Blu-ray Review HTF BLU-RAY REVIEW: Countdown to Zero

Discussion in 'Blu-ray and UHD' started by Matt Hough, Nov 22, 2010.

  1. Matt Hough

    Matt Hough Executive Producer

    Apr 24, 2006
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    Charlotte, NC
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    Matt Hough
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    Countdown to Zero (Blu-ray)
    Directed by Lucy Walker

    Studio: Magnolia
    Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1   1080p   AVC codec
    Running Time: 89 minutes
    Rating: PG
    Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
    Subtitles: SDH, Spanish

    Region:  no designation
    MSRP:  $ 29.98

    Release Date: November 23, 2010

       Review Date: November 22, 2010  

    The Film


    I grew up during the Cold War, and we had frequent “duck and cover” drills in school. I had friends who had fallout shelters in their homes or somewhere in their yards, and even my family had an evacuation plan should the need arise. The threat of nuclear attack was never that far in the backs of our minds. When the former Soviet Union broke apart, however, I figured the threat for something heinous from that particular nation was at an end, but on the basis of Lucy Walker’s trenchant documentary Countdown to Zero, nothing could be farther from the truth. Not only does the former Soviet Union still lead the world in the number of nuclear arms, it has on several occasions allowed high grade uranium and plutonium to leave its borders. In addition, there are also seven other countries in the world besides ourselves with nuclear capabilities along with other unfriendly nations certainly in the market to gain such capabilities for themselves. As the documentary makes clear, the threat to our planet from an all-out nuclear attack boils down to three possibilities: an accident, a miscalculation, or an act of madness. The documentary sets out to show that two of those possibilities have already been set into motion in the past often by the narrowest of margins averting a catastrophe, and that unless steps are taken to reduce significently or eliminate completely nuclear weapons, it’s just a matter of time before the latter circumstance might lead to something truly cataclysmic.

    As narrated by Gary Oldman and presented quite succinctly and with only a bit of repetition by the producers and director of the piece in an effort to rally people to the real dangers of living in a world where these weapons are a constant threat, Countdown to Zero brings into clear focus the mistakes that have been made, the drives of nations desiring to gain bombs for themselves, and the mostly futile efforts that have been made to get the weapons destroyed. A succession of knowledgeable scientists and politicians give credence to the hazards of living in a world where one bad decision could launch a global meltdown. Jimmy Carter, Mikhail Gorbachev, Tony Blair, Valerie Plame Wilson, Joe Cirincione, Zbigniew Brzezinski, F.W. de Klerk, and Pervez Musharraf are only a few of the talking heads who do a terrific job in stating facts of their involvement with and opinions about the nuclear arms race and the state of the world now that 23,000 of these weapons are still extant.

    Two segments in the film are real shockers. One is a hair-raising story concerning the 1995 U.S. launch of a rocket to study the aurora borealis, a launch that had been reported to the Russians in advance but which had failed to be forwarded to the right people resulting in a mistaken Russian interpretation of the launch as an attack on them with all of their nuclear weapons made ready for a launch signal by Boris Yeltsin. Had he not ignored his own counselors and pushed the button, nuclear weapons would have been launched toward the United States. The other segment involves the determined quest to gain a nuclear weapon by Al Qaeda who wants the bomb to avenge what it has figured to be a loss of four million of its own people to terrorism. The film then begins showing a series of overhead maps of the world’s largest cities with a five mile radius out from the center of each city showing how much would be directly impacted by a blast. Later in the film, several scientists explain how those outside the five mile radius would be affected by a nuclear explosion. The results would not be pretty.

    It’s a nerve-jangling, sobering plea for common sense and action not only on the parts of some of the world’s most influential countries but also from ordinary citizens who can do their part by making sure officials know that a world without these nuclear weapons of mass destruction would be a safer world for all.

    Video Quality


    The film is framed at 1.78:1 and is presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Vault footage used from a variety of sources runs the gamut in quality from excellent to awful, and while the newly shot footage of talking heads and illustrations comes across clearly and cleanly, there are some instances of moiré and aliasing in that footage, too. Of course, documentaries don’t live or die by being video reference specimens, but this one certainly presents its information with a visual quality that’s more than acceptable. For foreign language-speaking participants, yellow subtitles are used and show up beautifully. The film has been divided into 12 chapters.

    Audio Quality


    The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix presents all of the interview material with the guest speakers’ words very clearly reproduced in the center channel. Peter Golub’s music score and some pertinent pop music dot the soundtrack and are nicely spread through the fronts and rears. It’s not a showy mix, but it gets the job done with precision.

    Special Features


    All of the bonus features are presented in 480i.

    Four deleted scenes may be watched individually or in one 9 ¾-minute group.

    Five extended interviews are also presented. (The one with Jimmy Carter sheds some eye-opening light on not only the responsibilities he had as President in regard to the nuclear threat but also some safeguards that were put into effect during his administration which a much later administration did away with. I assume this was left out to keep party politics out of the realm of the documentary’s focus, but his revelations are important.) They may be viewed separately or in one 40 ¾-minute bunch.

    Three archival documentaries concerning the nuclear situation make for some innocent but interesting viewing. “The Town That Never Was” runs 20 ¾ minutes. “Operation Greenhouse” runs for 21 ¼ minutes. “Atomic Support for the Soldier” runs 22 ½ minutes.

    Plowshares Fund PSA is exactly what the title would lead you to believe: a public service announcement by Joe Cirincione for the group dedicated to controlling the nuclear threat to the world’s existence. It runs 4 ¾ minutes.

    A Letter from the Filmmakers is a plea for individual action with website and address information offered for those who are interested in getting involved.

    The disc is BD-Live ready, but the website did not offer any additional material involved with Countdown to Zero.

    There are 1080p trailers for I’m Still Here, Freakonomics, Centurion, and Monsters.

    In Conclusion

    4/5 (not an average)

    Countdown to Zero is a gripping documentary which states its premise with utmost clarity and urgency. Anyone interested in the safety and security of the planet owes it to himself to at least give this disc a rent. Highly recommended!

    Matt Hough

    Charlotte, NC

  2. Adam Gregorich


    Nov 20, 1999
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    The Other Washington
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    Thanks for the reveiw Matt. It sounds like a very interesting documentary. I'm going to add it to my Amazon wishlist and keep an eye on it for a price drop,

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