This Is Not A Test

Director: Fredric Gadette   
Seamon Glass, Thayer Roberts, Aubrey Martin

Even though I consider myself lucky to not only live in this day and age instead of living in some filth-covered era like the dark age, and I am lucky also for the fact that I'm also living in the western part of the world instead of some third world country, I realize that my environment is not 100% safe for me. There are dangers lurking around everywhere I can think of. There have been stabbing incidents causing fatalities that have happened just a few blocks from my apartment building, for example. And in the wilderness not far from my city, there are not only cougars but bears as well. Being aware of all these potential dangers around me, since I was a youngster I have taken steps to reduce the risk of danger. If I were to go into the wilderness outside of my city, I would bring a bell or a can of pebbles to shake, which would spook and drive away any cougars or bears within earshot. And I am also prepared for what I would do should I bump into a cougar or bear despite my precautions. If I ran into a cougar, for example, I would know not to look it in the eye, a tip I learned from the TV show MacGyver. I would then slowly step back while trying to make myself look bigger with my jacket, which I learned from a survival book. Absorbing from many different sources over the years, I feel I am prepared for just about any small to medium emergency that may happen to me. I even know what to do during one of those times when I wake up in an unfamiliar bed with an unfamiliar girl beside me. (While she sleeps, I go to the medicine cabinet in her home to find prescription bottles, since they would have her name on them. If the cabinet was empty, I would look in her living room for magazines she subscribes to, and read the name above her address printed on the front covers.)

Though you could name to me any kind of small or medium emergency and I would already know what to do (or be able to quickly figure out what I should do), there is one kind of BIG emergency that I admit that, even after spending a lot of time over the years thinking about it, I would not know what to do. Oh, I know what to do if there's a flood - just stay on the third floor of my apartment building in my suite, look out the window and laugh at the ground-level people struggling outside. And hurricanes, tsunamis, fires, earthquakes, and other such stuff I have already planned for just in case they should happen. But the one big emergency I would feel helpless with would be if there was an oncoming nuclear attack. Since I live in the capital city of the Canadian province I live in, it seems likely that in a nuclear attack by another country, my city would be targeted. What if I found out that in a short amount of time, a nuclear missile would hit my city, like Anthony Edwards found out in the underrated movie Miracle Mile? I'd be really in a tough spot. First, I don't own a vehicle of any kind, not even a bicycle. Yes, I could "Grand Theft Auto" a passing car, but I've forgotten how to drive. Getting out of town would obviously be very difficult, and I might have to take public transportation just to get far enough out of downtown to put plenty of distance between myself and ground zero. What would make the situation even more difficult would be that almost certainly other people would know about the oncoming missile. There would be chaos in the streets, and even if I got on a bus, the streets would probably be gridlocked and I wouldn't get out of the downtown area.

It's quite possible that with the missile on its way, I would simply give up the idea of trying to get out of town, and stay at home and watch Turner Classic Movies until the missile hits its target - since I live downtown, I would be instantly annihilated, and I would be free of the multiple This Is Not A Testproblems people who've escaped from my city would have then living in a post-holocaust world. Anyway, that's my opinion coming from an ordinary Joe living in this particular situation. But what if I was far away from a nuclear strike zone? What if I was in a position of power, like being a policeman? What would I do if I were married and my spouse and myself heard that nukes were on the way? These questions popped up in my mind as I was watching This Is Not A Test, a "what if?" movie with these situations in mind. The movie starts off in desert country, in what appears to be somewhere in southern California. In the wee hours of the morning, highway patrol officer Dan Colter (Glass) gets a high priority call on his radio. He is ordered to set up a roadblock and prevent cars coming from either direction from proceeding. After blocking the road, Colter stops several drivers and passengers during the next few minutes, including a middle-aged couple on their way to Mexico, an elderly chicken farmer with his daughter, and a beatnik couple. Colter can't tell them at first why he's been ordered to stop them, but eventually the reason is clearly stated by his commanders on the radio for everyone to hear - atomic missiles are on their way to prime targets scattered around the area. Colter was told earlier on the radio, "You're on your own," and now it's up to him to maintain order and assure the survival of the civilians around him before and after the missiles hit. But can Colter maintain order? More importantly, can he or anyone else in the group think of a way to survive the missile strike as it happens, or what to do to assure survival in the post-nuke world?

