The Final Countdown (1980)

The Final Countdown (1980)

Kirk Douglas as Capt. Matthew Yelland
Martin Sheen as Warren Lasky
Katharine Ross as Laurel Scott
James Farentino as Cdr. Richard Owens
Charles Durning as Senator Samuel Chapman

Directed by
Don Taylor

Running Time:
USA: 103min



Review and Summary

There is something about a science fiction story combined with the energy, power, and excitement of the ships and planes, and you have something that has some potential. The Final Countdown (1980) attempted this to some extent. Six years before Top Gun (1986) would make its mark for the Navy and the F14 Tomcat, The Final Countdown (1980) also attempted to provide the Navy some PR.

We start off with a helicopter flight out of Pearl Harbor for analyst Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) who works for Tideman Industries, the builders of the USS Nimitz in this version of life. He gets a sort of weird sendoff when Tideman shows up in his limo, but doesn’t get out, he only sends his assistant to wish Lasky well.

The musical score swells for the flight out to the Nimitz and we get a great aerial tour of the ship as they come in to land. One of the best parts of this movie outside of the story, the ship, and the planes, is the musical score. John Scott provided the musical score for the production and did a phenomenal job.

Once Lasky gets on the ship, we get an overall idea of why he is there as he meets with Capt Yelland (Kirk Douglas). Tideman industries is doing an assessment of operations in an effort to possibly suggest more efficient processes and procedures in operating the ship. Right, been there and seen that. The Nimitz has just headed out of Pearl on maneuvers as part of this.

As Lasky is taken to his cabin, you get some exposure to goings on on the ship. Remember this is 1980 and the USSR still exists, the Cold War is still going on. A Russian Trawler is following the Nimitz, fishing for “A big fish”.

Lasky’s cabin is adjoining Commander Owens cabin, with no sense of privacy Lasky goes on in and picks up a manuscript the Commander is working on concerning the attack on Pearl Harbor and the politics of that time period. While Lasky is complementary of the manuscript, Commander Owens is not very amused with the breakdown in decorum and serves Lasky notice on privacy on the ship.

The Nimitz is in the process of recovering its aircraft, when a weird “weather” disturbance shows up chasing the ship. The ships Chief Weather Officer, named Blackcloud appropriately, brings this information to Yelland, who proceeds to win the HR Manager of the Year Award for Inclusion by saying “Blackcloud are you doing unauthorized Rain Dances again?”.

It seems that the weather phenomena appears to be there for a minute and then is gone, and then reappears again. As it closes on the Nimitz, Yelland sends the task groups supporting ships back to Pearl to protect them from the storm. When it hits the Nimitz, all hell breaks loose physically and electronically. As the Nimitz comes out on the other side of the storm they find that things are a bit upside down.

They can’t raise anyone on normal radio channels and the Russian Trawler is gone. Based on this they go into a defensive posture assuming the worst, nuclear war has happened. First order of business is to gather information. So they launch a plane to do a fly over of Pearl Harbor, and others to search around them to see if they are in any danger from other ships.

As the planes are searching, the communications group is finds that they can pick up traffic from radio frequencies that are not used anymore.  Old Jack Benny shows, old boxing matches, and news from the front, WWII front that is. This adds to the confusion that much more as nothing is really making sense.

The plane sent to do the Pearl Harbor flyover finally gets back and its photos developed. Yelland, Lasky and some of the other key players start looking at them and it’s not quite what was expected.  The pilot described it as a lot of heavy and unknown traffic going on. What they find is something that hasn’t been there for 39 years (remember its 1980 for their point of view). Battleship row is there, as is one of the best known Battleships, the USS Arizona, and it’s not the memorial, but the real thing.

Lasky uses Commander Owens manuscript and photos to validate what the reconnaissance plane photo graphed. So now the real detective work comes into play. How do you prove that you have gone back in time and it’s not just a made up event to test the ship and crew. Well if it really is December 6th 1941, the Japanese Navy should be nearby.

An E2C Hawkeye is able to confirm that they the Japanese Navy is where they would be for that time leading up to the attack. Also they find a yacht is there directly in the line of the Japanese Navy.  While they confirm this with a flyby by the CAP (Combat Air Patrol) flight, the people on the yacht are blown away by the sight of 2 F14’s, aircraft that don’t exist in that time period. By the way, this is one of the gorgeous flight scenes in the movie.

As the CAP flight moves off to check out another contact, we find out that the passenger’s on the yacht include Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning) and his admin, Laurel Scott (Katharine Ross). Chapman is potentially the next Vice Presidential candidate to run with Roosevelt, and upon his death would become the next President, theoretically. Keep this in mind.

Meanwhile, the other contacts turn out to be 2 Japanese fighters, A6M2 Zero’s (actually A6 Texans made to look like them). The pilots are told to keep an eye on them, but not to engage them. This couldn’t go wrong, right?

