The Final Countdown

The Final Countdown. The Bryna Company 1980.
The Final Countdown. The Bryna Company 1980.

Before watching the movie:

So this is about a modern aircraft carrier dropped in the Pacific before Pearl Harbor. It appeals to me because I’m interested to see how modern military mixes with time travel, how they handle the realization, and how they get home. I don’t think I’ve seen accidental time travel done with large groups that didn’t use space-warping transportation daily and have practical “should you find yourself in the wrong time” procedures.

After watching the movie:

As the Naval aircraft carrier Nimitz puts out for routine maneuvers in the Pacific, the crew is joined by civilian efficiency consultant Warren Lasky. Shortly after departing, a bizarre storm rolls in, leading Captain Yelland to order all planes back to the ship. A horizontal cyclone envelops them, and then suddenly dissipates. Cut off from all known transmissions, unable to find the ships that were nearby moments ago, Yelland launches reconnaissance planes, which find a very different Pearl Harbor and Japanese Zeroes. It slowly becomes apparent that they have been transported to the day before the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Having saved Senator Samuel Chapman from the Zero attack on his yacht that ostensibly killed him according to history, the officers of the Nimitz wonder if they can or should intervene and take their modern weaponry into World War II.

If this plot is science fiction, then so is A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. A magic storm that sends the heroes elsewhen for no apparent reason is as scientific as time travel by being bonked on the head. It asks more sci-fi questions about the possibility of changing the past, but ultimately it’s  a lot of handwringing should we/will we and not a lot of actual exploration of those questions. When changing the past is on the table, I expect to either see how those changes play out or how the actions were always part of events. On a smaller scale, this does the latter, but on the main idea, “modern carrier in WWII”, this is a complete disappointment from a sci-fi perspective.

Viewed as a Navy action/adventure movie with a splash of sci-fi/fantasy for flavor, this is a somewhat entertaining movie. The level of detail in the hardware used is impressive, even by today’s spoiled standards. In the synopsis “modern aircraft carrier sent back to World War II”, the emphasis is on the carrier, not the “sent”, or the WWII. That said, there are two Mitsubishi Zeroes used in the film that I found interesting to see in motion. I don’t know if they were real Zeroes or some other vintage plane painted with Japanese markings, but it was strange to see them in color and in flight.

I can’t say a whole lot about the characters and actors, because this wasn’t a character-driven story. Pretty much any of the characters could have been interchangeable. Kirk Douglas and Michael Sheen are there, doing things. I know I’ve seen their work before, but I don’t know them well enough to appraise them here. Michael Sheen’s role had a Peter Falk feel to it at times, though. Maybe because at the time he looked a little like a young Peter Falk. Charles Durning is also familiar, but I couldn’t even name anything else he’s been in.


Watch this movie: for the cool close-up look at aircraft carrier operations.

Don’t watch this movie: if you already have a more than basic familiarity with time travel stories.

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