Release Date(s)1980 (May 25, 2021)
Studio(s)Bryna Productions/United Artists (Blue Underground)
- Film/Program Grade: B+
- Video Grade: A-
- Audio Grade: A-
- Extras Grade: A
The Final Countdown is a 1980 B-movie classic. The story is pretty straight-forward military drama, but with a clever sci-fi twist. The basic premise is this: What if a modern U.S. Navy aircraft carrier were suddenly to find itself sent back in time to the eve of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December of 1941? Now imagine you’re the Captain of that ship. Do you honor your duty and launch your fighters to wipe out the Japanese attack force and surface fleet, thus changing the course of history? Or do you let events play out as history says they must? And is it even possible to change history?
Matt Yelland (Kirk Douglas) is the captain of said carrier, the nuclear-powered U.S.S. Nimitz. After waiting two days to take on civilian consultant Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen), the Nimitz departs from its home port of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on a routine cruise. We soon learn that Lasky has been sent by the mysterious Mr. Tideman, the head of a major defense contractor, to observe the ship’s operations and report on its efficiency. This doesn’t sit well with Yelland and his crew, especially the commander of the ship’s air group, Richard Owens (James Farentino). Things grow more tense when the ship passes through a strange electrical storm at sea. All of a sudden, contact with Pearl and their escort ships is lost, and there’s nothing but vintage broadcasts coming in over AM radio. Yelland and Owens suspect that it’s all an exercise being staged for Lasky’s benefit. But when their reconnaissance planes take pictures of WWII-era battleships moored back at Pearl Harbor—pictures that match those taken on December 6th, 1941—they have to start facing the very real prospect that the storm was actually a time warp, and that the Nimitz is the only thing standing in the way of an all-out Japanese attack.
Three things make The Final Countdown an effective film. First of all, the sci-fi hook is simple, yet clever. Other than the actual scenes in which the ship passes through the time warp, there’s virtually none of the usual trappings of sci-fi here. That means The Final Countdown is mostly straightforward action/drama, as the characters react to the situation they’re in. The second thing that works here, is that this film was shot entirely on location on the real Nimitz, and in and around the actual vintage and modern aircraft depicted in the film, with the cooperation of the U.S. Navy. The ship’s operations you’ll see onscreen are accurate—more so even than those featured years later in Top Gun—because they’re the real thing. There’s a scene here in which a flight of F-14s plays tag with a pair of Japanese Zeros, and you’re watching real F-14s and Zeros in the frame (almost no special effects were involved). All of this gives The Final Countdown an immediacy and authenticity that most sci-fi films lack, particularly those of the B-grade variety. Finally, this is a first-rate cast of actors, each of whom is excellent in their respective rolls. In addition to the players listed above, you’ll also find Charles Durning, Katharine Ross, and Ron O’Neil here, as a U.S. Senator, his assistant, and the ship’s executive officer. Producer (and Troma legend) Lloyd Kaufman even makes a cameo. This flick is just damn good fun from start to finish.
As longtime Bits readers will recall, we crusaded for many years here at the site to see this film properly released on disc. Blue Underground finally obliged in 2004, rescuing the film from rights limbo and delivering an excellent 2-Disc Limited Edition DVD, followed by an equally fine Blu-ray four years later (see our review of that release here). Now, the company has gone a step further by delivering a new 3-disc 4K Ultra HD Limited Edition.
The Final Countdown was shot on 35 mm photochemical film using Panavision cameras and anamorphic lenses and was finished on film at the 2.39:1 theatrical aspect ratio. For its release on Ultra HD, the original camera negative has been newly-scanned in 16-bit 4K and digitally remastered, complete with a new high dynamic range color grade (both Dolby Vision and HDR10 options are included). Aside from optically-printed FX and title sequences (which are a generation down from the neg), as well as a few bits of stock footage, and monochrome Pearl Harbor attack clips lifted from Fox’s Tora! Tora! Tora!, the live action photography here exhibits a notable uptick in fine detail in native 4K (though a few shots photographed aboard the Nimitz do exhibit the usual anamorphic softness around the edges of the frame). And while the film’s warship setting offers generally subdued color, the palette is also richer looking and more nuanced in HDR (the grade is restrained, with Dolby Vision having the very slight edge over HDR10). The Zero attack on the private yacht Gatsby certainly reveals this, as does the brightly painted livery on the modern U.S. Navy aircraft. Grain is medium-light to medium and tends to be a little heavier in second unit/aerial footage, but it’s always organic and is seldom distracting. Contrast is generally improved too, as the negative will allow, with deep blacks (that are only occasionally crushed looking) and much bolder brights (again, just occasionally a tad hot). While this isn’t a reference-grade image 4K image, you’ve absolutely never seen this film looking better.
