"...and these atomic bombs which science burst upon the world that night were strange even to the men who used them."
The World Set Free
H.G. Wells, 1914
These are the words which greet you, but a few seconds into Trinity and Beyond: The Atomic Bomb Movie. As you digest the words in this quote, delivered in simple white text over a black background, their origin is revealed, along with their prophetic date. Soon afterwards, time lapsed red clouds fly across the screen, to the dramatic backdrop of the Moscow Symphony Orchestra, fading to the image of a simple sign - 'Radioactive Materials'. We enter the fenced in area, to the monolith marking the place of the world's first atomic bomb detonation.
THE WORLD'S FIRST
WAS EXPLODED ON
JULY 16, 1945
WHITE SANDS MISSILE TESTING RANGE
MAJOR GENERAL U.S. ARMY
Our story begins in May of 1945, as 100 tons of TNT is stacked atop a wooden platform - a test run. .1 kiloton of explosives detonate, and the familiar mushroom cloud ascends into the sky. The course of mankind is changed forever.
Now we move into the past, rushing through Hitler's invasion of Austria, and Germany's discovery of nuclear fission. We brush over Albert Einstein's letter to Roosevelt, encouraging urgency on work on uranium fission, as German forces invade Poland, and World War 2 is begun. The United States forms a new Army Engineer Branch, focusing on military uses of uranium. As successful experimentation follows, industries for the processing of uranium and plutonium are created in the United States. As these experiments continue, one thing is clear. There is only one way to understand fully the new areas they are delving into.
From this point forward, we are taken on an incredible journey, through the history of atomic testing carried out by the United States, beginning with the Trinity detonation, July 16, 1945 - a 21 kiloton blast.
"With a yield 200 greater than the 100 Ton test, the fireball created a crater nearly one half mile across, and fused the desert sand into a green glass still containing traces of radioactivity nearly 50 years later"
Following the successful Trinity test, we move onto the most devastating military strikes of all time - Little Boy, and Fat Man, dropped onto the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki - 15 kiloton and 20 kiloton bombs respectively. The telling of this portion of the world's history is both frenetic, and disturbing. We see the Enola Gay, being prepared on the strip, as it readies itself for a terrible mission. The plume of smoke rising high above Hiroshima following the strike. The expanding fireball over Nagasaki, and the mushroom cloud following. All the while, the Moscow Symphony Orchestra is playing the form of music you would relate to a victorious army, magnificent in its conquest, rolling over the top of its foes. In this portion of the documentary, not a word is spoken. This story has been told before...these images tell it all.
From this point forward, we are taken through this history of the testing carried out by the United States, from the Trinity test, to atmospheric testing prior to the Limited Test Ban Treaty signed by John F Kennedy in 1963, prohibiting any atmospheric testing of Nuclear Weapons.
This documentary is both awe inspiring, and disturbing. As I watched it, I could not help but be amazed by the sheer power of these weapons that mankind has devised. Watching the results of a nuclear blast detonated 90 feet below the ocean's surface, and the resulting devastation on 180 German and Japanese ships, both small and large, is incredible. A plume of water shoots into the air, followed by a massive wave, engulfing everything in its path. The footage captured during this testing is amazing, from the detonation of the device underwater, to the bomb's effect on the atmosphere above ground, as it creates its own clouds in its area of effect. On the other hand, seeing animals being placed on the ships in the test area - to assess the effects of heat and radiation - is an almost inconceivable sight. As the footage fades, we see the dead bodies of these animals - rats, sheep, goats - twisted and burnt.
Far more than simply being a story of the nuclear testing of the United States, this documentary is an interesting insight into the attitudes of those carrying out such tests during this era, as well as the measures they were willing to go to in order to further their research. While such practices are hard to imagine these days, this documentary covers all aspects of the testing carried out. Importantly, it does not judge the practices of the past, or dwell on these practices. Never preaching, it simply tells a story. The reaction of the viewer is not swayed by emotive dialog and leading commentary - this is truly a story where the pictures convey more horror than the narrator ever could.
"It is essential, that no country gain ascendency over the United States in the development, manufacture and tactical use of atomic weapons."
And still, the testing goes on. Covering the scientific improvements of nuclear weapons and increasing yields, to the variety of tests carried out, including incredible footage of structural testing. Human dummies are blown like leaves across rooms with the shockwave hitting their homes, as windows explode inside. The paint on vehicles turns to dust, before being swept away by the wind created by the blast.
Which brings us to one of the strongest features of this documentary, and the feature that makes it as interesting as it is - the images captured on film are simply amazing. While it is not too hard to capture a nuclear blast on film from a distance - capturing the fireball, followed by the mushroom cloud - being able to film the results of that blast from within the blast zone, as building are destroyed, trees flung about like twigs, and vehicles blown over, is incredible to see. Although this is the subject of another writeup, there is a companion movie to Trinity and Beyond, called Atomic Filmmakers, documenting the story of those who captured this part of our history.
As the story goes on, it is also interesting to see the advances made in the development of these weapons. From crude beginnings, you can see the technology improve, and the scope for the use of these weapons expand. One scene is unforgettable to my mind in this regard. An artillery piece sits upon a hill - larger than the normal, but in other respects looking no different to those used in warfare for years - and still used to this day. A shot is fired, and the camera lingers on the valley below this hill. Seconds later, the unmistakable bright flash of a nuclear explosion and all its destructive force. Scenes such as this, to my mind, are some of the most disturbing in the film, as conventional warfare merges with nuclear warfare, and nuclear warfare becomes a real option for almost any war.
Further talk about this documentary would probably be wasted - this is truly something you need to see for yourself. To my mind, the greatest achievement of this movie is the neutral aspect it takes in regards to what is a controversial topic. William Shatner is your narrator, however there is not all that much narration in the whole movie. What narration there is, is factual and never attempts to tell the viewer what they should be thinking.
Between 1945 and 1962, the
United States conducted
331 atmospheric nuclear tests.
100 countries endorsed the
Limited Test Ban Treaty to end
the threat of radioactive pollution
from atmospheric nuclear testing.
Trinity and Beyond - The Atomic Bomb Movie
Directed by Peter Kuran
Source: Trinity and Beyond - The Atomic Bomb Movie
Availability - The DVD and Video are available from Amazon, however it appears the version they have does not include the additional Atomic Filmmakers documentary. The version I have includes Trinity beyond and Atomic Filmmakers, and this version is available through the Australian distributors of this documentary - for details visit www.magnapacific.com.au