Jittery US moviegoers shaken by scenes of nuclear terror

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Americans trembling at the spate of government warnings over an "inevitable" terrorist nuclear or biological attack now can quake at Hollywood's version of the real thing: an atomic blast at a stadium in Baltimore where the US President had gone to watch a football game.

Americans trembling at the spate of government warnings over an "inevitable" terrorist nuclear or biological attack now can quake at Hollywood's version of the real thing: an atomic blast at a stadium in Baltimore where the US President had gone to watch a football game.

Verisimilitude has its limits: the bad guys are not the fanatical Islamic holy warriors that could be expected to be portrayed but a bunch of European neo-Nazis.

Their rather outdated goal is to clear the way for a return of the Third Reich by provoking a nuclear war between Russia and America – the two former superpowers who in real life have been drawn closer by the deeds of Osama bin Laden.

But these imperfections pale beside the timing of the release of The Sum of All Fears, amid a growing sense that maybe nothing America can do will stop terrorists acquiring weapons of mass destruction, and just as New York completes the clean-up of the real terrorist attack of 11 September.

The explosion itself in Baltimore is only briefly – albeit terrifyingly – rendered, especially the pulverising shock waves that smash everything in their path. But it was enough to reduce preview audiences to an eerie silence that images of the real life attack against another east coast city still provoke.

Indeed, Paramount Pictures has been so worried by its version of Tom Clancy's novel that it has been stressing the film's patriotic virtue – to the extent of premièring it in Washington, to an audience of politicians and Pentagon officials.

By common consent, the film itself – made before 11 September as the fourth in a series recounting the derring-do of Clancy's CIA hero Jack Ryan – is no great shakes. Even so, The Sum of All Fears is a watershed. Maybe it proves that almost nine months on, America has got over the worst of the trauma of 11 September.

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