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Final Countdown, The

Final Countdown, The(1980)

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In the late 1970's one of Kirk Douglas' sons, Peter Vincent Douglas, began his career as a producer with a project based on a fantastic scenario; what if one of America's contemporary nuclear-powered aircraft carriers was catapulted back in time via a freak electrical storm and appeared in the Pacific Ocean just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor? His producer credits would go on to include Something Wicked This Way Comes (1983), and Fletch (1985), but what sets The Final Countdown (1980) aside from those popular films is a complicity between the Hollywood dream factory and the U.S. military to create a work that would entertain the masses and also act as a recruiting tool for the Navy. It's a timeless practice that would go on with films from Top Gun (1986) to any of the more contemporary Tom Clancy-based films that now lead the charge, but it's still interesting within the context of The Final Countdown because the two main stars, Kirk Douglas (as the captain of the U.S.S. Nimitz) and Martin Sheen (as a Defense Department expert), are famous for taking stands against the right-wing powers that be. Now toss into the mix the fact that this big spectacle film also hired to a production job Lloyd Kaufman, the man who would later launch the "aroma du Troma" behind such low-budget fare as The Toxic Avenger (1985) and Tromeo and Juliet (1996), and viewers might then wonder if time travel is really so odd when compared to the behind-the-camera crew on this film. Kaufman also gets a short cameo in the film and recalls Kirk Douglas telling him that "You're not a good actor, but you're a better actor than producer." Adding to such proceedings it's tempting to note, just for color, that director Don Taylor (1920 - 1998) helmed an episode of The Flying Nun in 1967, but that would be unfair to his larger body of work as both an actor (from 1943 to 1962) and his various helming duties (from 1955 to 1988).

The Final Countdown is not a special-effects laden time-travel piece like Back to the Future (1985) or any such ilk and, indeed, the pivotal "freak electrical storm" is not, visually, very convincing. Nor is it particularly heavy-handed in glamorizing the military, although the members of the Jolly Rogers F-14 Fighter Squadron, who played key roles in the film, are quick to praise The Final Countdown for showing real missile launches and other authentic air maneuvers. What really works about the film is that it is a character-driven drama augmented by a bizarre scenario - and, admittedly, the fusion of fantasy with a certain amount of wish-fulfillment can carry unexpected power. The scene, for example, where two Japanese Zero fighter planes get their come-uppance when surprised by two modern F-14 fighter jets still reverberates on several levels. The current equivalent would be a time-travel film that posits a crack team of Green Beret soldiers suddenly transported onto hijacked planes before they hit their targets in 2001.

Blue Underground makes The Final Countdown available in a full screen dvd, a widescreen dvd, and a special two-disc limited edition set that comes with a hologram cover wherein the battleship can "disappear" with a twist of the wrist. Latter version includes audio commentary with Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper, theatrical trailers, and TV spots, while the bonus disc adds a 15-minute interview with Lloyd Kaufman, a half-hour interview with the Jolly Rogers F-14 Fighter Squadron (who, among other things, note that you can make more money as a Teamster driving a van for film crew than risking your life as a fighter pilot), poster & still galleries, a short Kirk Douglas biography, and a Zero Pilot Journal (DVD-ROM).

For more information about The Final Countdown, visit Blue Underground. To order the limited edition double disc of The Final Countdown, go to TCM Shopping.

by Pablo Kjolseth