Two of my interests from a very young age have been Sci-Fi and history. As such, a film that combined the two fascinated my when it was released. Final Countdown not only tackles those two genres it throws in a time travel paradox to boot. The story starts with a intriguing premise, what if a modern, state of the art air craft carrier was thrown back in time to the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? Could the amassed Japanese fleet withstand the overwhelming might of American guided missiles, super sonic jets, electronic reconnaissance and rapid fire guns? The reclusive head of a government contracted think tank pulls numerous strings to ensure an efficiency expert Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) would go to sea on a particular date with the U.S.S. Nimitz, one of the most powerful weapons of war ever created. At the helm of this war wagon is Capt. Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas), a man devoted to his service to his country. His right hand man, CAG (Commander Air Group) is Commander Richard Owens (James Farentino), a history buff writing a book on Pearl Harbor and in control of a fleet of jets with almost unlimited destructive power. Naturally, there is some degree of conflict between the military men and the civilian advisor; each has a world view that seems mutually exclusive to the other.
A strange storm envelops the air craft carrier tossing it back in time to a mere few hours of the dreaded attack on the Pearl Harbor naval base. During the course of events they pick up a Senator (Charles Durning) and his secretary (Katharine Ross) and the debate begins. Should the Nimitz do what it was made for, serve and protect the United States? Should they stay out of the coming battle and not chance altering the future? While most of the action sequences are great fun, a modern jet taking on a pair of Japanese Zeros for example, the real appeal of this film is the level of the discussion between the opposing factions on board. Lasky is concerned with the affect any action would have on the time line reaching into the future. Yelland is a man devoted to service of his country no matter where or when he is. Even the political leanings of the senator come into play since he is (or was) the front runner to oppose Roosevelt in the next election. Time paradox story lines are usually rather mundane but here the discussion works better than most such flicks. The premise is intriguing, the ending, well known and somewhat predicable still works for me after many years of viewing.
This is an incredible cast, especially considering the film is a Sci-Fi. Douglas is the very definition of the professional actor. It is easy for him to play a man in command of 6,000 men and a vessel of awesome destruction potential. In controls every scene that he appears in. Rather than play Yelland as a one dimensional military type he adds just the right touch of humor and humanity to the portrayal. Sheen is at his best playing the intellectual, a man knowledgeable in a plethora of subjects yet somewhat naïve about the actual workings of the world. He holds his own well playing opposite an actor such as Douglas. Both men are able to make the discussions of theory and possibilities interesting rather than dull filler between action sequences. This elevates this film beyond the Saturday morning ‘B’ flick it easily could have become. During is one of my favorite character actors. While many character actors merely fill in the scenes During adds so much to the mix. He plays the senator as a man comfortable with power and authority thrust into an unimaginable situation yet still able to present an air of control. Ross demonstrates the new type of woman that emerged during World War II, independent, self assured and able to take on roles formerly relegated only to men. She is used to being around the power brokers, satisfied for the time being the behind the scenes influence since the world was not yet ready for a woman in direct control.
Don Taylor is one of many television directors that made the transition to the big screen. Part of the legacy of his small screen origins is the ability to pace the story. Used to a very limited time frame he moves the story along without an excess of extraneous material. Freed form the television limitation of a 4:3 view Taylor uses the frame well taking in every detail of the Nimitz. Filled on location on the actual vessel the technology does not need to be referred to often. It surrounds the audience. Taylor is able to balance a thought provoking discussion of something so out of the ordinary with action, just the right amount of each to satisfy the viewer. Not much is done in the way of lighting but that is mostly due to the sets than any fault of the director or DP. In all Taylor does a great job of presenting this quirky tale or time, space and war.
For those that have heard the horror stories of the original DVD release by Pacific Family Entertainment, rest easy. Blue Underground is establishing themselves as one of the best producers of quality DVDs around. They give more attention to the mastering than just about any studio out there today. The audio is provided in a Dolby Surround track based almost directly on the original theatrical presentation. In addition there is the trademark Blue Underground THX Dolby EX and DTS ES seven channel mixes. Where the Pacific release was a dull, full screen video Blue’s release is a crisp anamorphic 2.35:1 spectacular. The color palette is near perfect, created from original film elements. The film is available in three variations, full screen, widescreen or a special two disc release. Extras on the all three include an insightful commentary by the Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper. For those that opt for the two disc variation you also get interviews with the producer, men that served on the Nimitz, a DVD-ROM journal of a pilot and a bio of Kirk Douglas. This is the way fans have demanded this film be presented. Once again, Blue Underground delivers a transfer that you can proudly show off to your friends.