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Pulp Culture
movie classic
comes to DVD

April 1, 2004
By Franklin Harris

When Blue Underground began releasing its impressive slate of cult-favorite films on DVD back in late 2002, I fired off an e-mail requesting that the company get the rights to the 1980 time-travel movie "The Final Countdown." Now I'm not claiming credit or anything. I can't be the only one who pestered Blue Underground for a "Final Countdown" DVD. But less than two years later, here it is. Talk about getting results.

As Comic Book Guy on "The Simpsons" might say, "Best. Time-travel. Movie. Ever."

"The Final Countdown" stars Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katherine Ross, Ron O'Neal and Charles Durning and co-stars the crew of the USS Nimitz, aboard which most of the film was shot.

While conducting routine maneuvers in the South Pacific, the Nimitz encounters a freak electrical storm, which turns out to be, in "Star Trek" terminology, a temporal anomaly. Moments later, or decades earlier, depending on your point of view, the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier arrives in 1941, just hours before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

At first the Nimitz's captain (Douglas) and crew believe they are either part of some elaborate war game or the subjects of Soviet psychological warfare. But evidence soon mounts proving that they have somehow traveled through time. It's hard to argue with reconnaissance photos of the USS Arizona, USS Tennessee and the rest of the American Pacific fleet docked at Pearl just as they were the day before the attack. And it's even harder to argue with the approaching Japanese strike force.

But what to do? The Nimitz has enough firepower to stop the Japanese on its own and is filled with technology that can push the United States ahead 40 years. But can history be changed? And if it can, should it be?

Sci-fi movies usually go in one of two directions when they approach time travel. The first is to say that history can be changed, even if doing so results in paradoxes or alternate timelines. This is the "Back to the Future" approach, as explained by Dr. Brown in "Back to the Future Part 2." The second is that history is fixed. You can try to change it, but in the end you'll find that everything plays out as it always has, and your intervention only helps to make it so.

"The Final Countdown" plays with both theories. Warren Lasky (Sheen), a civilian efficiency expert, can't stop theorizing about ways to change, and improve, the future, even though he is aware of the paradoxes that could arise. But Cmdr. Owens (Farentino), leader of the Nimitz F-14 fighter squadron and amateur historian, is convinced that history doesn't allow for second chances.

Blue Underground has released "The Final Countdown" in three versions. The first is the two-disc limited edition priced at $29.95. The second is the single-disc, widescreen edition ($19.95), which is the same as the limited edition but without the second disc of bonus features. And the third is the "full-screen" edition ($19.95), for those who prefer movies with the sides cropped out. All three versions include trailers, TV spots and an audio commentary by director of photography Victor J. Kemper, who discusses the difficulties of filming aboard a working U.S. naval vessel. The limited edition's second disc adds an interview with associate producer Lloyd Kaufman, interviews with real-life F-14 pilots, poster and stills galleries and a biography of Douglas.

As usual, Blue Underground has done a marvelous job of restoring a film most people have seen only on late-night television. The print is virtually pristine, and the sound, as heard through my Dolby 2.0 speakers, is excellent, especially during the dogfight scenes. The film also is mastered to THX specifications, so it will look and sound even better on a home theater setup, if you're lucky enough to have one of those.

For now, I'm happy just to have the movie.

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