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Site created 12/15/97.


review added: 3/4/04



The Final Countdown
2-Disc Limited Edition - 1980 (2004) - Blue Underground

review by Bill Hunt, editor of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVsEncoded with DTS & Dolby Digital 5.1 Digital SurroundTHX-certified

The Final Countdown: 2-Disc Limited Edition Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Extras): B/B+

Audio Ratings (DD/DTS): B/B+

Specs and Features

Disc One - The Film
102 mins, PG, letterboxed widescreen (2.35:1), 16x9 enhanced, THX-certified, single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at 60:02 in chapter 13), keep case packaging, audio commentary with director of photography Victor J. Kemper and Blue Underground's David Gregory), teaser trailer and 2 theatrical trailers, 2 TV spots, lenticular cover art, film-themed menus with music, scene access (22 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and DTS 5.1), subtitles: English, French and Spanish, Closed Captioned

Disc Two - The Extras
Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood: Interview with Associate Producer Lloyd Kaufman featurette (14 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), Starring the Jolly Rogers: Interviews with The Jolly Rogers F-14 Fighter Squadron documentary (31 mins - 16x9, DD 2.0), 4 artwork & still galleries (including poster art and publicity stills, U.S. pressbook images, behind-the-scenes photos and U.S.S. Nimitz photos), Kirk Douglas biography, DVD-ROM feature (Zero Pilot's Journal in Adobe PDF format), film-themed menus with music


The Final Countdown is a 1980 B-movie classic. The story is pretty straight-forward action with a very cool sci-fi hook. The basic premise is this... what if a modern, U.S. Navy aircraft carrier were suddenly to find itself sent back in time to the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941? Imagine you're the captain of that aircraft carrier. Do you honor your duty to your country, and launch your jet fighters to wipe out the Japanese attack force and naval fleet, and thus change the course of history? Or do you let events play out as history says they must? Is it even possible to change history?

Matt Yelland (Kirk Douglas) is the captain of said aircraft carrier, the nuclear-powered U.S.S. Nimitz. After waiting two days to take on civilian observer Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), the Nimitz has finally departed from its home port in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on a routine cruise. Lasky has been sent by the mysterious Mr. Tideman, the head of a major defense contractor, to observe the ship's operations and report on its efficiency. This doesn't sit too well with Yelland and his crew, especially the commander of the ship's F-14 Tomcat fighter squadron, Richard Owens (James Farentino). Still, they're willing to play along. Things get more tense, however, when the ship passes through a strange electrical storm at sea. All of a sudden, radio contact with their escort ships and Pearl is lost, and there's nothing but vintage broadcasts coming in over AM radio. Yelland and Owens suspect that it's all an exercise that's being staged for Lasky's benefit. But when their reconnaissance planes take pictures of WWII-era battleships moored back at Pearl Harbor - pictures that match those taken on December 6th, 1941 - they have to start facing the very real prospect that the storm might actually have been a time warp, and that the Nimitz is the only thing standing in the way of an all-out Japanese attack.

Three things make The Final Countdown extremely effective as a film. First of all, the sci-fi hook is very simple, and yet highly clever. Other than the actual scenes in which the ship passes through the time warp, there's virtually none of the usual trappings of sci-fi in this film. What that means is that the rest of the film is very straightforward action/drama, as the characters react to the situation they're in. The second thing that works here, is that this film was shot ENTIRELY on location on the real Nimitz, and in and around the actual vintage and modern aircraft depicted in the film, with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy. The ship's operations you'll see are very accurate - more so even than what was featured years later in Top Gun - because they're the real thing. There's a scene in this film in which a pair of F-14s plays tag with a pair of vintage Japanese Zeros, and you're watching the REAL F-14s and Zeros in the frame. There's almost no special effects involved. All of this gives The Final Countdown an immediacy and authenticity that most sci-fi films lack, particularly the B-grade ones. Finally, this is a first-rate cast of actors, each of whom is excellent in their respective rolls. In addition to the players listed above, you'll also find Charles Durning and Katharine Ross here, as a U.S. Senator and his assistant from the past. Producer (and Troma legend) Lloyd Kaufman even makes a cameo. This flick is just damn great.

