Blue Underground // 1980 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // October 29th, 2008
This is the U.S.S. Nimitz...Where the hell are we?
"This time...with God's help...things are going to be different. Good luck."
An inspector with the Defense Department (Martin Sheen, The West Wing) has boarded the U.S.S. Nimitz, an incredibly powerful nuclear aircraft carrier. His mission is to inspect the ship for any areas that could be improved upon, come up with alternative solutions, and send a report to the Defense Department. This doesn't make him a remarkably popular guy with the captain (Kirk Douglas, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea). Will the inspector make any startling discoveries? Will there be any explosive conflicts with the captain over how the ship should be run?
We'll never know, because about 20 minutes in, The Final Countdown takes a wild turn. The U.S.S. Nimitz is caught in the middle of a bizarre electrical storm. When the storm passes, a startling discovery is made. Somehow, the U.S.S. Nimitz has been transported back in time. The date: December 6, 1941. It's just one day before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Now the crew of the U.S.S. Nimitz has an important decision to make. Do they attempt to change the course of history by helping the U.S. Military stop the oncoming attack?
This is a fun movie, and an interesting one. It deals with time travel in a manner that I found kind of surprising and refreshing. Some movies make a valiant attempt to try and explain time travel, but wind up making themselves look silly in the process (Back to the Future, Part II comes to mind). The Final Countdown allows us to suspend our disbelief by only asking us to accept one thing: that the U.S.S. Nimitz has gone back in time. The details of this are not explained, and they are not especially important. If we can buy this single detail, then the movie works wonderfully. The Final Countdown makes a surprisingly successful effort to make everything else in the film as credible and as intelligent as possible.
The thing that surprises me is that we are given such a thoughtful and open-minded set of characters. These military men are not the usual rough-and-tumble jerks who favor militant behavior and dismiss complex thought. Please note, when I say "usual," I am not implying that I think the average military man is like that (I certainly don't)...just that this is the way they are frequently portrayed in the movies. Situations that would send many film characters into angry arguments are handled in a rational and level-headed manner here. Possibilities are explored with logic and coherency. It's really nice to see an action movie in which sensible thought is employed as a general rule. The sheer calmness of everything is so overwhelming that one officer finally shouts, "What is this, a Princeton debating society? We are in a state of war, dammit!"
Old pros like Martin Sheen, Kirk Douglas, and Charles Durning are all excellent here, but the real star of the film is the concept. It's handled with a good deal of caution and skill, assuring that when such outlandish scenes as the dogfight between 1980 American fighter jets and 1941 Japanese bombers arrive, they feel organic and natural. Despite the generally serious vibe of the movie, it isn't afraid of a little bit of humor. Durning is particularly entertaining during his scenes as a U.S. Senator who is quite startled by all the newfangled technology he is suddenly being presented with. "Is that one of our birds?" someone asks upon seeing a hi-tech fighter jet flying above them. "I don't know," the senator grumbles. "But if it is, they've been keeping it a secret from us." Small pleasures abound, from the presence of Katharine Ross (The Graduate) to the engaging score from overlooked composer John Scott.
The screenplay is credited to no less than four writers: David Ambrose, Gerry Davis, Thomas Hunter, and Peter Powell. Frequently, that many credits make me a little suspicious. Here, it seems that mass collaboration was a positive thing, as the results are quite coherent and well-balanced. The steady hand of director Don Taylor successfully blends a variety of elements together into a satisfying and entertaining whole. The film has just the right mix of action, comedy, drama, and suspense. It's quite an effective piece of entertainment. Also worthy of praise is the attention to detail presented here, both on the advanced U.S.S. Nimitz (the vast majority of the film was shot onboard an actual nuclear aircraft carrier) and the various elements from the 1940s.
While the film is quite engaging, this Blu-ray release is a disappointment. The visuals here are a little bizarre. I don't know whether the cinematography or the transfer is to blame, but there are many shots that are blurry and out-of-focus. It looks as if someone has rubbed Vaseline on the camera lens or something, though I can't imagine why anyone would do that for a film like this. Inconsistent levels of grain are present all throughout the film, in addition to a variety of scratches and flecks. The 7.1 audio is a mixed bag, too. The sound effects have been nicely distributed, but the score feels rather pinched at times. Also, the participants who provide the supplements are disappointing. The audio commentary comes from director of photography Victor J. Kemper (being interviewed by David Gregory of Blue Underground, and the blurry images are never mentioned), and there are also video interviews with associate producer Lloyd Kaufman and "The Jolly Rogers Fighting Squad." It's a real shame that we can't hear from some of the more important participants in this production. A handful of smaller extras included on the DVD have been tossed out.
Though I highly recommend checking out The Final Countdown, I do not recommend an upgrade for those who own the film all ready. In fact, I'm so generally unimpressed with this Blu-ray release that I don't really recommend picking it up at all unless the higher-than-DVD price tag is of no consequence to you (and in these troubling economic times, I doubt there are many of you that feel that way).
This disc is guilty of providing a less-than-ideal transfer and a rather ho-hum batch of recycled supplements. The movie is deserving of better (and the film itself, of course, is not guilty). Court is adjourned.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Blue Underground
* 2.35:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* TrueHD 7.1 Surround (English)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 EX (English)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 1980
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
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