The Final Countdown
While US Senator Chapman (Charles Durning), his love interest and secretary Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross) and an advisor take a break from politics on their boat off the coast of Honolulu late in the year 1941, Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), an advisor for a military contractor, joins Captain Yelland (Dirk Douglas) on the board of the USS Nimitz on a routine patrol in the year 1980. A mysterious storm plays tricks on their instruments and it starts slowly dawning on them what may have happened, as their F14s spot Durnings boat in the seas strafed by Japanese bombers and a full unharmed US pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor, while 40s music and game shows can be heard on AM radio by the crew of the air craft carrier. They save Durning and Scott from drowning and capture and interrogate one of the two Japanese fighter pilots. As the Japanese attack fleet and bomber squadrons show up on the radar, Yellands crew is faced with the unique choice of employing 1980s military technology to alter history forever, or stand back humbly in the face of bigger forces that are not theirs to shape in the larger view of things…. they opt for the latter, and leave the two stoaways, along with Commander Owens (James Farentino), on a deserted island instead, but as Lasky steps off the Nimitz upon them returning to harbor, he makes a fascinating and puzzling discovery…..
The Final Countdown has a fantastic cast, to get that out of the way. With Kirk Douglas (Eddie Macon’s Run), Martin Sheen (Apocalypse Now), Katharine Ross (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), James Farentino (Dead & Buried), Ron O’Neal (Super Fly) and Charles Durning (Sisters), there’s a whole range of familiar faces that makes this an all-star ensemble experience. It was also the final film directed by Don Taylor (Escape from the Planet of the Apes), but not only was he able to assemble that impressive cast, but the cooperation of the navy also made for some impressive shots of war fighting machinery. This effectively makes this movie punch far above its weight: The story is thin, and the overall production value (if you took out all the Navy shenanigans) is not too impressive, but with this cast and that degree of cooperation from the Navy, The Final Countdown impresses and makes it also all the more interesting.
It was a production by Richard R. St. Johns (Circle of Iron, Venom, Dead and Buried – all released by Blue Underground at some point), Peter Douglas (Kirk’s son) and Lloyd Kaufman of Troma Entertainment. Other than The Philadelphia Experiment for example, this one isn’t as much an adventure or action movie but more of a Steven King type mystery with a military and history setting. There are a lot of what-if dialogues in this, a lot of allusions and just a hint and atmosphere of the ramifications, but aside from a few airfighting scenes and a violent stand off in the cabins of the carrierer, it is a very action-less movie that lives off its thunderous shots of jets landing and taking off and the ominous and eery atmosphere of what happenes to this crew.
Interesting also is the involvement ofMaurice Binder (various 007, Billion Dollar Brain) for many of the special effects. The idea and writing of the film has a few sources. Co-author is none other than Thomas Hunter (known for such movies as The Human Factor or the spaghetti western The Hills Run Red), but also involved among others were Peter Powell (The Human Factor) and Gerry Davis (Dr. Who), the later of course likely having left a mark as the time travel and mystery elements of the movie clearly outweigh the action. All in all, I thought The Final Countdown was quite enjoyable….
The audio will clearly knock your socks off (and my equipment isn’t even fully Atmos-ified). It is almost as if you are on the aircraft carrier, feeling those F14s taking off and landing. This does not go against audibility of dialogue or other finer sounds, and it is of course not as top notch as a modern day movie actually recorded for surround sound, but this is rather impressive, despite the source material. You have the choice of that remastered Dolby Atmos track, but there is also 5.1 DTS-HD MA track, as well as the original 2.0 stereo in DTS-HD (which still sounds great, but I had no qualms about the Atmos track even though I am firmly in the “upmix sceptic” camp), which goes as well for the French dub which is available in the same format. There are subtitles options in English (SDH), French and Spanish.
The transfer looks great. The Panavision images of planes taking off and the turquois colors of the southern pacific look absolutely fabulous, even though some dust and noise do show, and not just in second unit shots. It is a stunning, albeit not impeccable, transfer that befits the recent lineup of Blue Underground, who have consistently shown that their 4K releases (and slate of 2nd generation remastered BluRay releases before) are more than double dips: they are reference quality discs showcasing how older movies can and should look like on the medium. Unfortunately I don’t have a fully HDR 4K screen to enjoy this to its fullest, but from what my trained eye can judge, this disc is no exception to their high standards and should satisfy videophiles.
There are a few extras on the main disc (the same are on the regular BluRay): an Audio commentary with Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper (of Dog Day Afternoon and many others), two Featurettes (one is a 14 minute interview with Lloyd Kaufman, the other is a a set of interviews with the Jolly Rogers F14 fighter squadron, totalling 31mins), the teaser and two theatrical trailers, three TV spots, poster & still galleries (yes plural, there’s a slideshow each for: posters, advertising materials, the Japanese souvenir program, lobby cards, stills, behind the scenes images, video and miscellaneous).
The three disc set comes in an impressive sleeve featuring the lenticular 3D cover, and a booklet that holds a reproduction of The Zero Pilot Journal, which is by the troupe that flies these old Japanese fighter planes for movies. Lastly, there is the soundtrack on a Compact Disc, for those remembering listening to music that way. All in all, if there is a weak spot to this release it is in the extras department, where we have been pampered by Blue Underground recently and where this release just doesn’t offer as much as other releases on films where they brought out the big guns.