Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Review: "THE FINAL COUNTDOWN" is Still Timeless Entertainment

TRASH IN MY EYE No. 37 of 2023 (No. 1926) by Leroy Douresseaux

The Final Countdown (1980)
Running time:  103 minutes (1 hour, 43 minutes)
DIRECTOR:  Don Taylor
WRITERS:  David Ambrose & Gerry Davis and Thomas Hunter & Peter Powell; from a story by Thomas Hunter & Peter Powell and David Ambrose
PRODUCERS:  Peter Vincent Douglas
CINEMATOGRAPHER:  Vincent J. Kemper (D.o.P.)
EDITOR:  Robert K. Lambert
COMPOSER: John Scott


Starring:  Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katharine Ross, James Farentino, Ron O'Neal, Charles Durning, Victor Mohica, Soon-Teck Oh, and Alvin Ing

The Final Countdown is a 1980 science fiction war film from director Don Taylor.  The film features an ensemble cast starring such Hollywood legends and icons as Kirk Douglas, Charles Durning, and Martin Sheen.  The film focuses on the crew of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that is tossed back in time to the year 1941 near Hawaii, just a day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The Final Countdown opens in 1980.  The nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the U.S.S. Nimitz, departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor for naval exercises in the mid-Pacific Ocean.  It is commanded by Captain Matt Yelland (Kirk Douglas).  The ship also takes on a civilian observer, Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), a systems analyst for Tideman Industries.  Lasky is working as an efficiency expert for the U.S. Defense Department on the orders of his reclusive employer, Richard Tideman.

Once at sea, the Nimitz encounters a mysterious, electrically-charged storm that eventually becomes a vortex.  While the ship passes through the mystery storm, its radar and other equipment become unresponsive, and the crew falls into agony.  After the event, Capt. Yelland and the crew are initially unsure of what has happened to them.  They also discover that they have lost radio contact with U.S. Pacific Fleet Command at Pearl Harbor.

Yelland wonders if there has been a nuclear strike on Hawaii, but soon Lasky and Commander, Air Group Richard T. Owens (James Farentino) begin to suspect that they been tossed back in time to December 6, 1941.  That is one day before “a day which will live in infamy,” December 7, 1941 – the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Hawaii.  Now, comes the big questions.  By itself, the Nimitz has the aircraft power to destroy the Japanese fleet.  So should Yelland launch that air power and change history by stopping the attack on Pearl Harbor?

The Final Countdown is one of my all-time favorite films.  I have a soft spot for time-travel movies, especially such films as Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home (1986), Star Trek: First Contact (1996), and of course, The Terminator (1984) and its sequels.

In spite of my intense love for this film – yes, I said intense – I can see its flaws.  I think The Final Countdown's concept would work better as a television miniseries or even as an ongoing series.  Its relatively short runtime is not enough time for the film to really be indulgent in revealing its most important character, the U.S.S. Nimitz.  Director Don Taylor gives us several scenes of the planes, jets, fighter aircraft, etc., but every scene of the ship's interior makes it obvious that the film needs to take a deeper dive into the bowels of the Nimitz.  All that military hardware demands more screen time, or at least, I'm the one demanding more of it.

Most of all, the time travel angle of the story seems to come and go so fast, and the screenplay does not really grapple with what would happen if Captain Yelland and his crew inserted themselves into the attack on Pearl Harbor.  It glosses over that and over the many points of view that would result from the kind of command structure that a ship like the Nimitz has.

The wild card characters are Senator Samuel S. Chapman (Charles Durning) and his secretary, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross).  Their appearance in the narrative is a considerable development and creates conflict and complications in the decisions that the captain and crew of the Nimitz will make.  Time constraints mean that the film doesn't really deal with these two characters.

I spotted so many cracks in this recent viewing of The Final Countdown, I still really love this film.  I enjoyed seeing some of my favorite movies stars, such as Kirk Douglas (Out of the Past), Martin Sheen, and Charles Durning (To Be or Not to Be) in roles that called upon their usual film personalities.  I don't think I remembered that Ron O'Neal (Super Fly, 1972) was in this film, but he gets his chance to emote and overact.  I have seen this film at least three times, and this was the first time that James Farentino;s presence also registered with me.

Yes, The Final Countdown seems to be missing at least another half-hour of story, but the first time I saw it, when I was a teenager, it blew my mind.  I saw it again years later, and I was surprised to find that I still loved it.  I just watched The Final Countdown again, and guess what?  I still love it, even adore it.  That's why I'm being generous with the grade I'm giving The Final Countdown.  I need a Blu-ray or DVD copy.

8 of 10
★★★★ out of 4 stars

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

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