The Sum of All Fears Controversy

This is a partial transcript from On the Record with Greta Van Susteren, May 29, 2002. Click here to order the entire transcript of the show.

Watch On the Record every weeknight at 10 p.m. ET!


Tonight, a major controversy is brewing over the new thriller film The Sum of All Fears. Based on a Tom Clancy novel, the movie is about a terrorist nuclear attack on a U.S. stadium. The movie was filmed before 9/11, but critics say, with the threat of nuclear attack now a reality, the movie is too alarming to release on Friday.

The film's star, Ben Affleck, disagrees.


BEN AFFLECK, ACTOR: If you feel deeply affected or so traumatized that you don't necessarily want to see anything that has to do with terrorism or anything that has to do with the dangers we face in the world, I mean, you'd also have to not watch television. But that — I certainly understand that, but, by the same token, I'm really proud of the movie.


VAN SUSTEREN: Joining us in New York, Fox News Entertainment editor Bill McCuddy, here with me in Washington, Joe Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment, and Washington Post film critic Desson Howe.


Bill, first to you. How realistic is this movie?

BILL MCCUDDY, FOX ENTERTAINMENT EDITOR: Well, everything around the explosion isn't that realistic, according to most critics, and I have to agree. But the explosion itself is pretty devastating.

And they nuke Baltimore. I mean, I used to live in a building you're looking at right now for about an eighth of a second, before it gets completely toasted. So that's pretty scary looking.

Afterwards, Ben Affleck's wandering around Baltimore. There you see him driving around looking for — I don't know — some crabs or something. He's actually trying to thwart this attempt.

But, you know, it's sad because the aftermath is not very realistic, according to many, and I'd have to agree. But the blast itself, the money shot is pretty devastating.

VAN SUSTEREN: The money shot, Desson — does that make this movie a good movie?

DESSON HOWE, WASHINGTON POST FILM CRITIC: I didn't think so, and the money shot looked like a money shot to me. It looked like it had effects going on, and so, to me, that was actually comforting. It didn't seem real. It looked like a movie.

VAN SUSTEREN: Joe, accurate or not?

JOE CIRINCIONE, NON-PROLIFERATION PROJECT DIRECTOR: Oh, definitely accurate. That's what I found in this film. There are — they take some liberties with things like whether the CIA agent would actually go in the field or not, but the central premise, could a country lose a nuclear weapon? In this movie's case, it's Israel. Yes, we've lost nuclear weapons.

Could you find the weapon? Yes, we know that people have acquired these — or may have acquired these weapons in the past. Could you get a Russian scientist to help you repair the weapon? Yes, Russian scientists are available. And, finally, could you smuggle it into the United States? Unfortunately, yes.

So the central premise that a terrorist could find, repair, and smuggle in a device and then blow up part of Baltimore is, unfortunately, all too real.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill, some controversy about the fact that since we have these problems certainly over India and Pakistan, that — with the threat of nuclear war at least, that it might be in poor taste. This was filmed before 9/11. Your thought? Should this be released now? Do you have any problem at all with that?

MCCUDDY: Well, I'm not a critic, but I think that personally, yeah, I thought it was a little troublesome.

Whether or not it's going to be something that people want to go see is what the sum of all marketing fears is about right now over at Paramount because they're not sure, I don't think, and you have Ben Affleck out there as recently as this morning when I talked to him saying, "Well, it's not for everybody." So he's backing away from it a little bit.

I'm just not sure that this is what people want to see. That's the big question this weekend, though, whether they'll be drawn to it because of this new interest in what's going on in the news and they want to see something or whether they'll be repelled by it.

CIRINCIONE: You know, we just had the president and the secretary of defense and numerous officials warning us that terrorists may inevitably acquire these kinds of weapons. I think this is the kind of film that people should see, if, for nothing else, than as a sort of a war game, to watch it, to think about it, to see that this could happen, and then pull back from it and say, "Well, what do we have to do now to make sure that this never does happen?"

VAN SUSTEREN: Desson, Bill raises the issue of marketing. Obviously, the big studios are always worried about marketing. Is this movie going to face a marketing issue on the question of nuclear war? Is it a problem for this movie?

HOWE: I think its problem is going to be critical reception and, I think, perhaps this indication that Affleck is pulling away might be a hint of that. I just don't think this movie is connected to the argument that is being discussed here.

VAN SUSTEREN: It's irrelevant.

HOWE: I think it's an apple and an orange because — here's what they did. In the book, it's Mideast terrorists. They've changed it to neo-Nazis. They've completely whitewashed all the villains.

VAN SUSTEREN: But that's — and that's just an accident. That wasn't because of the situation in the world today.

HOWE: Well, what I'm saying is the film comes across as an old-fashioned failsafe movie, you know, Dr. Strangelove, because, basically, it's the Russians and the Americans. It's the old enemies. It's really —

And there's neo-Nazis who have got the dirty bomb and are trying to make the two of them fight each other. So it gets to be almost doomsday stuff, which takes us back to the old days, the dig a trench around your house and hide from nuclear bomb.


HOWE: It doesn't feel to me — I mean, this is my opinion. I — it doesn't feel like the kind of ambush that we'd be worried about right now.

CIRINCIONE: Yeah. Well, there are two parts of the movie. In the first part, it's about nuclear terrorism. The second is could Russia and the United States, which in the movie are friendly, just as they are now, stumble by miscalculation or by accident, into a nuclear exchange? And I think that still is a concern.

That is very real. And one of the benefits of the movie is that it brings the viewer into that. It shows the vast number of nuclear weapons that still remain even though we have these friendly relations, even though the president is signing treaties. We still each have 10,000 nuclear weapons. That's a problem we've got to deal with. If people see the movie and draw that kind of lesson from it, that's great.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Here's the real test. Let me start with you first, Bill. , would you go to the movie a second time?

MCCUDDY: No. And I don't think it's that realistic after the bomb goes off because I don't think Ben Affleck, who's sort of doing Clancy Light, could really be driving around Baltimore here. So I think people will have, as Desson said, a problem with that.

VAN SUSTEREN: Desson, would you go to it again?

HOWE: No, I certainly wouldn't. I — it's just...

VAN SUSTEREN: But are you glad you went the first time maybe?

HOWE: Only because I get a paycheck to see movies, but...


VAN SUSTEREN: How do you get that job, by the way?

HOWE: Just lying, you know. I really thought that it — dramatically, it didn't work for me. It didn't — a movie that literally blows it by not making it dramatic with an atomic bomb blast is a real failure to me.

VAN SUSTEREN: Bill — I mean, Joe, 10 seconds. Would you go a second time?

CIRINCIONE: I would. I want to see more of the closeups of those nuclear weapons.

VAN SUSTEREN: All right. Good.

Gentlemen, thank you all very much. We appreciate you joining us this evening.

Click here to order the entire transcript of the May 29 edition of On the Record.

Content and Programming Copyright 2002 Fox News Network, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Transcription Copyright 2002 eMediaMillWorks, Inc. (f/k/a Federal Document Clearing House, Inc.), which takes sole responsibility for the accuracy of the transcription. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. No license is granted to the user of this material except for the user's personal or internal use and, in such case, only one copy may be printed, nor shall user use any material for commercial purposes or in any fashion that may infringe upon Fox News Network, Inc.'s and eMediaMillWorks, Inc.'s copyrights or other proprietary rights or interests in the material. This is not a legal transcript for purposes of litigation.