The Final Countdown (1980) (blu-ray film/soundtrack review).

‘The Final Countdown’ is a film I reviewed a few years ago and is still one of my odd SF favourites. Briefly, the USS Nimitz aircraft carrier is delayed going to sea for the arrival of Tideman Industries efficiency expert Warren Lasky (actor Martin Sheen) as they are also having all their aircraft arrive on deck. With a storm approaching, its captain, Matthew Yelland (actor Kirk Douglas) orders the fleet with them back to port rather than risk them all.

This unusual storm plucks the entire aircraft carrier and drops it in 7 December 1941, the day before Pearl Harbour. All of this is picked up from their equipment and aircraft launched to see what is going on.

The two F-14 Tomcats do spot two Japanese Zeroes attacking and destroying a small boat and Yelland orders them splashed. A helicopter is sent to pick up the survivors, Senator Samuel Chapman (actor Charles Durning) and his speech writer, Laurel Scott (actress Katherine Ross) and her dog, Charlie. CAG officer Commander Richard Owens (actor James Farentino) has to dive into the sea to collect the dog. Another helicopter picks up the surviving Japanese pilot, Simura (actor Soon-Tech Oh). It’s hardly surprising they all are arriving on the modern aircraft carrier from the future.

In the medical bay, Simura grabs a gun and wants to contact his people, using Chapman, Scott, Lasky and Owens as hostages which doesn’t go well for him. Chapman also wants to contact Pearl Harbour with a similar dilemma as they’ve never heard of the Nimitz. Lasky has also previously discovered Owens is an expert on this time period and Chapman mysteriously disappeared around this time. Had he lived, he would have been vice-President.

Yelland makes the decision to go to war and orders Owens to drop Chapman and Laura off in a deserted island, not wanting civilians on board. For the rest, you need to see the film but recommend you pay attention to the beginning of the film as it makes sense at the end.

For a Science Fiction film, the physical SF elements are really confined to the Nimitz being transported across time. However, the dilemmas come from should they interfere with time period. When you have this combined with the normal workings of an active aircraft carrier then it puts a lot of responsibilities on a lot of people who have to switch from thinking it’s some sort of naval exercise into being convinced this is the real thing. Remarkably, the film really works and I’m always puzzled why no one has thought to explore what Owens did in the past to get where he is in the present because it would make for an excellent TV series.

Audio commentary is with director of photography Victor J. Kemper ASC with David Gregory from Blue-Underground asking questions. Opening scenes filmed in Florida and Key West and explains a lot of the tricks and he was brought in to film late in the proceedings as a replacement. This is also one of the reasons why I wanted this blu-ray so will only give some of the highlights from this.

The opening helicopter looking out was actually filmed on the ground with slow blades. The 20 film crew were on-board and at sea on the operational USS Nimitz for 8 days. They had to bring their own generator for the filming equipment. The daily 2 hours using the bridge and was very strictly adhered to. Judging by the excitement of night launches and retrievals, it’s a shame we couldn’t see any of them. There were no women crew at the time.

The safety regulations are strict and they are 50 feet about the water and constant drilling. The length of the aircraft carrier is akin to the height of the Empire State Building.The time trip effects was done in London and had little budget at the end of the film to do it and directed by Anton Furst (think the later Keaton ‘Batman’ film). Everything done on the fly. Second unit did the plane stuff.

Interior compartments were filmed while the Nimitz was in port. $60,000/day production costs of filming. Director of Photography is always working and lighting the next scene. Kemper is also very proud of this film and a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I came away from this audio commentary with a lot of knowledge about aircraft carriers and cinematography. I’m not so sure if I would call the ending ‘cheesy’ as Kemper puts it, mostly because you would want to know what happened to Commander Owens.

Plenty of extras. Running at 14 minutes, ‘Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood’ relates the making of the film in 2004 as a means to learn how to produce movies and Peter Douglas approached him for running things with Kirk Douglas helped get it going and financing it. The Douglases got it done. He does explain why the film crew had to be changed.

At 31 minutes and again from 2004, ‘Starring The Jolly Rogers’, the original six Navy Nimitz squadron pilots discuss their jobs before discussing the film as directed by second unit David Jones. A joy to hear them discuss things. Soberly, they also explain that two F-14s could have taken out the Japanese fleet.

There were some problems looking at the stills on Ultra Blu-ray disk but they are OK on the standard blu-ray disk.

The 20 page booklet’s main feature is the ‘Zero Pilot Journal’, first published in ‘Caf Dispatch’ in 1979. The American Confederate Air Force, now called the Commemorative Air Force, rebuild aeroplanes and were in the film ‘Tora, Tora, Tora’ and got hired to bring four Japanese Zeros to Florida and be in ‘The Final Countdown’. Of course, they had to fly there and had to stop when bad weather conditions prevailed. Once in Florida, they had to perform with the F-14s, exploring the dexterity of both aeroplanes.

The CD soundtrack as composed by John Scott is the first time I’ve heard it away from the film. Fully orchestrated, it also shows how much it underplayed the action of the film. I looked up John Scott, British born and an enormous list of film credits and wondering how I ever missed him before. There is the trumpeting naval theme matched to the much slower sympathetic love theme in track 14. This way might actually be the cheapest way to get hold of this soundtrack.

For those familiar with the film, I think it might be worthwhile watching the extras first and then see it in context with all the knowledge absorbed. It’s a shame so much of the film’s budget was absorbed in making it because a better promotion would have raised its profile. Even so, ‘The Final Countdown’ is a time travel SF film that also delivers life onboard a 1980s American aircraft carrier in a realistic fashion and the dilemma they faced and the first use of the real F-14 Tomcats in a film.

Oh, did I say there was an outer moving picture box showing the Nimitz passing through the time warp?

GF Willmetts

May 2021

(blue-ray multi-region: pub: Blue Underground, 2021. Price: $59.99 (US), £18.74 (UK). ASIN: Blu-BD-8028)

The Final Countdown by John Scott. 1 CD 58 minutes 20 tracks.

cast: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katherine Ross, Ron O’Neal and Charles Durning

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