Monday, January 1, 2018

1980 Week: The Final Countdown

        Happy New Year, and welcome to the final 1980 Week of Every 70s Movie. (Not to fear, we’re back to regular reviews of movies from the 1970s after this special 1980 Week runs its course.) Here's wishing everyone a healthy and prosperous 2018. Enjoy!
          Basically a second-rate Twilight Zone episode stretched out to feature length, sci-fi thriller The Final Countdown unleashes a hell of a lot of firepower to sustain the viewer’s interest, especially considering how little energy was devoted to the storyline. Beyond a kicky premise, The Final Countdown has nothing to offer on a narrative or thematic level, and the movie’s approach to characterization is a joke. Having said all that, the picture has three solid attributes. First is the basic time-travel notion, second is a cast front-loaded with name-brand actors, and third is an eye-popping array of production values and special effects. The movie looks fantastic, and it contains so many stars working in roles suited to their skills that it seems as if it should eventually gel. It doesn’t. By the time that becomes clear, the movie’s over, so The Final Countdown is entertaining by default. It feels, looks, and sounds like a crackerjack popcorn picture despite a hollow center.
          The flick begins in Pearl Harbor as the modern-day crew of the U.S. Navy supercarrier U.S.S. Nimitz prepares for a routine mission. Much to the consternation of skipper Captain Yelland (Kirk Douglas), the ship’s launch was delayed to await the arrival of civilian Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), an efficiency expert working for the industrialist who designed technology onboard the Nimitz. Once at sea, Warren clashes with the ship’s top pilot, Commander Dick Owens (James Farantino), a part-time history buff working on a book about the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Nimitz encounters a bizarre electrical storm that blasts the ship with strange phenomena, and then the crew discovers they’ve been transported back in time to Dec. 6, 1941, the day before the Pearl Harbor attack. Proof of their circumstances arrives when the Nimitz crew rescues U.S. Senator Sam Chapman (Charles Durning) from his yacht after the boat gets strafed by Japanese Zeroes flying advance reconnaissance for the invasion fleet. What ensues is the usual what-if jazz stemming from the possibility of using modern weaponry to derail a historical tragedy.
          Unfortunately, the filmmakers never take the premise anywhere, so The Final Countdown is all buildup with very title payoff. Adding to the peculiar quality of the movie is the fact that most of the screen time comprises money shots of the Nimitz, because the filmmakers were given almost complete access to the ship. Long stretches of The Final Countdown feel like excerpts from a training film, with vignettes of planes taking off and landing, sailors running drills, and heavy machinery being operated at breakneck speed. The movie is a nautical gearhead’s wet dream. Douglas, Durning, Farantino, Sheen, and nominal leading lady Katharine Ross are left with little to do except convey wonderment and spout exposition. On the plus side, cinematographer Victor J. Kemper has a blast shooting action footage, the dogfight between jets and Zeroes is memorable, and the FX shots of the strange laser/cloud tunnel appearing during the electrical storm are cool.

The Final Countdown: FUNKY


Unknown said...

A healthy and prosperous 2018 to you as well -- and yet again this site brings back a Siskel and Ebert memory. I recall Ebert stomping on this movie as a prime example of what he called the "idiot plot," in which the only way the plot can unfold as it does is if everyone is an idiot. I must also confess that my more smart-alecky nature has to wonder if time-warping the infamous 1986 hit song by the rock group Europe -- "The Final Countdown" -- into this movie could have helped any.

Cindylover1969 said...

Apparently the original script had a World War II submarine going back to WWI. Not sure if that would have been an improvement or not.

Peter L. Winkler said...

The Final Countdown follows the formula set by the TV series The Time Tunnel much more than The Twilight Zone, whose episodes depended on a final twist ending to make it's point. Several Time Tunnel episodes would plunk its two time travellers into a famous historical mileau immediately before its famous climactic event occurred -- the sinking of the Titanic, the battle of the Alama -- only to whisk them out before they could do anything to affect the historic outcome. So, of course they made an episode where the travellers arrived in Pearl Harbor on Dec. 6, 1941.