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The Final Countdown (1980)
Rated PG

Starring: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, and James Farentino

Rating:
***1/2
out of
*****

When Warren Lansky (Martin Sheen) leaves Pearl Harbor aboard the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Nimitz for an observational cruise, he has no idea that he's about to take a trip that will propel him back in time 40 years to the eve of the Japanese attack that launched the U.S. into World War II.

As the Nimitz leaves port, it encounters a strange electrical storm that envelops the ship in a strange blue light. When the Nimitz emerges from the disturbance, all communication on the normal frequencies has ceased. Instead, the ship's communications officer intercepts a weak AM broadcast which turns out to be an old Jack Benny show from the 1940s. Moments later, a news broadcast is picked up that is relaying information about the Germans' attack on Moscow. As time goes on and more details fall into place, the crew realizes their unique dilemma: If a supercarrier like the Nimitz which, at the time of the film's release in 1980, carried F-14 Tomcat and A-7 Corsair II fighters, as well as A-6 Intruder bombers, was to encounter the 1940s era Japanese Navy in combat, it's likely that the advanced technology of the U.S. ship could have defeated the primitive Japanese weapons and changed the course of history. But what effect would this have on the world where the Nimitz came from? Would a paradox be created? Would the Nimitz and its crew even exist?

Starring Kirk Douglas as Captain Matt Yelland, the commander of the Nimitz, and James Farentino as Wing Commander Richard "Cag" Owens, The Final Countdown features one of the most interesting time travel scenarios ever filmed. It's a shame, however, that more debate about what could have or should have happened occurs off-screen in reviews such as this than in the actual movie. The officers of the Nimitz do not seem too concerned about the possibilities or probabilities of altering history. What makes The Final Countdown as good as it ends up being is that the movie provides a tantalizing tease about those possibilities. An encounter between two propeller-driven Japanese Zeroes and two jet-powered American F-14 Tomcats is well-filmed and is the highlight of the movie.

I originally saw The Final Countdown when it hit theaters in 1980. Back then, I was in sixth grade and an aviation nut and I loved the film. However, I hadn't seen it since. Watching it again for the first time in 29 years, I was surprised at how much of the movie's running time is padded with footage of jets taking off and landing on the USS Nimitz. There's even an in-air refueling sequence that has no bearing on the movie whatsoever. The aviation nut in me acknowledges that these sequences are unnecessary and come off as pre-Top Gun Navy recruiting propaganda, but I still enjoyed them and the movie as a whole.

My only real complaint about The Final Countdown is that the ending seems like a cop-out. However, had it ended any other way, it wouldn't have been as effective or discussion-provoking as it ended up being.

The Final Countdown is not fast-paced or action-packed but it is interesting and worth seeking out if you enjoy historically-based science fiction.

Trivia: As with most pre-CG-effects movies about the Pacific War, the planes standing in for the A6M2 Zeroes are actually specially-modified AT-6 Texans mocked up to look like Zeroes (since from the side--but not the wings--the two planes are remarkably similar). (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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