- Directed by Don Taylor
- August 1, 1980
The USS Nimitz finds itself on December 7, 1941 and now must decide whether or not to prevent the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor.
I like me a good time travel movie with a good concept. Then again I like a good time travel movie. Or just a time travel movie. Time travel films are perhaps my favorite sub-genre of science fiction films. They can range from the fun like the Back to the Future trilogy to the exciting or thought provoking like The Terminator.
Thus I have a certain fondness for The Final Countdown. But I must admit that with all its potential it is not as well executed as it could or should have been. They put forth a lot of great ideas and a lot of potential but do not do too much with it.
Kirk Douglas is Capt. Matthew Yelland, Commanding Officer of the USS Nimitz. Ron O’Neal is cast as Cmdr. Dan Thurman who is Yelland’s Executive Officer. James Farentino is Cmdr. Richard T. “Dick” Owens. Martin Sheen is a civilian observer named Warren Lasky who works for Tideman Industries and is there to conduct an analysis of procedures. Katharine Ross is Laurel Scott who is an aid to the fictional Sen. Samuel S. Chapman played by Charles Durning. We even get the great Soon-Tek Oh as IJN pilot Shimura. These were pretty decent actors back in the day and each of their characters poses some interesting questions/problems but unfortunately nothing is done with it.
In this film’s fictional history Sen. Chapman is set up as a possible running mate for FDR had he not disappeared mysteriously in 1941. His survival alone would have significant historical repercussions. There is now a skilled crew on a significantly advanced battleship on the eve of one of the most devastating attacks on the United States situated not far from the enemy fleet. They also have on the Nimitz an individual with significant knowledge of events who could guide them to victory.
The problem in The Final Countdown is that they go back in time, wonder around a little bit, and then go back into the future and barely tap into any of their resources. I think this film could have been improved a little bit if they had brought the characters to the brink of altering the future. Instead their impact on the past is negligible. Amateur historian Owens lays out the fate of each past character and outcome of past events as he knows it and by the end it all plays exactly as he said with only the knowledge of the film filling in gaps.
I am not saying I hate the movie. I do like it. As you can tell from the picture that accompanies this blog, I bought it on Blu-ray. And I will watch it again. I just wish they had tried a little harder here.
For example the bit with Shimura was wrapped up too neatly. After an uneven confrontation with some F-14 Tomcats from the Nimitz and two Japanese Zeros, Shimura is taken into custody as a prisoner and two individuals, Laurel Scott and Sen. Chapman, are rescued. Shimura, while being questioned, gets a rifle and a hostage situation ensues. Long story short, he gets shot and killed in a struggle and nothing really comes of it. The whole scene is not only a waste of a good idea but also of a talented actor.
I also feel the characters as a whole did not get developed enough. They all just kind of were. Nobody really got a story arc other than the executive officer. But it’s more like his character stumbled to the finale which was a nice twist rather than progressed towards it. He was clearly meant to have a romance with the senator’s aid but all you get is one longing look.
Still though I find something charming about this film despite its flaws. There is something here that captures the imagination of the kid in me and gets him to want to watch. There is a bit of nostalgia tied to this. The movie is just fun even if it is imperfect.
Peter Vincent Douglas (Kirk’s son) and Lloyd Kaufman (Troma) both produced this film. Kaufman took the job as a means to help pay the bills at Troma and even has a cameo as an admiral. He states that this is the film what convinced him to never work with a big studio again.
The Final Countdown is a promising idea that did not get the treatment it deserved. While I enjoy it and can overlook its flaws, I will give this an if you want because not everyone can.