Returning to a feature on our ‘favourite’ guilty pleasure movie, one of those films derided by critique and user alike with seemingly no redeemable qualities, and yet, for whatever reason holding a place close to our hearts for entirely subjective reasons. No genre or film is off bounds, providing it’s of a legal quality of course, if it is a guilty pleasure to one of us or indeed one of you then we’ll happily watch it and look for the best in a bad situation. If painfully scripted films and wooden acting are your penchant, you are in for a treat. As ever, especially for this topic we would welcome your feedback to allow us to broaden our horizons and discover your guilty pleasures. For now, grab the popcorn and decide whether you’ll consume it through consideration or throw it at your screen for our appalling taste in movies.
“It’s monumentally silly. We know it’s awful, but we have fun anyway”
Burl Burlingame, honoluluagonizer.com
I’ve always held a certain penchant for science fiction, in whatever guise or form it presents itself. The allure of the future and progression, ever forward and upward into the cosmos or the realms of our imagination. I adore the ideas this genre presents, the infinite array of possibilities to explore and discuss, to break down and moralise over, one of which of course is the notion of time travel and the various quandaries and perspectives taken in such an event. Final Countdown is at its heart a narrative fixed around the morality of time travel and the impact of your actions on historical settings and your present day circumstance. Principally, a classic what if? scenario, if you could alter or change the past would you change it, subjectively, for the better regardless of the consequences or allow events to play it as they happened to return to the world you know. As somewhat of an aficionado of the genre, I can say with some confidence I have seen precious few time travel escapades that take the subject matter seriously or at the very least avoid many of the obvious pitfalls and traits of this idea, principally with the concept of linear time that we exist in the potential to change events in the past is seemingly impossible given those events have transpired. At most, in theory given our understanding, you can observe, a witness to the occasion.
To approach this film with great expectations is an unwise choice, in production and presentation there are a number of notable weak elements throughout that does make you question its purpose or value. Equally, thanks in part to co-operation from the US Navy during its production many of the environments and locations are entirely authentic and for fans of militaristic dramas, there is something to appreciate and enjoy here. In contrast to some of the other films we’ve looked at in the past, it was even a modest box office success returning its production cost and drawing a small profit on release. As a film, it didn’t set records or draw the crowds in any large numbers but positioned as a summer blockbuster with a narrative built around a potentially fun and unique concept, it is an enjoyable film to go back and watch, as the review said, watching The Final Countdown, when you know how terrible it could be, you will find some measure of fun and enjoyment. With two recognisable lead stars, a production schedule that allowed filming aboard an active aircraft carrier between deployment operations and a great deal of footage and assistance from another well known war film, there are many positives to this film. So, lets begin The Final Countdown and see if we can draw a conclusion on this summer ‘hit’ from 1980.
In 1980, Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) at the bequest of his employer, a shadowy figure, and purportedly working on behalf of the Department of Defense comes aboard the USS Nimitz just off Pearl Harbour to conduct observations on the ships crew and operations. Shortly after his arrival and the departure of the Aircraft carrier, a mysterious vortex appears and the ship is overwhelmed in a deafening storm. As the dust settles and the Nimitz emerges from the portal it finds itself in the same place, but a different time, specifically the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, instigating the events that would eventually bring the United States into the Second World War. As Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas) attempts to establish the carriers position and circumstance, they come across a US senator believed dead and an advanced flight of Mitsubishi A6M ‘Zeroes’ who attack the senator to ensure radio silence is maintained and the advancing fleet can conduct their devastating attack on the Fleet at port.
The senior officers, realising the very real predicament they find themselves in moralise and discuss the implications of the scenario they find themselves in, Captain Yelland reminding the officers around him the purpose and role of the Nimitz is to protect the United States from enemies foreign and domestic, in the past, present and future. Opting to transport the senator and his aide to a small isolated island the Captain, through discussion with the more cavalier Lasky as well as the ships senior command team makes the decision to use the advanced modern weaponry of the Nimitz to destroy the entirety of the Japanese fleet and prevent the loss of life that occured on that fateful day. Nimitz launches is air wing to destroy the fleet but before they complete their mission the time vortex appears, seemingly drawn to the carrier and the captain orders the ship about, the planes to return and brings the ship back to the present day. As Lasky departs the Nimitz his mysterious employer bids him to enter the waiting car. As it transpire, the individual is the Nimitz first officer who was stranded in the past transporting the senator to the island and so aged along with the aide into the present day.
