Blue Underground // 1980 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 15th, 2004
"This the U.S.S. Nimitz. Where the hell are we?..."
"This is the Captain. I am speaking to every man aboard this ship. In the past few hours many things have happened; rumors of nuclear attacks and a third world war are totally untrue. We have no reason to believe that any aggression has been taken against our homes our families. I believe what we stumbled across is not man-made but a phenomena of nature, one that can't be explained. This phenomena is the storm in which the Nimitz went through less than eighteen hours ago, the storm has had some effect on time as we know it, it created a portal, a door into another era. Today is December 7, 1941...I'm sure we are all aware of the significance of this date in this place in history. We are going to fight a battle that was lost before most of you were born. This time, with God's help, its going to be different." -- Kirk Douglas, The Final Countdown
What if you had the power to change one of America's most crucial points in history? This is a question Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas, Spartacus, Greedy) and his men face when their naval aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Nimitz, is thrown through a time warp during an electrical storm out at sea. At first Capt. Yelland, the feisty Commander Richard Owens (James Farentino, Bulletproof), and a civilian observer, Warren Laskey (Martin Sheen, The West Wing), assume that they're in on some bizarre training game or even an odd practical joke. But when they notice that the photographs taken from their reconnaissance planes match up exactly with historical pictures of 1941 Pearl Harbor, the realization hits that they've somehow been transported into the past, only hours before the Japanese's attack on Pearl Harbor. Suddenly Yelland and his crew are faced with a devastating decision: do they allow the attack on Pearl Harbor to continue, or possibly alter history by attempting a counter-strike against the Japanese army?
The Final Countdown is one of the coolest movies I've seen in quite some time, and I'm not easily impressed. One of my favorite film genres is that of time travel and the obvious paradoxes it can create -- the perplexities of the situation can be mind-boggling. What if you go back in time and kill your own grandfather? And if so, how could you ever exist to do such a thing? It's best not to ask such questions when watching movies about bending the confines of time and space. The nearly pitch perfect example (and best time travel movie for my hard earned dollar) is Robert Zemeckis' Back to the Future trilogy. Not far behind is the Kirk Douglas / Martin Sheen B-level flick The Final Countdown, a furiously paced quagmire that is, at its core, a science fiction and history lover's wet dream.
As directed by the late Don Taylor (Damien: The Omen II), The Final Countdown clips along with hardly a chance to catch its breath. While most films of this nature rely on lots of talky exposition in the beginning, The Final Countdown gets down to the heart of the matter within minutes -- it doesn't take long for the U.S.S. Nimitz to get thrown back in time. The screenplay features a few wonderfully inventive twists and turns. While the ending may seem like a bit of a cop out, it may have been the only way things could truly be wrapped up.
The reason The Final Countdown works is that Douglas, Sheen, and the rest of the cast (including a blustering Charles Durning as a 1940s senator and The Graduate's Katharine Ross as his secretary, who everyone assumes he's sleeping with) don't condescend to the material, taking it as seriously as any other filmic situation. Douglas commands the screen with his macho swagger and gravely voice, while Sheen looks eerily like his younger son, Charlie. For you trivia hounds, it will be fun to spot Lloyd Kaufman, who'd soon become known as a godfather of the all-important genre of independent cinema featuring deformed monsters and large bouncing breasts.
Though the special effects aren't anything to brag about (many are just superimposed on the screen), the film retains a higher level of realism because the filmmakers made sure that such scenes as the dogfight between the Japanese planes and the naval fleet were shot in real time, not with mini-models (or at least none that I could discern).
At around 90 minutes, The Final Countdown is a great little time travel picture that will surprise those who are seeing it for the first time, much like myself. Highly recommended to those who want something a little left of the norm.
The Final Countdown is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, a blessing for fans of the film. Blue Underground has really done a great job on this transfer. The colors and black levels are all well rendered without any major bleeding in the image. The only major flaws I spotted were a bit of grain throughout the film and a few areas where the edges seemed a bit soft and fuzzy. Considering the condition this film has been in over the past 25 years or so, The Final Countdown probably looks about as good as it's going to get.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES, both in English. Much like the video portions of this disc, I was thrilled with how good The Final Countdown sounds. There are multiple effects to be found on both of these soundtracks, each engaging both the front and rear speakers on multiple occasions. The dialogue, music, and effects are all in very good shape without any major distortion getting in the way. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles, as well as a Dolby 2.0 soundtrack in English.
The Final Countdown is available in three separate versions: a full screen release, a single disc widescreen edition, and a two-disc limited edition set. The limited edition set comes complete with a hologram cover insert of the film's poster, plus a few other extra features fans will certainly eat up. On Disc One there is an audio commentary with Blue Underground producer David Gregory talking with director of photography Victor J. Kemper. Though I wouldn't consider this to be one of the great commentaries of the DVD era, it's filled with enough tidbits about the shoot (mostly the physical production and camera work) to be worth at least one listen for fans of the film.
Although Disc Two isn't packed with supplements, it does have a couple of fun extra features. The best is a nearly 15-minute interview with associate producer Lloyd Kaufman, founder of Troma and director of such Z-grade classics as The Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke 'Em High. Before he became an independent guru, Kaufman served on the crew of such films as Rocky, Saturday Night Fever, and, of course, The Final Countdown. This interview features Kaufman discussing his role in the film, what it was like working with Douglas and Sheen (for whom he has great affection), and how the film was ultimately his "film school," which readied him to be the head of the Troma Team.
Next up is "Starring The Jolly Rogers: Interviews with The Jolly Rogers F-14 Fighter Squadron," an interview segment with the pilots of the Jolly Rogers squadron and their work on The Final Countdown. I wasn't quite as interested in this feature, though you aircraft aficionados will most certainly get a kick out of these guys' stories and anecdotes from the production of the film.
Finally there is a poster and stills gallery ("Posters and Publicity Stills," "US Pressbook," "Behind The Scenes," and "The USS Nimitz"), a teaser trailer, two theatrical trailers, two TV spots, a thorough biography on actor Kirk Douglas, and a few DVD-ROM features for a personal computer.
I'm more than pleased with Blue Underground's work on this little-seen time travel adventure flick. Fans of the genre will be pleasantly surprised at how well this film stands the test of time.
The Final Countdown would be free to go, but I think it's just slipped into 1996 and is attempting to stop the assassination of JFK.
Review content copyright © 2004 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* DTS 6.1 ES (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary Track with Blue Underground producer David Gregory and Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper
* Two Featurettes
* Two Theatrical Trailers
* Two TV Spots
* Teaser Trailer
* Poster and Still Gallery
* Kirk Douglas Biography
* DVD-ROM Features