So we have the Japanese Navy heading for Pearl Harbor, a Yacht carrying a prominent politician, and 2 Japanese fighters heading all at each other. The Zero’s see the yacht, and do what they are out there to do, clear out any possible chances that someone would see the oncoming fleet and warn Pearl Harbor. They strafe and blow up the yacht, then return to strafe the passengers in the water. By this time Captain Yelland decides that he has to try to help. So he orders the 2 F14’s to engage and lead the zero’s away, “Play with them” is also suggested.

This leads to one of the best aerial dance scenes ever filmed. Image this, the Zeroes are flying with their throttles to the max so that they can be fast enough to fly with the Tomcats. While the Tomcats, are practically flying at stall speeds so that they can be slow enough to stay with the Zero’s.  Stitched together, is a remarkable set of maneuvers that shows off both sets of planes skills as well as those of the pilot’s.

If you are fortunate enough to get ahold of the DVD of the film there is a special feature on this with the pilots who flew the scenes. It’s really enjoyable and makes the movie that much more interesting to watch those scenes.
Finally after dancing around, one of the Zero’s gets a few lucky shots off at one of the F14’s. Yelland decides that enough is enough and they are given clearance to splash the Zero’s.  1 missile and 1 burst of gunfire later, its F14’s 2 and Zero’s 0 (pun intended).

So the main entrée is ready. Helicopters from the Nimitz rescue the yacht survivors (Chapman, Laurel, her dog Charlie, and a one of the Zero pilots). This is finally where the edge of the paradox makes its appearance. Yelland, Lasky, and Owens piece together who they have brought on board and how it could possibly affect history. Meanwhile the surviving Japanese pilot takes a shot at escape and ends up holding the whole group of survivors and navy officers at bay in the infirmary.

If by now some haven’t caught on, we get the bigger punch delivered as they try to talk the pilot down off the ledge. However, this doesn’t work, so they use the sledgehammer and reveal secret details of what his mission was as well as the oncoming assault on Hawaii. Unfortunately this whole thing ends up pushing things, and the Marines punch thru and resolve the issue.

Forced to deal with what he feels is the correct thing to do, Yelland decides to offload Chapman and Laurel to Pearl Harbor as requested. At least that’s what they think. Owens real mission per Yelland is to put them down on a small island off of Hawaii out of the way of the oncoming attack. In parallel, he prepares the Nimitz to meet the attacking force head on. As he explains to Lasky, no matter what, their job is to defend the United States whether it’s the past, present or future. After that it’s really a matter for the US President to ultimately decide.

With Owens heading to drop off his charges, the Nimitz crew spring into action to prepare to launch all aircraft to head off the Japanese fleet. This is really a great action sequence as you get to really see all the work that has to go into prepping the planes and the ship. It culminates in the launching of the air wings and their heading into battle.

Meanwhile, Owens and the helicopter crew land at the island and start offloading Chapman and Laurel. Chapman wises up and tries to force the crew to take him to Pearl Harbor using a flare gun he has grabbed. This of course leads to him ending up blowing the helicopter apart. History or nature would seem to have helped to head off this paradox. But not too soon, Laurel and Owens survive on the island. Laurel finally pieces together all the strange things she has seen when she opens up a ration box and finds a packing date of way in the future, one can assume at that point Owens spills his guts to her.

Back on the Nimitz, Yelland decides he can’t wait any longer for Owens to return, this includes getting word that the dispatched Helicopter has disappeared from radar. With all planes in the air and the attack on the Japanese fleet ready to rock, Yelland can only sit back and wait. But not for long, word comes that the Storm Phenomena is back and closing on the ship. After consideration, Yelland decides to recall the planes as nature seems to have decided to reset history itself.

The Nimitz and its aircraft survive the storm and return to the present, and Pearl Harbor. Yelland meets with the Navy brass to cover what happened. Lasky says his goodbyes and leaves only to be confronted once again by Mr Tideman and his limo. Now he is invited in to ride with Tideman and his wife, who turn out to be Commander Owens and Laurel. So did nature heal the paradox or did the paradox lead to the storm??

Overall The Final Countdown is a great movie, it’s got ships, planes, and some action, mixed in with some science fiction and a few good actors. I recommend it for a stormy Saturday or as a late lazy nights fare.

If you liked any of these movies you will like this movie.

     The Philadelphia Experiment (1984)

     The Triangle (2005)

     Hot Tub Time Machine (2010)


If you want to add this movie to your collection as well
     here are some places you can find it. DVD

Willys Vaults Ratings
"Bug Eyed Monster"
0 out of 10

     This wasn't a Bug Hunt, that being said, I will give them extra credit in the other areas.

I See The Wires"
20 out of 10

    They get credit for the Nimitz and the F14's overall.

"Man In Rubber Suit"
0 out of 10

     Another catagory we can't grade on.

"Oozing Mess"
0 out of 10

     Damn, another catagory we can't grade on.

"Cheesy Acting"
20 out of 10

     Im going to load them up here as we get a great gamut of acting overall.

Total Summary
40 out of 50

     Overall The Final Countdown gets a 40. It’s a great flick and its entertaining.
     I love the whole concept. And the Nature vs Man piece was great!

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