Countdown to Looking Glass

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Countdown to Looking Glass
Countdown to Looking Glass Cover.jpg
Written by Albert Ruben
Directed by Fred Barzyk
Starring Scott Glenn
Michael Murphy
Helen Shaver
Patrick Watson
Country of origin Canada
Original language(s) English
Producer(s) Fred Barzyk
W. Paterson Ferns
David R. Loxton
Cinematography Miklos Lente
Editor(s) Bernie Clayton
Peter C. Frank
Leah Siegel
Running time 86 minutes
Production company(s) HBO Premiere Films
Original release October 14, 1984

Countdown to Looking Glass is a Canadian made-for-television movie that premiered in the United States on HBO on October 14, 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 ongoing 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 Television host Patrick Watson (although he does not appear as himself in this film) lent additional authenticity to the production.


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, caused by several South American countries defaulting on their loans, led 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 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 is heavily criticized - in the US and abroad. The United Kingdom, America's closest ally, refuses to take part in the operation as do many other of America's allies. However the attitude of the American representatives is clear that they can perform the peacekeeping mission alone, citing the success of the British in the past in containing the Russians' previous provocation in the area.

In response to this move, which the Soviet Union sees as provocative, the Soviet-backed puppet government in Oman imposes a $10,000 toll for every oil tanker passing through the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. The Soviet government claims it will remove the toll if the Americans withdraw troops from Saudi Arabia. The captains of the tankers refuse to pay the toll, effectively creating an economic blockade in which no oil can be transported through the Persian Gulf.

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

Meanwhile, Waldorf brings a story to CVN: her Pentagon insider boyfriend provides her with satellite photos that suggest the Soviets have pulled out some troops and materiel from the Middle East. However, Tobin reluctantly insists that Waldorf have more than one source for the story.

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. Shortly after a State Department briefing, the Defense Secretary dies, perhaps of a heart attack brought on by the stresses of crisis management.

On day nine, the crisis deepens 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 submarines[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 American 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. A night battle then 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 "[r]easonable people, once they've looked the Devil in the face, aren't going to shake hands with him."

Shortly after the Omani gunboat exchanges 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. There is suddenly a large, underwater nuclear detonation, which could either have been fired by the Nimitz or the nuclear sub exploding itself. Shortly thereafter, a nuclear weapon[N 2] is launched at the battle group, causing an unknown level of damage, yet apparently not sinking the Nimitz. Shortly thereafter, Boyle and the Nimitz lose 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. As a now-bewildered Tobin prepares to turn things over to the EBS, it is obvious that he is shaken by the events that have occurred, and is, moreover, almost mournfully fearful over the inescapable realization that both mankind and the planet Earth may very well not have any future at all.



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

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