Some time in 1980, the USS Nimitz experiences an electrical storm which sends it (and its crew) back to December 6th, 1941 just off the coast of Hawaii. Led by Capt. Matthew Yelland, the Nimitz crew must decide whether or not to engage the Japanese fleet or let history take its course.
That candid discussion is the best sequence of the cult hit The Final Countdown. However briefly, the cast including Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas, engage in thought provoking banter about time paradoxes and what course of action they could take. Given the complexity of the situation, it’s not cut and dry.
Filmed on a tight budget, Final Countdown is far from perfect. It’s loaded with stock footage and the barrage of shots showing planes taking off/landing on the carrier are repetitive. While creating an authentic atmosphere, it’s a way to cheaply extend the film.
What the movie is able to do is engage the viewer in its concept despite limited explanation. Even with knowledge going in that the ship will be zapped back in time, the mystery builds wonderfully on screen as the crew exhausts all options in trying to explain their situation. What goes unexplained is exactly what the sends the ship through time, and the weak visual effects don’t help either.
As with any time travel film, there are questions remaining when it’s over and even during. As the Captain struggles to comprehend the circumstances, he sends out a recon plane to survey Pearl Harbor. It comes back with a photograph that exactly matches with a historical picture a crew member has on board. How can a picture found in historical records match one taken by a plane from 1980? It’s a minor gripe, but it does take away from the tension and intrigue the film is building.
Final Countdown is not an action film, although it does contain a few sequences of merit. A battle with two Japanese Zeros surveying the area and attacking a small yacht is exciting, as the aerial photography uses no visual effects. It’s authentic and better for it. When one of the downed Japanese pilots is brought on board, it leads to a tense stand off and shootout with plot implications.
The film was nearly non-existent for many years, left to an obscure VHS and Laserdisc release until Blue Underground stepped up for a DVD (and now Blu-ray) release, the first one in widescreen. Hopefully word of mouth and wider exposure will help Final Countdown gain the following it deserves. It’s a high concept that doesn’t meet all its potential, but does entertain.
For the most part, this first hi-def release of the film does offer a worthy upgrade to the previous DVD. Sharpness is higher, colors are bolder, and the contrast is brighter. The source still causes problems, including noticeable softness around the edges of the frame, especially apparent during the above-mentioned stand off. Minor edge enhancement is still slightly visible, although far less apparent when doing a direct compare.
Detail can be strong, revealing textured faces, symbols on jets, and uniform details. However, flesh tones are sickly, mostly pink and flat. Grain is left intact without alteration. It does fluctuate at times, and the stock footage is more noticeable now than it ever was. The print is remarkably clean, with only a few specks noticeable (with the exception of the credits and of course stock footage). Black levels are consistent creating a fair amount of depth in the image. Given the budget and age, this is as good as Final Countdown is likely to look for some time.
Blue Underground may have themselves a first in terms of audio, providing two 7.1 tracks on a single disc. The bigger question is why anyone needs both a TrueHD and DTS-HD Master of the film, but they’re here. There is no discernable difference between the two. Purists will be disappointed an original unaltered mix has not been included.
Despite the source and expected fidelity problems, this is actually an active track(s). Jet engines fill the soundfield, and the stereo channels are used extensively. Everything is nicely placed, and tracking is above average. While the highs can turn into a muddled mess (trying to jumble the action and the soundtrack), there is a limited amount of distortion. Bass is almost non-existent, save for a few brief uses including the Nimitz traveling across the sea.
Extras are carried over from a two-disc limited edition of the film released a few years back. A commentary from cinematographer Victor J. Kemper is overshadowed by a fourteen-minute interview with producer Lloyd Kaufman. He holds nothing back in discussing the film and the people in it, while viewers are warned beforehand about the language. Starring the Jolly Rogers is another interview featurette, this one running just over a half hour, talking with the pilots used in the film.
Some trailers are the last extra. Missing from the DVD edition are cast bios and a DVD-ROM feature in involving the Japanese Zero pilot.