Sometimes, a movie needs nothing more than bat shit crazy, one line description, and I know I have to see it as soon as possible. “Nazis on the moon” made me see Iron Sky. And even though it was a bit shit, it’s a premise so crazy and cool sounding that if they made a sequel, I’d be in the audience. “A modern aircraft carrier is sent back in time to stop the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor”. Not quite as pithy as “Nazis on the moon”, but still more than enough to make me track down a copy of The Final Countdown as soon as I learned of its existence.
40 years after the Second World War, the state of the art and loaded to the hilt US aircraft carrier the USS Nimitz is making its way through the Pacific with a fleet of other American naval ships. Captained by Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas), and with a civilian observer (Martin Sheen as Warren Lasky) onboard, they encounter a strange storm. When the storm passes, the Nimitz is alone, with the rest of the fleet nowhere to be seen.
Between surveillance shots of Pearl Harbor that show long destroyed ships in pristine condition, and witnessing Japanese Zero fighter jets attacking a civilian yacht, it slowly dawns on Yelland and Lasky that they have somehow travelled back in time, to the day before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that would lead to America actively joining World War II. What seems like an obvious opportunity to stop a major attack on their home soil, it’s soon obvious that things aren’t quite so simple when dealing with the repercussions of time travel.
The Final Countdown is built on a premise that’s nothing less than ludicrous. I might go as far as to say that the premise of The Final Countdown is nuttier than squirrel shit. Which is why it works so well when everyone on screen plays it so straight and serious. There’s no winking at the camera, there are no shenanigans or comic relief. In the world of this movie, these smart, dedicated, grounded men approach their loony situation and every impending decision as smart, dedicated, grounded men would.
And it’s that’s stone faced seriousness that make the questions these guys ask seem so serious, and the stakes so high. I expected some big jingoistic, flag waving American propaganda of the highest order, showing off the extent of their military might. After all, the 80s were pretty good at that. Instead, The Final Countdown is a much better advertisement for restraint and thinking a problem through instead of just blowing a problem away with an aircraft carrier loaded to the hilt.
The Final Countdown
Directed By – Don Taylor
Written By – David Ambrose, Gerry Davis, Thomas Hunter, Peter Powell