Doing some research on This Is Not A Test, I came across several sources that revealed that the movie never got the theatrical release that was intended for it, and that instead it was quietly released to late-night television. That might make you think that the end results were dire enough to perhaps make the producers lose confidence in the movie. I personally thought the movie as a whole was fairly engaging. However, even though I liked the movie, I could see why perhaps those in charge didn't have faith in their creation. The biggest reason probably comes from the fact that This Is Not A Test is a low-budget movie - make that a very low budget movie. Because of this, the movie doesn't have that many visual hooks. The entire movie basically stays at the same desert location, instead of hopping around place to place. Aside from bringing in the actors and several vehicles to this particular location, that's all we get for what would be labelled "production values" - no sets were built, and no already built buildings are ever shown. The general location where the movie takes place is not shown very well, with the camera for pretty much the entire seventy-three minute running time placed extremely close to the characters and what they are doing. Also, the lighting of this pre-dawn setting does come across as night - that is, amateur night. Often a single spotlight pointed right to the middle of the shot is used to shine on the actors working in the darkness, meaning that the area shown on the left and right edges of the screen is dark while the central area is blazing bright, often bright enough to make the actors give off long and dark shadows despite the sun not being up.

Another factor that I think discouraged any idea of giving This Is Not A Test a theatrical release was probably the cast that was assembled. The fact that there were no well-known actors in the cast (B movie level or otherwise) possibly was a problem, but I think the level of acting at times by the cast played a bigger factor. The best the acting gets in the movie would be labelled by most viewers as merely okay, such as with actors Thayer Roberts and Aubrey Martin as the father/daughter chicken ranchers, as well as Seamon Glass as the highway patrolman (though Glass' acting is a little crude, he does correctly try to inject a sense of authority in everything his character does and says.) At its worse, the acting comes across as embarrassing, mostly with Michael Greene's beatnik character. He looks too old to be exclaiming his "hip" dialogue, and it sounds incredibly forced coming from his lips. It goes without saying that his character comes across as extremely dated in this day and age. The screenplay also has some other character-related flaws in its writings. There is one character, a hitchhiker who is both psychotic and wanted by the police, who flees the scene as soon as he is identified. This character doesn't travel very far, and spends the rest of the movie hanging around in the roadside brush near the other characters. Although he subsequently has two or three brushes with the other characters, by the time the movie actually ends you realize that there seems to be no point for this character being in this movie. He could be easily be written out.

Make no mistake: This Is Not A Test is a crudely made movie. Yet I have to admit that the flaws I earlier mentioned, and other flaws I haven't brought up, didn't distract me too much from enjoying the package as a whole. Although there are many crude aspects to the movie, there are also some moments that suggest some genuine thought went into the movie. Although the actors may not have been professional, their characters were written to be very interesting. They show some interesting quirks here and there, like how the patrolman, even knowing that an atomic attack is on the way, still takes the time to give one of the people at the roadblock a ticket for speeding. Also, these characters are shown to be using their brains. One character points out that people survived Hiroshima, so they could survive... but another points out that the bomb used in Hiroshima was nothing compared to modern bombs. Faced with facts like those, the idea that the patrolman has for the group to survive the oncoming blast may not be the most ideal survival plan... but what would you do under the same circumstances? They have no choice but to cling to even the slimmest plan for survival. They try to use their smarts to concentrate on the preparation for what is coming ahead, but they are still human, with weaknesses, and you see some - or maybe even all of them - might not have the ability to make it. It didn't take long for me to get caught up in these characters' plight, and when I did I was really interested to see what would happen to them. The tension grows slowly but surely, and we feel the comfort of civilization and order gradually crumbling around them. Then in the final few minutes of the movie, WHAM, WHAM, and WHAM, the movie hits us with some surprise developments one right after another that break whatever feeling of normality was left, leaving the audience stunned and quiet when the end finally comes seconds later and the credits start to roll. It's an ending you won't forget anytime soon, a gutsy and unconventional ending that may be another reason why the movie never got a theatrical release. But at least these particular filmmakers can still hold their heads up high for managing to make a compelling, if somewhat crudely made, exercise. That's better than a widely seen embarrassment.

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See also: Idaho Transfer, No Blade Of Grass, Panic In Year Zero!