Netflix Court of Appeals: The Final Countdown

BY MATTHEW BYRD | JUNE 26, 2014 5:00 AM

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80 Hours takes a look at a film hidden among Netflix’s mammoth streaming collection every two weeks and examine if its position of obscurity is justified or whether you should take some time out of your day to digest it.

One of the things that immediately struck me after finishing The Final Countdown, the 1980 science-fiction film directed by veteran Hollywood character actor Don Taylor, was how there was no way in hell this film could be made today. It’s a “relatively” big-budget film with an absurd premise that isn’t attached to any existing pop-culture institution such as a comic book or television show, it moves at a very deliberate, casual pace that’s completely foreign to the modern landscape of the chaotically fast tempo of most modern blockbusters, and its action scenes seem tranquil compared with the metropolis-leveling stakes of films such as Man of Steel and Godzilla. It says something about the state of modern film that a movie about time travel and the Second World War can seem almost quaint.

Oh, yeah, about that. The Final Countdown (which, unfortunately, does not feature Europe’s heavy metal hit) takes place aboard the USS Nimitz, the apex of modern American military might, commanded by Capt. Yellen (Kirk Douglas) on a routine patrol mission around the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor. Joining Yellen are Lasky (Martin Sheen), a systems analyst from the State Department working for the mysterious Mr. Tideman, and pilot commander Owens (James Farentino), who moonlights as a World War II historian. A massive storm ravages the Nimitz and her crew. When they wake up, Jack Benny starts performing over the radio, and the base at Pearl Harbor doesn’t believe an aircraft carrier called Nimitz exists. A large fleet of Japanese war ships is spotted. It soon becomes clear to everyone — it’s December 6, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor that will plunge the United States into war is about to commence.

It’s such a cool concept on paper; an aircraft carrier with all the immense firepower of modern warfare is given an opportunity to prevent the biggest catastrophe in U.S. military history. Will it? It’s a question fraught with such interesting political, theoretical, and ethical dimensions that framing it in an action movie seems sure to produce above-average entertainment — like a “Twilight Zone” episode stretched out over two hours.

The Final Countdown, however, doesn’t stretch out its concept enough to fully realize its potential. There’s some interesting college dorm room-esque discussions among Yellen, Lasky, and Owens, but they’re too perfunctory to be truly satisfying. Also, bizarrely, the film seems more interesting in the technical mechanism of the Nimitz than it does with its own endlessly fascinating premise. The camera seems obsessed with the minutia of the ship, how the planes take off, the routine of the crew members, how the ship prepares for war — the obsessive detail of a Scorsese film without the brilliant camera work or deeper purpose. By the end it seems like the audience has been treated to a documentary on how U.S. aircraft carriers work with an interesting plot buried in the labyrinth of ship.

For its unique but unsatisfied plot, The Final Countdown definitely merits a Sunday afternoon viewing. Maybe once Hollywood gets over its sequel and reboot obsession, something similar can take the final step to greatness The Final Countdown stumbled upon.

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