The Final Countdown (1980) / War-Sci Fi

MPAA rated: PG for violence
Running time: 103 min.

Cast: Martin Sheen, Kirk Douglas, James Farentino, Charles Durning, Katharine Ross, Ron O'Neal,
Director: Don Taylor
Screenplay: David Ambrose, Gerry Davis, Thomas Hunter, Peter Powell
Review published September 30, 2012

The Final Countdown 1980The Final Countdown plays like a, full-length episode of "The Twilight Zone", albeit with a relatively high budget and less emphasis on ironic twists.  It is a science fiction premise that delves into a basic time-travel quandary: if you had the ability to stop a major tragedy that affected the course of the world as we all know it, would you? 

In the film, an aircraft carrier from 1980 named the USS Nimitz, along with its jet fighter fleet and crew, get transported through a sort of storm vortex that sees them transported back in time to December 6, 1941, just a day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  No longer able to communicate through heir modern means, the men on board are left to their own devices as far as what to do.

The commanding officer is Capt. Matthew Yelland (Douglas, Spartacus), who suddenly, after a bout of serious skepticism, is conflicted between his duty to protect the United States from all harm, and knowing that changing the course of history may have adverse effects that may make things worse for people in his present day.  Also on board is a civilian named Warren Lasky (Sheen, Firestarter), a systems analyst who is there to observe the operations, and soon a couple of other civilians the crew end up saving after their yacht undergoes a Japanese attack, one of whom is US Senator Sam Chapman (Durning, The Choirboys), a man that had gone missing, according to the history books, around that time.

As a film, The Final Countdown benefits from an intriguing story, some very good aerial and on-deck footage in and around an aircraft carrier (cooperation from the US Navy is a big plus), and some choice acting.  It's not exactly the kind of story that typically would be made into a full-length feature, but it does entertain while it is on, and though it doesn't exactly live up to the cataclysmic promise of its premise, it does offer up decent food for thought and discussion.  In the middle of the proceedings, there is a budding romance between the Wing Commander Owens (Farentino, Bulletproof) and Sen. Chapman's aide Laurel Scott (Ross, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) that feels a bit out of place with such a historical rumination, and it's the one case where this gimmick movie feels, well, gimmicky.

The Final Countdown is well told otherwise, though not a knockout by any means.  Even with the time-travel aspect, the film is very straight-forward, without much in terms of style or pizzazz, though that's not necessarily a hindrance to spinning a good yarn in this case.  It's mostly talking heads wondering whether it is better to interfere or let things be as they may, with some decent flight deck footage in between.  Certainly, those looking for special effects and hardcore science fiction discussions will find it wanting.  However, if you're a fan of war films, time travel flicks, and "What If" scenarios (particularly involving World War II), there should be enough here to justify an entertaining watch.

Qwipster's rating:

©2012 Vince Leo