Primary audio on the 4K disc is available in a new object-based English Dolby Atmos mix. The soundstage is a little smoother, larger, and more naturally staged than before, with immersive use of the overheads in key sequences (the time warp, the overflights of the Gatsby, the F-14/Zero dogfight, etc). Don’t expect this to sound like a modern surround mix; the staging is more front-biased that you’ll find on newer films. As was the case with the previous Blu-ray mixes, the fidelity does tend to reveal its limitations occasionally. But while this film has never been sonic demo material, the improvement here is appreciated. Bass is good, music and dialogue are largely clear and clean, and there’s nice surround play on carrier deck as aircraft take off and land, during aerial footage, and the like. Additional audio options include the previous English 5.1 and 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio mixes, as well as French 2.0 DTS-HD MA. Subtitle options include English SDH, French, and Spanish.
Blue Underground’s 4K disc includes the following special features:
- Audio Commentary with Victor J. Kemper and David Gregory
- Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood (upsampled SD – 14:04)
- Starring The Jolly Rogers (upsampled SD – 31:18)
- Teaser Trailer (4K HDR – 1:52)
- Theatrical Trailer #1 (4K HDR – 2:52)
- Theatrical Trailer #2 (4K HDR – 3:15)
- TV Spot #1 (4K HDR – :34)
- TV Spot #2 (4K HDR – :34)
- TV Spot #3 (4K HDR – :33)
- Poster Gallery (HD – 15:00)
- Advertising Materials Gallery (HD – 5:00)
- Japanese Souvenir Program Gallery (HD – 15:30)
- Lobby Cards Gallery (HD – 30:01)
- Stills Gallery (HD – 7:30)
- Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (HD – 39:02)
- Video Gallery (HD – 20:01)
- Miscellaneous Gallery (HD – 10:00)
The commentary featuring cinematographer Victor Kemper (being interviewed by Blue Underground’s David Gregory) is a little subdued, but it’s a good listen, offering lots of interesting behind-the-scenes anecdotes on the production and carrier operations in general. The two featurettes were produced for Blue Underground’s original DVD and have been upsampled to HD for this release. Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood has Uncle Lloyd looking back at the film’s origins and production, while Starring the Jolly Rogers offers retrospective interviews with the original VF-84 “Jolly Rogers” pilots who worked on the film. A few of the galleries were included on the original DVD, but were omitted from the previous Blu-ray. We’re pleased to see that all of them (and even some new ones) are back for this 4K release in full HD. A very nice surprise is that the trailers and TV spots are actually included in native 4K with HDR, and there’s an additional TV spot that wasn’t included before on Blu-ray.
The package also adds the film in 1080p HD on Blu-ray Disc, but this is not the same disc the company released back in 2008—it’s been completely redone using the new 4K scan and remaster. It includes the same audio options as the 4K disc (yes, that means Atmos) and all of the same disc-based special features too. What’s more, the original Blu-ray’s D-Box motion control code has carried over for those of you who still have D-Box compatible seating. But we’re still not done. This package also includes composer John Scott’s Complete Score on CD as released by Screen Archives Entertainment (all 23 tracks of it). What’s more, the original Zero Pilot Journal essay—which was a text-based feature on the DVD release—has been reproduced here as a physical booklet. The terrific lenticular hologram cover from the DVD release is back too, included on a new cardboard slipcover. And of course, you get reversible cover artwork in the packaging too. Tally it all up and this is a major home run for fans of the film.
As one of those longtime fans, I can honestly say that I never expected to see The Final Countdown released in 4K. So the fact that it’s here on Ultra HD is a minor miracle, made all the sweeter by the disc’s fine A/V quality and by the fact that it’s so comprehensive you can safely retire any previous version you may own. It’s abundantly clear that the team at Blue Underground loves this film as much as we do here at The Bits, and we salute them for it. Not even Mr. Einstein could do better! Highly recommended for fans.
- Bill Hunt