Making a military movie without official cooperation can be difficult. If the story doesn't require major air or naval assets, a script disapproved of by the top brass can be convincingly brought to the screen. Two examples - both true stories that the Pentagon didn't want to support - are "Men of Honor" reflecting the epidemic racism of the not-that-long-ago Navy and "Sgt. Bilko," a film portraying what some noncoms do to earn extra income (trust me, it's a true story: a real Sgt. Bilko worked (officially but not actually) for me when I was an Army officer.
But when you need lots of planes and ships, you gotta have official help. And few movies have gotten more assistance than the producer, director and cast of "The Final Countdown," now available on DVD,a sci-fi recruiting spectacular that features - on loan at taxpayer expense - the huge carrier U.S.S. Nimitz complete with crew. Now that's cooperation!
Kirk Douglas skippers the supercarrier which is on Pacific Fleet maneuvers. On board as some sort of efficiency consultant is a young Martin Sheen, not yet ready for the West Wing. A mysterious and never explained weather phenomenon grips the mighty floating air base and to the unfolding amazement of captain, officers and crew dawns the realization that the Nimitz in sailing not that far from Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941.
Meanwhile a U.S. senator, played by one of Hollywood's deservedly decorated war heroes, Charles Durning, is enjoying his yacht, also near Pearl, while dictating to his lovely secretary, Katharine Ross. A brace of Japanese Zeroes sink the yacht, killing two passengers which then prompts the carrier C.O. to order trailing F-14 Tomcats to "splash" the "enemy." Durning and Ross are rescued. Without a word, this talented actor's face does a comical double-take when introduced to the ship's executive officer who just happens to be black (in 1941 a black navy man could only serve as a steward in the officers mess. That was it. Period.)
The dilemma facing Douglas, of course, is a classic time-travel conundrum. To interfere with the course of history (the carrier's air wing can make instant teriyaki of the six Japanese carriers) or to let events take their known and disastrous course.
A chaste incipient romance between the nearly drowned damsel and the carrier's Commander Air Group competes with the white knuckle decision-making struggle of the C.O.
So much for the plot. What is on offer here is a demonstration of every aircraft type, fixed-wing and rotary, deployed on the vessel as well as demonstrations of shipboard activities ranging from retrieving a damaged jet to going to General Quarters to...you name it. The technical advisers knew they had a film crew pliant to every suggestion. The result is a genuinely exciting show- a great warship going through its paces. And, unlike "Tora Tora Tora" it doesn't appear that any genuine sailors were harmed in the making of the movie.
There's one big problem. A science fiction story is usually utterly improbable, indeed impossible, but its internal logic is vital: it must be consistent. Spielberg understands that very well. Watch the first couple of minutes when Sheen is greeted by his employer's lackey and the last minutes when he debarks from the Nimitz. Something is very, very off-kilter. Could the CEO of a great military-industrial conglomerate have used top secret technology to send the carrier back to 1941 for...
So what. This is a beautifully filmed adventure story, not a great film. The cast probably relished taking over the carrier for a while and the real captain, never shown, surely wished that the Navy hadn't banned hard spirits from our ships in World War I. But all emerge unscathed in a genuinely entertaining romp through time.
The Final Countdown
Action / Sci-Fi
The Final Countdown
Action / Sci-Fi
In 1980, the assistant of the Department of Defense Warren Lasky is assigned by his mysterious chief Richard Tideman to visit the aircraft carrier USS Nimtz commanded by Capt. Matthew Yelland as an observer of the routines. Lasky finds that Wing Commander Richard T. Owens has a great knowledge of history. Out of the blue, the vessel faces a weird storm and they find that they have traveled back in time to the eve of the attack of Pearl Harbor on 06 December 1941. When the two Japanese Zeros attack the motorboat of Senator Samuel Chapman, the crew of the Nimitz rescues the senator and his assistant Laurel Scott. But sooner Lasky learns that the senator had disappeared on that day and Capt. Matthew Yelland is planning to attack the Japanese. Will these actions create a time paradox?
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