Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Final Countdown (1980) [PG] ****

This science-fictional blending of time travel and military action explores the concept of using modern military firepower to level the playing field in what was, historically, a one-sided massacre, thus rewriting history. Imagine, for instance, what would happen if a fully-provisioned US Navy SEAL team were to time-travel to San Antonio, Texas in early February, 1836, just before the historic battle of the Alamo. In The Final Countdown, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is stationed in the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, in 1979. The ship encounters an unusual electrical storm, and after the storm has passed, the ship's radio communications channels are found to have gone strangely silent. As the hours go by, evidence mounts that the ship has traveled through a time warp, and while its physical location in the Pacific Ocean is unchanged, its temporal location is now early in December, 1941, just days before the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.

The ship’s Capt Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas), Wing Cmdr Richard Owens (James Farentino) and Navy Systems Analyst Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) discuss how to take advantage of this rare opportunity. Should they sit passively by, or should they take on the Japanese task force and rewrite history? Lasky suggests that changing the past will be harder than they think. He reminds them of the classic time travel paradox: Imagine, for example, I go back in time and meet my own grandfather, long before he marries and has children. We have an argument, and I kill him. Now if that happens, how am I ever going to be born? And if I can never be born, how can I go back in time and meet my own grandfather? There's also an intriguing sub-plot involving a U.S. Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning) and his secretary Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross), both of whom supposedly died at sea on a yacht during the Pearl Harbor attack, but were discovered and rescued by the crew of the USS Nimitz during a reconnaissance mission before the attack.

While the film’s concept is intriguing, the title is misleading - there is no countdown of any kind. The screenplay is not particularly inventive, the direction is plodding, main and supporting performances are perfunctory and the special effects are disappointing, even by 1980s standards, with the storm resembling blue water swirling in a toilet bowl. In some ways, the film’s primary function was as a 1980 US Navy recruiting film, much as Top Gun was, six years later. The Final Countdown clearly shows its age, nevertheless, if you enjoy films about naval aviation, like Top Gun, and military-themed, time-travel films like The Philadelphia ExperimentStar Trek IV: The Voyage Home, or Star Trek: Generations, you might enjoy The Final Countdown.

Labels:  sci-fi, space-time, war, WWII

Internet Movie Database
RottenTomatoes Averages (critics=54, viewers=68)

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