Without Warning (1994 film)

Without Warning (1994 film)

: "This article is about the 1994 science fiction made-for-TV film. For other uses, see Without Warning (disambiguation)."

"Without Warning" is a U.S. TV movie that premiered on CBS on Halloween night, October 31, 1994. The movie centered around one news reporter (veteran journalist Sander Vanocur appearing as himself) and a scientific analyst (Jane Kaczmarek as Dr. Caroline Jaffe) covering a breaking news story of three meteor fragments crashing into the Earth's northern hemisphere. The movie is presented as if it were an actual breaking news event, complete with remote reports from reporters. The film never breaks character, never going behind the scenes.

The executive producer of the film was David L. Wolper, who produced a number of mocumentary-style films from the 1960s onward.


Broadcast 11 years after a similar program, "Special Bulletin", "Without Warning" starts in an identical fashion, with the beginning of "regular programming", in this case the opening of a murder mystery film with the title "Without Warning", starring Loni Anderson (appearing in a cameo). Within moments, however, the program is interrupted with a news bulletin of an explosion in Wyoming. The "movie" resumes but a few moments later is interrupted for good as coverage begins of a Halloween night meteor impact on the United States.

Over the course of the film it is learned that additional impacts had been reported in France and a remote area of China. A scientist notes that the objects hit in a mathematically precise way and suggests the impacts may have been deliberate.

Soon, lone survivors are found at the Wyoming and France impact sites: a young girl and a young Frenchman. The girl had been reported missing from a city hundred of miles away from the impact. Both people are severely burned and are speaking in unintelligible syllables.

The three impact sites begin broadcasting a signal that cripples aircraft flying within latitudes immediately surrounding the impacts. Then, another, larger object is detected moving towards the North Pole. The United States, despite protests from world leaders and scientists, orders several aircraft to intercept the object before it impacts with the earth and destroy it using nuclear weapons. This is successful, although all the aircraft are destroyed, apparently by a signal coming from the new object.

Other mysteries occur. At one point the population of an entire town vanishes without a trace. It has been suggested that this occurred not as a result of the attacks, but in fact may have been a reference to one of the more extreme interpretations of the rapture, an event prophesized by some Christian denominations. According to some beliefs, when the rapture occurs, individuals who have been chosen to serve God will literally disappear and the Apocalypse will follow. The town's name is Faith, Wyoming, supporting this reference.

A scientist who has been studying the impacts is flown by a superfighter to a US military installation where reporters are being briefed on the latest incident. He reveals that his determination is that the impacts were in fact an attempt at first contact by an alien species and that, by destroying the follow-up aircraft, Earth has declared war on the aliens.

The scientist's fears are confirmed when astronomers detect three more objects approaching Earth. Unlike last time, when they were aimed (intentionally, it is suggested) at lightly inhabited areas, these new objects have been directly aimed at Washington, D.C., Moscow, and Beijing -- not coincidentally the capital cities of the three biggest holders of nuclear weapons.

Over the next few tense minutes, nuclear weapons are launched to intercept these three objects successfully (although Washington is nearly hit).

With a sigh of relief, the news anchors report success. Simultaneously, the young French man and the girl die. But scientists are able to finally decipher their babblings. It turns out they are each speaking a fragment of a message. When combined (although not complete as the assumed third survivor is never located), the message appears to be reciting of the message from the United Nations Secretary General that had been included on a special recording sent with the "Voyager" space probes.

Moments later, astronomers detect hundreds more objects, all heading towards Earth. As Sander Vanocur and his colleagues await the inevitable destruction of the planet, hearing reports of cities being destroyed worldwide, the wizened anchorman quotes from William Shakespeare: "The fault, dear Brutus, lies not within our stars, but within ourselves" as a rumble is heard and the picture cuts to static.

Most notable is the question of the aliens. Their nature and their reason for contacting Earth is never revealed, and they are never seen. Similarly the exact nature or reasoning of their "hello" message -- the crashing of three meteor-like objects into Earth -- is left a mystery, as is the intent and purpose of the follow-up vessel that is destroyed by the military. A third survivor of the original impacts is assumed throughout, but given the remote region in which the Chinese impact occurred, this individual is never located during the time frame of the film. (That, or Chinese officials do not make this information available to the West.)

Aftermath and impact

The film employed "accelerated time" (i.e. events said to have taken place an hour apart actually take place a few minutes apart), among other storytelling devices to make it clear to viewers paying attention that it was not real. This, combined with the casting of Kaczmarek, a recognizable actress, as well as several other well-known performers in secondary roles (such as "" regular John de Lancie as a reporter), was expected to alleviate any concerns that the story being shown was actually happening. However the casting of noted (albeit retired) news anchor Vanocur, noted journalist Bree Walker in major roles portraying themelves, plus a faux interview with noted author Arthur C. Clarke still left some viewers wondering.

In addition, when it originally premiered, the movie had warnings during the commercial breaks stating that the film was completely fictional, and that the events were not actually happening. The producers used actual CBS News graphics to help accentuate the feeling that it was real (though they used a different network logo, a sphere within an outline of a TV screen), however, leading to at least one uproar over the events. In Fort Smith, Arkansas, the CBS affiliate reported that they had received dozens of calls regarding the incident and whether it was actually happening. The area's ABC, Fox, and NBC affiliates were also flooded with complaints, asking them why they were not covering this event at the same time that CBS was covering it. In several other markets, including Detroit, Michigan and San Diego, California, the local CBS affiliates (respectively, WJBK, which was preparing to drop CBS entirely six weeks later, and KFMB-TV) refused to air this TV movie.

Some accused CBS of being irresponsible in showing the movie during the primetime hours, when some children were still out trick-or-treating, but very few occasions have happened since Orson Welles' 1938 "The War of the Worlds" radio broadcast that so many people have been taken in so masterfully by a production such as "Without Warning".

The film was released on DVD on July 8, 2003, nearly nine years after its initial, and only, showing on CBS. However, it has since been shown outside the United States, such as the United Kingdom where it has been aired on Sci-Fi, minus the commercial break warnings.

imilar films

* "Alternative 3" (1977)
* "Special Bulletin" (1983)
* "Countdown to Looking Glass" (1984)
* "Ghostwatch" (1992)

"Special Bulletin" featured a simulated newscast reporting on a nuclear terrorism incident in Charleston, South Carolina, while "Countdown to Looking Glass", a Canadian production, combined simulated news footage with behind-the-scenes dramatics to tell the story of how a network covers the outbreak of a nuclear war.

Both "Ghostwatch" and "Alternative 3" were British-produced faux documentaries that left viewers wondering what was real; "Alternative 3" was broadcast in 1977 but to this day some conspiracy theorists insist the story was real.

At the end of "Without Warning", viewers hear radio reports indicating the destruction of major cities (just before Vanocur's sign off). This ending is very similar to the ending of the 1978 musical version of "War of the Worlds" produced by Jeff Wayne.

Occasionally, DVD releases have included faux newscasts as special features to illustrate the apocalyptic events featured in the film as if the viewer were seeing the actual news reports. Examples include "Independence Day", and the 2004 version of "Dawn of the Dead". Several early episodes of the 1980s TV series "V" (about an alien invasion of earth) also began in faux-newscast style (featuring, like "Without Warning", a real-life journalist, in the case of "V", Howard K. Smith) until this gimmick was abandoned.

External links

*imdb title|id=0111735|title=Without Warning

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