The Final Countdown (1980)

Produced with the full cooperation of the United States Navy’s naval aviation branch and the United States Department of Defense, The Final Countdown was set and filmed on board the USS Nimitz, capturing actual operations of the then-modern nuclear warship, which had been launched in the late 1970s. The Final Countdown was a moderate success at the box office.

Despite the films meager budget, producer Peter Vincent Douglas was able to get it made and get the military on board. While director Don Taylor turned in a workmanlike film — some claim this as to many of his movies, but hey, I love Damian: The Omen II and Escape from the Planet of the Ape— the second unit was able to work with the Navy to mount cameras directly onto the planes and get some astounding footage.

The SS Nimitz is departing Pearl Harbor for naval exercises in the mid-Pacific Ocean along with civilian observer Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen). He’s working for the Defense Department as an efficiency expert, as well as for the man who built the ship, the mysterious Mr. Tideman. However, the ship soon goes through an electrical vortex and finds itself on the eve of Pearl Harbor, leaving the crew — under the command of Captain Yelland (Kirk Douglas) — unsure of what to do next. Do they stop one of World War II’s most crippling defeats or allow history to proceed?

Things become more complicated when the Nimitz rescues survivors from a yacht under attack by two Japanese planes: U.S. Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning) and his aide Laurel Scott (Katherine Ross), along with her dog Charlie and one of the Japanese pilots. One of the crew, Commander Owens (James Farentino), recognizes Chapman as a politician who would have been Franklin D. Roosevelt’s running mate during his final re-election campaign had he not disappeared shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor.

I love the central issue of this film and have no idea what choice I would have made and equally adore the time travel twist at the end. I’d always pegged this as a lesser version of The Philadelphia Experiment, but now I realize that they tell a similar story from two very different angles (and vice versa in what direction they go in time).

There are some great small roles here as well, like Superfly actor Ron O’Neal as Cmdr. Dan Thurman, Soon-Tek Oh from Missing In Action 2: The Beginning as one of the Japanese pilots and Richard Liberty (Dr. Logan from Day of the Dead) as Lt. Cmdr. Moss. Plus, a total of forty-eight real life US Navy personnel from the actual USS Nimitz were involved with this movie as extras, background artists or actors, with some having speaking parts. I also learned that each ship in the Navy has something called breakway music that is played at the close of underway replenishment to motivate their crews. The Nimitz uses the music that was written for her in this film, John Scott’s “Theme from The Final Countdown.”

As for how the picture got the scenes of Pearl Harbor under budget, they’re tinted scenes from Tora! Tora! Tora!

I wondered why this movie was getting such a royal treatment before I watched it, but after viewing it and seeing the astounding job that Blue Underground put together, I have to admit that they’ve made a believer out of me.

You can get The Final Countdown from Blue Underground. It has a new 4K Restoration from the original 35mm camera negative on Ultra HD and HD blu ray. It also has audio commentary with Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper , a feature on Lloyd Kaufman being the executive producer and interviews with The Jolly Rogers F-14 Fighter Squadron. Plus, you get trailers, TV ads, poster and still galleries, a collectible booklet and a soundtrack, all inside an amazing lenticular animated slipcover.

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