Final Countdown, The
In a perfect world, the best movies would do the best business. The Thing would make 150 million and Honeymoon Horror would be Columbiaís flagship Blu-ray title. Sadly, thatís most often not the case. Despite the plethora of perfect pictures in Blue Undergroundís catalog, among them The Bird with the Crystal Plumage, Shock Waves, Night Train Murders and Deathdream, the movies that keep them afloat are probably the ones most horror fans wouldnít really bat an eyelash towards. Case in point, The Final Countdown. A modest, Reagan era navy flick with big stars and crossover appeal, itís no doubt their most commercial film. Itís certainly the odd man out beside Argento, Fulci, Cronenberg, Romero and even Lustig, but if a retailer is going to stock a Blue Underground DVD, The Final Countdown is it.
Itís no surprise, then, that The Final Countdown has been chosen as the Lustig Houseís inaugural Blu-ray release. The company initially announced a robust slate of many of their early DVD classics to debut on Blu-ray for the Halloween season, but ever since their announcement they remained oddly quiet. Nothing came, hinting that once again Blue Underground may be treading the same path to extinction formerly traveled by NoShame. Here they are though, with The Final Countdown, and with The Stendhal Syndrome to follow soon after on Blu-ray. Blue Undergroundís been out for awhile nowÖdo they still have the touch?
Dr. Emmett Brown must have had a hand in the construction of the famed naval ship, U.S.S. Nimitz. On the surface it looks like any other aircraft carrier. It houses over a hundred aircrafts and can house over six thousand men. Thatís not all it can do, though. When it sails into an odd electrical storm in the middle of the Pacific, it finds itself transported back through time. It travels from 1979 to 1941 only days before the Japanese would attack Pearl Harbor. Japanese Zero scout planes fly overhead and tension is in the air. Knowing what they know, can the men therefore change the course of history?
Leading the warship is Captain Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). Decorated, but conservative, he has doubts about playing god and changing the history heís already lived. More willing to preemptively alter the effects of World War II is maverick government worker Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen). His notions of an early strike on the Japanese certainly pose some interesting moral questions. Would it effectively end the world war before it even began? Would it save lives? Would it stop the future dropping of the Atom bomb? Or on the negative side, would it make the Americans seem the aggressors and thus the enemy? Would the lack of any home soil damage lead to future calamity caused by negligence? Like the sound of thunder, one small change can send ripples throughout the strands of time.
Events become more complicated when the fleet run into Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning), who, the history books always said, disappeared suddenly just before Pearl Harbor. He was a serious contender for the presidency, and should he be saved he too might alter the course of history. With him is his female advisor, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross), determined to break away from the chauvinism and sexism of 1940ís America. Through another chain of events, they end up on the Nimitz, and so too does one very angry Japanese soldier. Another storm is brewing and the time is ticking down. Itís the final countdown, and regardless of outcome, history will no doubt be made.
The Final Countdown is a serviceable rah rah Reagan navy drama that places patriotism at the forefront via time travel. Egocentrism reins supreme as only the Americans are granted this God-like ability to patch up history. In the way both sides of the ship debate their course of action, it all seems so terribly self-important. Like the only choices in World War II ever really boiled down to level-headed, decorated, intellectual American men. It seems less like a freak accident and more like divine predestination that the Americans are the nation granted this world altering opportunity.
Whatís worse than all the self-importance, though, is that the crew (and the writers) have too much of a Jesus complex for suffering to do anything about it. The whole fun of time travel movies is so see how one ripple in the past begets a wave in the future, but The Final Countdown fails to capitalize on any of that. Instead itís more an ďaw shucks!Ē lesson learned as Kirk Douglas and co. fatefully decided to sacrifice hundreds of Americans and thousands more Japanese by doing nothing and letting Pearl Harbor and the retaliatory atomic bombings continue on unaffected. Would the decision to do nothing be portrayed with such valor had the men been transported to a Nazi concentration camp instead of the open sea?
The filmmakers dodge any sense of responsibility or repercussions for such an ethically problematic decision by instead offering a time-constraint cop out. Douglas never really has to make a choice, because, well, that darn dues ex portal opened up just before he had to man up and commit. The prime mover of drama is that people make choices and have to deal with the results. In The Final Countdown, itís sitcom uniformity, laughed off with Martin Sheen exiting with the (always) saved canine. Youíd think if youíd just been transported through time and failed to stop the onslaught of World War II that youíd be a little more shaken up. Not in Hollywood lala land, though.