And it's FINALLY on DVD in the quality and style it deserves! You fans have been waiting a long time for this, and we're pleased to say that you're going to love this new 2-disc special edition from Blue Underground. To start with, the film looks wonderful here, in full anamorphic widescreen video. The original camera negative has been given a THX-certified, high-definition transfer. Frankly, I'm surprised at how good the film looks, given its spotty history of ownership over the years. The print is in very good condition. You'll see a little softness in spots, and there is moderate visible grain throughout the film. Despite that, detail is generally quite nice, and contrast and color are booth satisfactory as well. I'll tell you, I never expected to see the film looking this good on DVD. It's not going to win any awards for transfer quality, but I'm very happy.

As good as the film looks, it sounds even better. You'll find remixed audio in both Dolby Digital 5.1 EX and DTS 6.1 ES flavors - no kidding. Both tracks are excellent, with nice dynamic range, adequate low frequency and very good creation of atmosphere. The surrounds really kick in during almost any scene with jet aircraft, and you'll hear plenty of panning and directionality in that scene with the F-14s and Zeros. Dialogue is always clean and clear, and the score for this film has never sounded so good. A nice job sonically.

Yeah, and we're not done. There aren't a LOT of extras on this special edition, but what you get is great - every last bit of it. First up, there's a good audio commentary track featuring Blue Underground producer David Gregory chatting with the film's director of photography, Victor J. Kemper. You can tell that he's very fond of this film and of his experience making it. He has some great behind-the-scenes stories to tell about what it was like to work with the Navy on the actual carrier, etc. Right off the bat, he tells a great story about the film's opening shot, in which you see an F-14 taking off. It seems that on the first take, they set the camera up too close to the fighter's engines, so that when it throttled up to full afterburners, both the camera and its operator were sent tumbling. The track probably hasn't got a lot of repeat value, but it's a good initial listen.

Next up, you get a pair of documentary featurettes. In the first, which runs about 14 minutes and is (surprise!) anamorphic, Lloyd Kaufman dishes dirt about his experience as an associate producer on this film. He's got some funny stories to tell, both good and bad, as well as some fascinating comments on the various participants involved. His experience on The Final Countdown is what made him finally decide to work independently of Hollywood, so there's some good mileage to cover here. The second piece is a full half-hour in length, and is again anamorphic. It's a new interview with several of the retired F-14 Tomcat pilots who actually worked on the film, doing all of the aerial camerawork and stunt flying. Immediately, you can tell that they had a blast on the film and are very proud of it. They also have great chemistry together. There are some very funny stories told here about what it was like as Navy pilots to work on a film, and interact with the actors. They even muse on what they might have done if they'd been in the position of the characters, going back in time to December 6th, 1941. This is a bunch of guys you'd love the chance to have a beer with and shoot the breeze. The result is a really great piece, that's a lot of fun to watch.

Also included on this 2-disc set are a trio of teaser and theatrical trailers for this film, again all in anamorphic widescreen, as well as 2 TV spots and a number of image galleries, which let you view poster art and publicity stills, the U.S. pressbook for the film (hard to read, but it's still cool to see it), behind-the-scenes photos and shots of the real U.S.S. Nimitz. You also get a biography on star Kirk Douglas. Finally, there's a very cool DVD-ROM extra, called the Zero Pilot's Journal. It's a text account (with photographs) of the work of the Confederate Air Force pilots who owned and flew the vintage Zeros seen in the film. This is a great read, and is basically just an Adobe PDF file, so PC and Mac users alike can access it. A nice touch.

Man... it's about damn time. I've loved this film since the day I first discovered it in theaters with friends back in the 80s, and I've been revisiting it on cable ever since. The Final Countdown is easily my favorite guilty pleasure film, and this DVD version makes very, very happy. Anamorphic video, DTS audio, audio commentary, featurettes you actually enjoy watching... hell, you even get a cool lenticular hologram on the cover. Turn it back and forth and the Nimitz disappears and reappears in the time warp. How frickin' cool is that? It's clear that the team at Blue Underground loves this film as much as the fans do. Now if I could just get someone to release The Last Chase on DVD... hint, hint.

Run, don't walk, to add this spiffy DVD to your collection.

Bill Hunt
billhunt@thedigitalbits.com


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