Blog Directory CineVerse: A cautionary tale about Armageddon

A cautionary tale about Armageddon

Thursday, February 2, 2017

"Fail Safe" remains a powerful rumination on the precarious nature of the nuclear age, regardless of the fact that the Cold War is many moons behind us and the 1960s feels like ancient history to our technologically advanced modern culture. So long as nuclear weapons remain a threat to our very existence, films like this will have a terrifying significance and resonance that never gets old. Discussion points on this movie last evening focused on the following:

The filmmakers chose stark, high-contrast black and white versus color.
It employs a minimalistic, lean and stark narrative approach; it features few locations or characters: the story occurs on only three sets. Reviewer Richard Scheib wrote: “Sidney Lumet creates an enormous tension out of bare minimalism – the most starkly effective scenes occur in the presidential conference room, which Lumet strips to a single stage consisting of two men, a bare room, a table in a telephone.”
The sets and settings are meant to evoke a claustrophobic feel; consider how closed in the characters sometimes appear and how they are occasionally dwarfed by large objects, like the view screens or telephone in the foreground. 
The disclaimer text at the end of the movie is meant to reassure viewers that this is only fiction, when the reality is that a scenario such as this one possibly could have happened.
Many find it hard to take this film seriously in the shadow of Dr. Strangelove, which was also released earlier in the same year, 1964, but which employed a black comedy approach in which the characters and situations were depicted as exaggerated and absurd yet horrifyingly within the realm of possibility.
The enemy – in this case, the Soviets – are not shown. We are only given the American perspective.
To some, the ending of this movie, in which the president chooses to nuke New York City, may seem ludicrously implausible and more in keeping with the tone of a morality play than a political thriller aiming for verisimilitude.
This movie has also been criticized for being overly preachy and grandstanding. Take, for example, Walter Matthau’s speechifying about a planet free of communist countries or his sermonizing to the woman in the car early in the film.
The pace and rhythm of the editing increases as the film progresses; initially, the shots are longer and extended and compositions are framed primarily in medium or long shots. But as the narrative advances and becomes more suspenseful, the cutting comes quicker and the camera zooms in more to depict close-ups.
The movie lacks a musical score, which adds to its tense atmosphere; no soundtrack means that quieter scenes are more riveting.
This would have been eye-opening to 1964 audiences are likely weren’t aware of how the War Room works.
Technology superseding its human masters. Technology, after all, prevents the Americans from aborting its nuclear mission in this film. Blogger Ilpo Hirvonen wrote: “The gigantic screens and computers… Make the characters seem marginally insignificant. (In) the first scene at the president’s emergency room, the phone is at the front of the frame and appears to us bigger than the president or his interpreter.”
The great responsibility that comes with possessing weapons of mass destruction, including the prevention of errors that can lead to a nuclear strike.
The impossibility of making moral and fair decisions when or after using nuclear weapons.
The metaphor of the matador killing the bull. The audience cheers for the matador, but, in this case, the matador realizes that he has killed something innocent and massive.
“Who checks the checker?” No system is foolproof.
The danger/folly in finding “beauty is quote in warfare and destruction.
Men are responsible, not machines.
Dr. Strangelove
On the Beach
Arch Oboler’s Five
The War Game
Seven Days in May
The Bedford Incident
12 Angry Men
Long Day’s Journey into Night
The Pawnbroker
Murder on the Orient Express
Dog Day Afternoon
The Verdict
Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead 

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