Friday, March 07, 2008

Yet even after the original series left the air, the threat of nuclear war remained. The U.S. and the Soviet Union together had some 65,000 nuclear weapons in the 1980s.

The nuclear threat was very much alive in public consciousness in 1987, when “Fairpoint” was made. Renewed concern that a new arms race of nuclear weapons was getting out of control led to the international “nuclear freeze” movement (to freeze the number of nukes in both the U.S. and Soviet Union) in the early 1980s. A new theory of atmospheric effects of nuclear war—the blocking of sunlight leading to a fatal “nuclear winter” was also proposed in 1982 and popularized by Carl Sagan. Then in 1983, a film depicting the effects of nuclear war on one Midwestern city was broadcast on American television over several nights and seen by millions—“The Day After,” directed by Nicholas Meyer (director of Star Trek II and VI .)

“Testament,” another powerful film made that year about a family after a nuclear exchange, was shown on PBS in 1984. A docudrama about the effect of nuclear war on England, called “Threads” was broadcast on the BBC around the same time. (Perhaps the most horrific of these films was made for British TV in 1965 by Peter Watkin, but “The War Game” was seen only in theatrical release, and won the 1966 Academy Award for documentary feature. I saw it that year on a double bill with “Dr. Strangelove”—an unforgettable experience.) And each of these films came with a warning: that the actual effects of a nuclear war would likely be much worse than those depicted.

While there was perhaps not the same pervasive sense of inevitable doom in the late 1980s as there was in earlier decades, the awareness of the dangers of nuclear war—both of its consequences and its imminent possibility—was high. This is in a sense the emotional background of “Farpoint.”

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