strait of Hormuz, with an Omani gunboat firing first and disabling an American warship, then subsequently being destroyed. Despite the gravity of the situation, Tobin discusses his optimistic viewpoint of the situation with correspondent Eric Sevareid, believing that, "Reasonable people, once they've looked the Devil in the face, aren't going to shake hands with him."

Shortly after the Omani gunboat exchanged fire with the American ship, a Soviet submarine slips through the perimeter of American ships and is tracked towards the Nimitz, which begins exploding depth charges towards the submarine before eventually firing a nuclear depth bomb on the submarine when it gets too close. Shortly thereafter, a nuclear weapon[N 2] is launched at the battle group, causing an unknown level of damage, while not apparently sinking the Nimitz. Shortly thereafter, the Nimitz loses contact with CVN.

At this point, the White House is completely evacuated, with the President, Joint Chiefs of Staff, and other White House officials evacuated onto the National Emergency Airborne Command Post plane with the Strategic Air Command's airborne command center Looking Glass in accompaniment, and the Emergency Broadcast System is activated. In the moments before CVN's broadcast is transferred over to the Emergency Broadcast System, Tobin reiterates his optimism, discussing the opinions of a deceased colleague who was considered an expert in nuclear war scenarios. His colleague held the belief that a nuclear exchange would someday take place, but when the two superpowers were confronted with the horror of the situation, they would choose peace over war. Still, as Tobin prepares to turn things over to the EBS, it is obvious that he is shaken by the events that have occurred, is fearful about the future, and it is suspected that he may have regrets over not using a story Waldorf brought to CVN earlier, in which Waldorf's Pentagon insider boyfriend provided her with evidence that the Soviets were willing to back off and discuss peace. However, at the time, Tobin reluctantly insisted that Waldorf have more than one source for the story and by the time she got her other source, it was too late.

The film ends with a shot of the Presidential aircraft taking off to meet Looking Glass in the air, with the broadcast switching over to the Emergency Broadcast System.


See also[edit]

  • Special Bulletin, a 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, shot in the same style of simulated news broadcasts.
  • The Day After was another 1983 made-for-TV movie about nuclear terrorism, although it was a conventional dramatic narrative and not shot in the style of simulated news broadcasts. The movie shows the effects of a nuclear war. The build-up to war is explained via the background inside the movie. It was one of the most-watched programs in television history.
  • Without Warning, an apocalyptic 1994 TV movie also presented as a news broadcast.
  • Trinity's Child, by William Prochnau, portrays a sudden nuclear attack by the USSR upon the United States, followed by an eruption of global warfare and internal political crises.
  • Arc Light, a 1994 novel by Eric L. Harry
  • The Last Ship, by William Brinkley, portrays a sudden massive nuclear exchange between the superpowers, with further escalating exchanges over a four-hour period leaving most of the northern hemisphere choked in radioactive fallout. The ship loses contact with the U.S. Navy, and then investigates various sites around Europe and Africa starting with Naval Station Rota in Spain, making contact with other stray ships, military and civilian. All the consequences of the exchange for the crew, and humanity as a whole, are explored.
  • The Third World War: The Untold Story, by General Hackett, portrays a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, including the behavior of the formally neutral Ireland and Sweden, and internal Soviet debates and thinking.
  • Team Yankee, a 1987 novel by Harold Coyle set in Hackett's scenario
  • Red Army, by Ralph Peters, showing a Soviet invasion of Western Europe from an entirely Soviet perspective.
  • Red Storm Rising, a similar World War III scenario covering a conventional Soviet invasion of Western Europe, by Tom Clancy
  • The Third World War by Humphrey Hawksley depicts a slow-building crisis that culminates in a nightmarish World War III involving nuclear and biological weapons.
  • Der Dritte Weltkrieg, a 1998 German/American mockumentary of an alternate history in which Soviet hard-liners oust Mikhail Gorbachev with the Iron Curtain intact, soon initiating a conventional war which accidentally triggers a full nuclear exchange; the film then rewinds to the point of divergence and ends with jubilant scenes from the "different path" of our history.


  1. ^ Incorrectly described as a Typhoon-class submarine.
  2. ^ Most likely a nuclear torpedo.

External links[edit]