The Final Countdown

The Final Countdown (1980)
Blue Underground
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen
Extras: Commentary Track, Featurettes, Photo Galleries, Trailers and more

When I originally saw "The Final Countdown" in theaters in 1980 I never realized it was such a "small" movie. Small in terms of its budget, of course, and not in terms of the achievement, because as this DVD just reminded me, "The Final Countdown" is still a heavy-weight of its genre. To me it always seemed to be a major motion picture and when I revisited the movie for the first time in over 20 years on the DVD from Blue Underground, I was quite surprised to not only learn that this was in fact a fairly small production and that people like Troma’s infamous Lloyd Kaufman were actually involved in this… very interesting stuff.

"The Final Countdown" tells the story of the US NAVY aircraft carrier "Nimitz" in the waters before Hawaii. Suddenly a strange storm appears and as the carrier weathers through it, they soon find themselves in the past. This strange, natural phenomenon has opened a rift in time and the vessel’s Captain Yelland ( Kirk Douglas) and his crew suddenly find themselves back in time on December 6, 1941, the day before the infamous attack on Pearl Harbor. As the people on board the ship try to deal with the fact that this is not the world they came from one most important question arises. What to do about the impending, devastating attack on Pearl Harbor? Should Yelland and his crew use their technology and superior firepower to put a quick end to the Japanese fleet which is slowly drawing closer to the coast of Hawaii, changing the course of history forever, potentially even undoing their very own existence?

Everyone of us has harbored thoughts at one point or another of going back in time to change the course of actions. Only occasionally however, we ask ourselves what impact that would actually have on the course of things to come. This is the central point "The Final Countdown" is trying to make as it deals with one of America’s most vulnerable moments in history. Presented in the form of an exciting adventure with many explosive moments and a great cast, "The Final Countdown" is a dynamic film that still manages to keep your eyes glued to the screen.

The cast, featuring greats such as Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross, Charles Durning and James Farentino, alongside the original crew of the "U.S.S. Nimitz" give the film a solid foundation with good characters, and the film has a very authentic quality throughout that would have been hard to capture or reproduce on soundstages. Whether it is the wonderful footage of Tomcats and Corsairs soaring through the blue skies, or the breathtaking images of the jets taking off from and landing on the deck of the carrier, the movie is filled with great moments.

Blue Underground has created a presentation of the movie for this DVD that is simply staggering. It has been certified by <$THX,THX> and is completely belying the movie’s age, the presentation is absolutely clean and clear without as much as a speckle to mar the image. Every single frame seems to have been cleaned up, resulting in a top notch presentation. Colors are vibrant at all times while also rendering flesh tones absolutely faithful. The level of detail in the print is very good and makes it possible to make out even the smallest details, such as the tiny print on various labels and signs across the airplane hulls or the ship itself.

Blue Underground has also given the film a remix, providing a <$DD,Dolby Digital> EX audio track, as well as a discrete 6.1 channel <$DTS,DTS> track on this DVD. The presentation is engaging and aggressive and only occasionally does the limited frequency response of certain elements remind you of the film’s true age. I was also extremely pleased to see that Blue Underground has provided closed captioning for the movie on this DVD, something I hope the studio will continue to support in the future.

A <$commentary,commentary track> with the movie’s director of photography, Victor J. Kemper is also included in which he relays a lot of information about the production. The commentary is once again moderated by Blue Underground’s David Gregory who helps keeping things flowing nicely, although Kemper does a wonderful job recounting events on the set. He is telling stories how many of the daring shots involving aircrafts have been created and how working on board of an actual Navy vessel defined his approach to shooting this picture. At times he can barely contain his excitement as he revisits some of the shots in his mind, remember how spectacular and oftentimes dangerous it must have been to photograph many of the film’s memorable scenes.

On the second disc of the set you will find a good number of bonus materials, such as a 14-minute interview with Lloyd Kaufman who co-produced the movie. Kaufman is typically known for his overactive antics and appearance and it was great to see that he took this interview and the film seriously enough to actually sit down and talk in ernest about the production.

The highlight for me however is a 31-mintue documentary about the "Jolly Roger Squad" – the pilots who flew the actual aircrafts you see in the movie. Filled with interviews with these guys and some cool pictures and footage, this featurette goes beyond the scope of retelling what it was like to work on the movie itself for them. It covers also what it actually meant to be a pilot of a jet on an aircraft carrier during the Cold War era. The best pieces of information come across as these pilots sit together and just recall their memories of the time, but even the individual comments are priceless as they discuss the challenges of their line of work.

An extensive photo gallery is also included, covering everything from promo stills and posters to the original press book and behind the scenes photographs taken on the set. One gallery is entirely dedicated to the U.S.S. Nimitz, including images of the crew’s insignia patches.

A text biography of Kirk Douglas is also included on the DVD as well as the "Zero Pilot Journal," a reprint of a military magazine article from 1979, covering the work of the pilots flying the classic Japanese Mitsubishi Zero One airplanes in the film. This feature is accessible only on DVD-ROMs in PDF format but is well worth it as it contains great information and some cool photos.

The DVD set is rounded out by a selection of trailers and TV Spots for the film.

I expected a great release from Blue Underground but I was not prepared for this. "The Final Countdown" looks and sounds better on this release that I had ever dared to hope. It has been painstakingly transferred and remastered, making it a sheer pleasure to revisit this spectacular movie. Great extras add quality information and value to the release, turning this film into a must-have DVD. Since this is a limited edition release, you better go and get your copy now, before it’s out of print and turning into a prized collector’s item!