The real reason for the time travel isnít to explore the interesting paradoxes and moral dilemmas that come with exploring the past with a vantage point from the future, itís much more shallow than that. Itís to pit F-14s against Zero planes to superficially hodgepodge time. The cinematography is no doubt notable, and the plane theatrics quite the feat, but unless attending your cityís annual air show is of any interest to you, then it all wears thin very quickly. The jet smoke subsides and the sky becomes nothing but empty. Too bad the writers couldnít have gone into the past to fix that grave mistake.
While Iíll be the first to complain that weíre not getting Blue Underground horror right out of the gate, I must concede Ė they picked the perfect film to showcase their first high definition title. The Final Countdown looks just gorgeous in 2.35:1 1080p anamorphic widescreen. Shot by Victor Kemper, who, before descending into boring high key comedies for the last two decades, was a notable DOP with such films as Dog Day Afternoon, Coma and Eyes of Laura Mars under his belt, the film has a great eye for composition. The way Kemper films the frame is often very powerful, and coupled with the high grade film stock used and the frequent wide angle photography, it is always awing. The three dimensional effect is more present here than in any of the other catalogue titles Iíve seen on the medium thus far. With a massive 32 GB of space devoted to the film, there are no signs of compression artifacting, although my single caveat is that there is a fair number of white specs that often ruin the illusion. Still, a fantastic transfer from Blue Underground that reaffirms that all their beautifully transferred DVDs were only just the beginning.
If thereís another channel of audio available for dispersion, you can bet Blue Underground will try and take advantage. Moving up from the 6.1 DTS of yesteryear, this track is outfitted in shiny new 7.1 DTS-HD and 7.1 Dolby True HD tracks. Considering the film was originally in mono, 6.1 is probably excessive, let alone 7.1, but truth be told this is a very flattering track. There are plenty of opportunities for surround movement with all the aerial stunts throughout, and for the most part this track capitalizes on that. Itís not as fully immersive as it could be, but the LFE certainly gets a workout, and the mono sound gets aggressively pushed between the left and right channels. Dialogue is all clear and the rousing orchestra comes through fully as well. Thereís a surprising depth to the proceedings, always sounding far fuller than a track rooted in mono. Well done.
The audio and video might be major improvements over DVD, but in terms of extras this Blu-ray is mostly the same. We lose the gallery, Kirk Douglas bio and DVD-ROM features, but all the big stuff is still intact. Thereís a great interview with Lloyd Kaufman of all people, who served as a producer on this before hitting it big with Troma. He holds nothing back, and is always funny in describing his memories of the film. The best bits are his recollections of all the ribbing Kirk Douglas directed his way, including a pinch of anti-Semitism. Even longer is a group interview with the JollyRogers F-14 Fighter Squadron who flew throughout the film. Running a few minutes shy of a half hour, itís both a welcome reunion between a bunch of veterans, and a jolly debunking of myths regarding some of the stunts. There are also some funny bits about some on set antics, like how the team gave a big Fuck You to Katherine Ross after she snubbed them on set. Both featurettes are top notch.
Thereís also a commentary with the cinematographer Victor J. Kemper moderated by one time Blue Underground go-to but now Severin head David Gregory. Kemper is initially apprehensive, but quickly warms up once Gregory stumps him on a Martin Sheen credit. One of the nice facts shared here is that much of the photography had to be second unit because he could not be allowed on the planes to film without any of the proper Naval certification required. He doesnít have the interesting anecdotes about the actors or crew that one would usually want from a track like this, but he is never short of other more technical anecdotes about the filming. There are also a number of gaps throughout. Itís a nice listen, but definitely not required viewing.
The final relics from the DVD are two trailers, the teaser and two TV spots. As far as the Blu-ray presentation is concerned, Blue Underground has done a nice job of making a fitting pop-up menu. Mimicing a radar screen, it looks sleek and utilizes animations throughout each movement. Itís nice and compact too, not taking up the screen as much as other menus like The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.
The Final Countdown is a fairly tepid actioner that fails to play on its time travel premise at all, instead submerging to mere Naval recruitment video instead. Iím no fan of the film, but it certainly has its audience to become Blue Undergroundís flagship film, and for those fans this Blu-ray release will be warmly embraced. The video looks just stellar, extremely sharp and full of depth. The 7.1 DTS sound packs a fair punch, too, for a film from 1980. The extras are almost the same as the DVD, and thatís a good thing considering the two quality featurettes. For fans of the film, I give this a very high recommendation, and for all else, at the very least this marks a positive prognosis for the Blu-ray titles that are to come from the Underground in the future. Bring on Shock Waves!
*Because of the quality of the HD format, the clarity, resolution and color depth are inherently a major leap over DVD. Since any Blu-ray will naturally have better characteristics than DVDs, the rating is therefore only in comparison with other Blu-ray titles, rather than home video in general. So while a Blu-ray film may only get a C, it will likely be much better than a DVD with an A.
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