|Director: Don Taylor|
|Screenplay: David Ambrose & Gerry Davis and Thomas Hunter & Peter Powell (story by Thomas Hunter & Peter Powell and David Ambrose)|
|Stars: Kirk Douglas (Capt. Matthew Yelland), Martin Sheen (Warren Lasky), Katharine Ross (Laurel Scott), James Farentino (Cdr. Richard Owens / Mr. Tideman), Ron O’Neal (Cdr. Dan Thurman), Charles Durning (Sen. Samuel Chapman), Victor Mohica (Black Cloud), James Coleman (Lt. Perry), Soon-Tek Oh (Simura), Joe Lowry (Cdr. Damon)|
|MPAA Rating: PG|
|Year of Release: 1980|
|Country: U.S. |
While Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen are the above-the-title stars of the cult sci-fi curiosity The Final Countdown, the film’s real star is the nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Nimitz (CVN-68), on which most of the film’s action is set, thus giving it more screen time than any of the human actors. When the film was released, the state-of-the-art Nimitz had been in commission for about five years and was one of the largest warships in the world (as it is still in active duty, it has now become the oldest U.S. aircraft carrier still in service). The Nimitz is truly something to behold: a gargantuan floating military base covered with F-14s and carrying more than a thousand service men. Its presence on-screen constantly threatens to turn The Final Countdown into a military documentary, and at times it feels like one, as we watch fighter jet after fight jet take off and land on her deck in rhythmic succession. The hundreds of millions of dollars of military gear on-screen gives The Final Countdown the visual allure of a mega-budget studio film, when it was, in fact, a low-budget independent production cobbled together by young upstarts led by first-time producer, Peter Douglas, Kirk’s son, and associate producer Lloyd Kaufman, who had previously worked only on low-budget B-movies with titles like Silent Night, Bloody Night (1972) and Les Nympho Teens (1976).
The script by David Ambrose (D.A.R.Y.L.) and Gerry Davis (Doctor Who) and Thomas Hunter and Peter Powell (The ‘Human’ Factor), is essentially an extended Twilight Zone episode funded by the military. The USS Nimitz, while conducting maneuvers in the waters off Hawaii, is sucked into a time vortex during a sudden storm and spit out four decades earlier on December 6, 1941—the day before the Japanese attack Pearl Harbor (thankfully, there is no labored attempt to explain the time warp or where it came from). It doesn’t take terribly long for the ship’s captain, Capt. Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas), to figure out what has happened, at which point he and his fellow officers (including James Farentino’s Cdr. Richard Owens and Ron O’Neal’s Cdr. Dan Thurman, as well as Martin Sheen’s Warren Lasky, a civilian efficiency expert working for the Department of Defense) to grapple with their options, namely whether or not they should use the advanced capabilities and awesome firepower of a modern warship and its fighter jets to thwart the sneak attack they know is coming. It seems like a no-brainer—after all, who wouldn’t want to stop a foreign attack that they know will kill thousands?—but then they realize that such a choice could have massive ramifications for the rest of human history.
Douglas’s Capt. Yelland is a stalwart commander, a pinnacle of resolve, calm, and thoughtfulness (you can see why the U.S. military, after suffering through the previous two decades of Vietnam-related negative PR, was so anxious to throw its support behind the film). He and the other officers weigh their options with significant care, which allows us time to wrestle with our own views on what they should do and what the consequences might be. The film has some fun with some of its supporting characters, particularly a blowhard Senator with White House aspirations named Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning) whose weekend pleasure boat is blown out of the water by Japanese planes seeking to eliminate anyone who might warn Pearl Harbor of their presence. He and his administrative assistant, a smart and self-aware woman named Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross), are picked up the Nimitz and must deal with their own time-warp experience (when told they are onboard the USS Nimitz, Senator Chapman rightly points out that there is no such ship, as its namesake, World War II Pacific fleet commander Chester W. Nimitz, was still very much alive and at work).
The Final Countdown was directed by Don Taylor, who began his career as an actor in the early 1940s before moving behind the camera in the mid-1950s, primarily in television, where he directed episodes of more than 50 series and various made-for-television movies. He directed a handful of theatrical features in the 1970s, notably Escape From the Planet of the Apes (1971), the musical Tom Sawyer (1973), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1977), and Damien: Omen II (1978), the latter two of which gave him experience working with Hollywood studio era veterans Burt Lancaster and William Holden. His work on The Final Countdown is largely functional, as he essentially cedes any sense of style to a simple documenting of the impressive presence of military hardware, which is well shot by workman cinematographer Victor J. Kemper (Dog Day Afternoon, The Eyes of Laura Mars). The Final Countdown is a unique merging of military drama and science fiction, and even if it doesn’t always work, it presents such a fascinating scenario that you can’t help but get sucked into its swirling vortex of unending and paradoxical “what if’s?.”
|The Final Countdown Limited Edition4K UHD + Blu-ray + CD|
|Audio|| English Dolby AtomosEnglish DTS-HD 5.1 surroundEnglish DTS-HD 2.0 stereoFrench DTS-HD 2.0 stereo|
|Subtitles||English, French, Spanish|
|Supplements||Audio Commentary by director of photography Victor J. Kemper“Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood” interview with associate producer Lloyd Kaufman“Starring the Jolly Rogers” interviews with The Jolly Rogers F-14 Fighter SquadronTheatrical trailersTV spotsPoster & still galleriesThe Final Countdown Original Motion Picture Soundtrack CD by John ScottCollectible Booklet featuring The Zero Pilot Journal|
|Release Date||May 25, 2021|
|Blue Underground has released The Final Countdown twice, once on DVD in 2004 and then on Blu-ray in 2008. The transfers on those discs were fine, but it was certainly time for an upgrade, which they have provided via a new 4K 16-bit restoration from the original 35mm camera negative. The image is solid and a fine representation of a mid-budget independent film shot in the late 1970s. There is some significant variation in texture and grain between what is clearly stock footage and the footage shot for the film, but this is inherent to the original presentation. Most of the footage is sharp, well-detailed, and free of any signs of wear and tear. Color and contrast are good, and there is a nice sheen of film grain that looks excellent in motion. Some of the process shots look a bit grainy, but again that is inherent to the source material. Also inherent to the source material is an odd effect, most likely due to the anamorphic lenses that were used, that makes the edge of the frame, especially along the bottom, slightly blurry. The newly remixed Dolby Atmos soundtrack is a knockout, with great depth and separation for both the sound effects (all those roaring jet engines) and John Scott’s rousing orchestral score. As for the supplements, we get all the stuff that appeared from the previous DVD and Blu-ray editions, including “Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood,” a highly entertaining interview with irascible associate producer Lloyd Kaufman (a legendary B-movie writer/producer/director best known for Troma films like The Toxic Avenger and Tromeo and Juliet) who gleefully calls director Don Taylor “a bozo” who “fell off the wagon”; “Starring the Jolly Rogers,” a featurette that compiles interviews with the F-14 pilots who flew in the film; theatrical trailers and TV spots; and a poster and still galleries. The nuts-and-bolts audio commentary by cinematographer Victor J. Kemper, who is interviewed by Blue Underground producer Gregory Davis, originally appeared on the 2008 Blu-ray and is still a great listen. The package also includes an insert booklet with the article “Zero Pilot Journal,” which was originally published in a 1979 issue of CAF Dispatch, and a copy of the original soundtrack on CD.|
Copyright © 2021 James Kendrick
Thoughts? E-mail James Kendrick
All images copyright © Blue Underground