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Film / By Dawn's Early Light

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A group of rogue agents in the Soviet military steal a nuclear missile and launch it at Ukraine from Turkey, tricking the USSR into a full-on counterattack against the West. Before the missiles land the mistake is discovered, but the American President's generals urge him to launch a counterattack. Bombers are launched and missile subs are put to sea, a B-52 named "Polar Bear One" takes off from Fairchild Air Force Base in Washington state moments before it's vaporized by an incoming Soviet missile. In the confusion, the president goes missing, triggering a succession crisis and threatening to escalate the conflict to apocalyptic levels.
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The film was produced for HBO in 1990 and features several notable actors including James Earl Jones, Martin Landau, and Rip Torn. It's also notable for being the last American World War III movie released before the dissolution of the Soviet Union the following year.


This film provides examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: This isn't the first time that James Earl Jones has had a hand in World War III
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Trident missiles are prevented from launching, but tens or even hundreds of millions of people are dead.
  • Continuous Decompression: Tyler blows his escape hatch, resulting in a straight example.
  • Defcon Five: Not only does USAF General Redding use the "this is a drill" practice names for Defense Conditions COCKED PISTOL (DEFCON 1) and ROUND HOUSE (DEFCON 3); by going from COCKED PISTOL to ROUND HOUSE on his authority, Redding just ordered the reduction of defense readiness when there are Soviet nuclear missiles actively flying towards the United States at that moment!
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  • Driven to Suicide: Poor Tyler
  • Dwindling Party: Polar Bear One. One of the crewmen dies when the plane is struck by a nuclear shockwave, and most of the rest of the crew die when a despondent crewman fires his ejection seat, causing everyone else to be sucked out of the plane. By the end of the film, only the pilots are left, in a damaged plane running low on fuel over the Pacific ocean.
  • False Flag Attack: A ploy by the Soviet military to seize power kicks off the Third World War
  • Face Death with Dignity: The pilots of Air Force One salute Looking Glass in the moments before the planes collide.
  • Fighter-Launching Sequence: Well, bomber launching. Polar Bear One's crew scrambles to get into the air as a nuclear warhead is about to strike their base. They narrowly escape in time.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: The flight crew of Air Force One turn towards the pursing Looking Glass, allowing their aircraft to be rammed to stop the Secretary of the Interior from further escalating the war. The crews of both planes are killed but the war is brought to a halt.
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  • President Evil: Zig-zagged. In the confusion of nuclear war, the President is incapacitated and incorrectly assumed to be dead. The only person in the line of succession who can be found is the Secretary of the Interior, who is much more bloodthirsty than the actual president, who is depicted as levelheaded and highly competent.
  • Ramming Always Works: To stop the Secretary of the Interior from launching the submarine-based Trident missiles and killing even more people, General "Alice" orders the pilots of Looking Glass to ram Air Force One. As it happens, Looking Glass can't catch up with Air Force One until the other planes' crew decides to help close the distance.
  • World War III: Naturally.

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