What would you do if you found yourself in a position to, say, kill Adolf Hitler before he ever rose to power? What if you'd suddenly found yourself just outside of that Dallas book repository, minutes before John F. Kennedy was shot? Would you act? Would you gamble your own future by rewriting your past? This is the question posed by Don Taylor's The Final Countdown.
The U.S.S. Nimitz leaves Pearl Harbor for a routine mission under the watchful eye of department of defense efficiency expert, Warren Lasky (Sheen). Lasky's presence irks the ship's captain (Douglas), for it has held up the Nimitz's mission for two days, but he proves an even bigger thorn in the side of Commander Owen (Farantino), whose quarters Lasky has taken to rummaging in after discovering Owen's fascinating manuscript on the attack on Pearl Harbor. When the ship is caught up in a strange electrical storm the crew emerge from the other side of the disturbance to quiet seas and even quieter communications from their home base. Save for strange "nostalgic broadcasts", the Nimitz doesn't hear a peep from their usual channels, and the crew immediately embrace the possibility that there has been some sort of military strike. When planes are sent to run reconnaissance over Pearl Harbor, however, the resulting photographs show a very different base than the one they've left behind. In fact, the images depict a Pearl Harbor that hasn't existed in nearly forty years. The Nimitz has found itself in a state of war, all right, but a war that happened before most of its crew were even born! Lasky suggests that Owen's expertise on the subject may prove vital in changing the outcome of that famous attack, but Owen will have no part in changing history, and as the Japanese fleet makes its way toward Pearl Harbor, the countdown has begun.
The Final Countdown is one of those films I'd nearly forgotten about. I remember seeing it in the theater as a kid (and loving every second of it!) and I have to say, it has held up pretty well. Sure it has some cheap looking moments (the smoke and laser tunnel storm looks like something out of a Who concert circa 1976) but, overall, it's still pretty impressive, especially given the facts that they used real planes, had unprecedented access to the actual Nimitz, and the term CGI wasn't even invented yet. The only thing that would have made the film better would have been to see the Nimitz, and it's superior firepower, really let loose on the Japanese fleet. However, that would have changed history, and we all know how badly that always turns out, don't we?
Boasting an A-list cast (Sheen, Douglas, Ross, etc) and a really inventive and exciting premise, it's actually a bit of a mystery as to why this film never really rose beyond cult status. It had all the ingredients for a "blockbuster" but, apparently, that wasn't in the cards for The Final Countdown. All I can say is thank God for Blue Underground, which rescues yet another quality film from vault negative oblivion.
The Final Countdown soars onto Blu-ray with a solid, 2:35.1, 1080p transfer. I have to admit that I was curious as to why Blue Underground chose The Final Countdown as their inaugural Blu-ray release, as it isn’t a particularly visually arresting film, and it just didn’t seem like a title that would really showcase the power of the medium (unlike many of the company’s wonderful catalog offerings from the likes of Dario Argento, Lucio Fulci, etc.). The Final Countdown, however, looks quite good for what the source offers, with solid detail and depth marred only by the occasional spot of print damage, cinematic grain, and an unavoidably gauzy look in certain “close-up” scenes (which was more of a stylistic choice of the 1980’s and has nothing to do with this transfer). While The Final Countdown’s limited color palette and dated special effects don’t exactly lend themselves to a jaw-dropping HD experience, this is certainly the best the film’s ever looked.
The real star here, however, is the audio track – or should I say tracks!? Blue Underground goes all out, offering not one, but two 7.1 HD soundtracks – one DTS Master Audio quality, and one TrueHD track. Also included is a Dolby Digital 5.1 EX track. The audio, here, simply rocks the house. While no one will mistake The Final Countdown’s soundtrack with, say, “Transformers”, this 28 year old low-budget flick holds its own when compared to many of the day-and-date titles that come across my desk, with nice, discrete surround effects, beefy-yet-not-bombastic bass, and wonderfully crisp and clear dialogue.
Overall, a very nice Blu-ray debut from Blue Underground!
Extras are a bit slim, with carryovers from the DVD release, including a technical commentary by DP, Victor J. Kemper, and two short featurettes - "Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood”, and "Starring the Jolly Rogers", the latter of which offers an intriguing look at the aerial outfit who did all of the plane stunts in the film. Trailers, a teaser, and a television spot round out the extras.
The Final Countdown is a great, underrated action flick that’s full of fist-pumping moments, eye-popping aerial acrobatics, and features a nifty alternate-reality storyline that is a war movie fan’s wet dream. The transfer is solid, but the audio is what will really knock your socks off, especially for those with the gear to fully appreciate it. Knowing Blue Underground, this is simply the beginning. A few years ago, this company turned the DVD world on its collective ear with a seemingly non-stop barrage of quality cult flicks and lost gems, and, if there catalogue is any indication, it seems poised to do the same thing with Blu-ray. We’re in for quite a treat, indeed.