The biggest asset of this movie is its primary shooting location, the USS Nimitz which, with the cooperation of the US navy allowed filming in drydock and between operations at sea whilst also utilising elements of its air wing during the films aerial sequences. It adds a layer of authenticity to the film that would otherwise have been lacking given the restricted production budget. The flight sequences are enjoyable to watch, again assisted by a decision to allow a great deal of the ‘b’ footage to be conducted by the pilots who produced some great shots. One of the enjoyable aspects of the film that the main premise sets up is the interaction of naval forces from the present day in an historical context. Though, given the nature of the narrative and presumably budgetary constraints this isn’t realised fully there is an enjoyable sequence where two modern day aircraft attempt to deter and finally splash two historical ‘zero’s from the past. Using planes from Tora Tora with aircraft from the Nimitz, its an enjoyable sequence you imagine was great to film practically in an age long before digital effects in a real world hypothetical scenario of the past vs the present. It would have been enjoyable to see this expanded upon but alas, it was not to be. The musical score by John Scott is fairly bombastic and suits the tone and atmosphere of the film with allusions to similar war films of the era. The cast is a mixture of recognisable faces in part besides the two main leads with Katharine Ross of Butch Cassidy fame playing aide to the senator played by a scene stealing Charles Durning and a supporting cast of the crew of the Nimitz credited at the end. The two leads, Kirk Douglas and Martin Sheen give easy performances, not perhaps there most taxing or memorable roles but certainly there appears to be a genial and friendly atmosphere between the two as they debate and discuss the moral circumstances of their actions. Having watched Sheen for a number of years as the president in the West Wing and Douglas in a scattering of films its always enjoyable to come across actors more well known in these sort of guilty pleasure films. The use of operational military assets certainly benefits the films and adds to the authenticity of the production, and as purported the use of the movies promotional poster being on display at the time in naval recruitment offices worked to add to the prestige of the film.
It’s a little harsh to judge this film to today’s standards but certainly it does feel like a film that is victim to its budget, emphasised unfortunately by one of the films strengths, the filming aboard the Nimitz. From a visual perspective whilst it looks authentic in terms of the military operations, the flight takes offs and landing the special effects look poor and certainly a product of their time. I enjoyed the brief aerial sequence between the jet fighter and its historical adversary, the final destructions suffers somewhat as the model explosion just looks cheaply done. I won’t lambast the film, it was clearly shooting on a minimal production budget and as such, for what you see of the Carrier for the most part because of the location it does look authentic however that serves to underline the low cost of the effects, clearly the navy wasn’t going to countenance the destruction of any planes for this film and as such you are left with obvious models and small explosions. The acting is questionable, whilst the performances from Douglas is passable as the experienced veteran commanding officer, and Sheen alternating between civilian observer and raising the various temporal theories and paradoxes the supporting cast is a little less admirable in their delivery. One memorably bad scene finds the command staff of the Nimitz debating on the best course of action resulting in the ships executive officer unable to comprehend the scenario around him and for lack of a better description, having a melt down at the absurdity of what is going on around them. As expected, given the subject matter there are a number of inconsistencies and plot holes that are never really explained. The origin of the time vortex principally however I did find it peculiar that they never explained how the air wings returning from their potential combat operations and away from the Carrier somehow make it through the Vortex unscathed when the film clearly establishes the energy and power of the storm having a debilitating effect on the crew aboard the Nimitz. Its a film that is easy to pick apart and trash, fully worthy of its guilty pleasure moniker.
Final Countdown can be described as a fascinating concept built around a military propaganda production, the association between the Navy and the studio clearly evident and for the most part the film does benefit from that connection with some inadvertent environment shots of the Nimitz that certainly stand in contrast to the somewhat ropier visual effects. Ultimately, it does have the narrative and drive of a single concept stretched to fit a motion picture run time, I enjoy a good temporal quandary and certainly whist not addressing the cause of the vortex in any great detail goes to show an appreciation for rudimentary causality principles. Whether this is enough to entertain an audience today is debatable. As a guilty pleasure movie you can ask for little else, recognisable and notable central leads, a rousing and bombastic score that is enjoyable to listen to in its own right. The use of the Nimitz aircraft carrier a central character in the film is a big asset. It’s a fascinating concept to explore, whether its best suited for this particular concept is another question as a dominant amount of the films runtime is devoted to shots of aircraft taking off and landing and quite frankly when you stop to consider only 5 years later another time travelling film would come to define movies of this type in the 80’s you do realise or appreciate Final Countdown for what it ultimately is, a big budget sci-fi show on the big screen. And as a guilty pleasure, that’s fine with me.
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