No, not that song. However, it’s stuck in your head now, isn’t it?
Nope, I’m talking about The Final Countdown, the movie about the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Nimitz being thrown back in time to December 6th, 1941…the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. With modern weapons and combat aircraft, the Nimitz all by itself has more than enough firepower to repel the forthcoming surprise attack, but doing so will change history.
So effin’ what, right?
As it happens, The Final Countdown celebrates its 30th birthday this year, having been released in August of 1980. I didn’t realize this until, for whatever reason, I was drawn to throw it into the DVD player tonight while working (the wife is out of town, the kids are in bed, and it’s just me and my favorite beverage(s) to assist me as I work a bit this evening).
The Final Countdown is still a fun little movie. Not terribly deep so far as the science fiction aspects of time travel are concerned, and the time it spends worrying about the possibilities of tampering with history are covered with all the standard cliches’ about going back to murder your grandfather and thereby short-circuiting your own birth, and so on. A glance at the film’s IMDB page shows a host of goofs, continuity errors, and so on (not the least of which being the fact that the Nimitz was based out of Norfolk, Virginia in 1980, rather than Pearl Harbor), but they don’t detract from the movie in any real, lasting way.
The acting is all over the place. Kirk Douglas, one of my favorite actors Of All Time, has moments in this flick where he seems to be phoning in his performance as the Nimitz‘s skipper, Captain Yelland. A young Martin Sheen gets a thumbs up for his portrayal of Warren Laskey, the civilian analyst sent to inspect the crew of the Nimitz and report back on its efficiency to the mysterious “Mr. Tideman,” who in the film’s continuity is the carrier’s designer. James Farentino is also solid, as are Katherine Ross and Charles Durning. As for the large supporting cast (a significant portion of which is filled out by the officers and crew of the actual U.S.S. Nimitz), their performances run the gamut. Your mileage may vary.
As for special effects, the only real optical effect of note is the “time storm,” a cascading blue tunnel floating across the water to engulf the Nimitz. It’s typical of late 1970s/early 1980s SFX tech, and helps to reinforce the whole production’s “NBC Sunday Night Movie” vibe. The shrill whine of energy permeating the air as the ship passes through the storm is much more jarring and effective in conveying that some Funky Shit(tm) is going on. The film also boasts some pretty decent aerial photography, as well a few choice clips of actual WWII air combat footage of the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Once Yelland makes the decision that the Nimitz will take on the Japanese fleet in a bid to thwart the attack on Pearl Harbor, you can’t help but wish you could see that battle unfold on screen, because you just know it’s going to be a 10th Degree Ass-Whoopin’. However, and as we all know must happen, the “time storm” returns before the first shots can be fired, and whisks the Nimitz and its fighter jets — most of which are already in flight and en route to intercept the approaching enemy ships and planes — back to 1980. The attack as we know it happens again, and history remains (largely) unchanged once the Nimitz returns to its own time.
Not bad as pseudo-SF films of this era go. Certainly better than something like Galaxy of Terror, even if it does lack anything in the way of goofy alien sex scenes.
Trivia: the novelization of The Final Countdown was written by Martin Caidin, himself already an accomplished novelist by this point, and most remembered for his novels Marooned (which was made into a movie starring Gregory Peck and Gene Hackman) and Cyborg, which was adapted into a handful of TV movies and an eventual television series you know by another name, The Six Million Dollar Man.
This blast from the past brought to you by boredom and Firefly Vodka.