Summer 1980 is characterized by several blockbuster imagi-movies: "Empire Strikes Back", "The Shining" and "Friday the 13th". There was another in the mix: a hit during August of that year, which has increased in popularity over the decades: United Artists' time-travel epic, "The Final Countdown".
The story focuses on the USS Nimitz, sent on a vague observation mission by a recluse named Mr. Tideman. In the process (and without seeming cause), the mighty vessel encounters a whirlwind-like portal which transports it to December 6, 1941 Pearl Harbor, a day prior to the Japanese air attack.
Before long, the crew, lead by Captain Mathew Yelland (Kirk Douglas), discerns the leap in time. A liaison to Tideman, Warren Lackey (Martin Sheen), offers theories as to how the teleportation may have occurred, layering not only a sense of wonder upon the predicament, but also trepidation.
To assess the situation, Yelland dispatches his air crew to scope the turf, which gets characters from both sides of the time spectrum involved: Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning); his secretary, Laurel Scott (Katherine Ross); Commander Richard Owens (James Farentino); Commander Dan Thurman (Ron O' Neal) and captured Japanese Zero pilot, Simura (Soon Tek Oh). The latter's presence helps build tension, though exists basically to pad the plot.
Discussion whether to engage the Japanese is paramount, making "Final Countdown" reminiscent of Rod Serling's "The 7th is Made Up of Phantoms". Is it ethical to interfere and risk altering a known history or is the Nimitz obligated to combat the enemy, regardless of its relegation?
Produced by Peter Douglas (Kirk's son) and directed by Don Taylor (who previously steered the time-travel epic, "Escape from the Planet of the Apes"), "Final Countdown" is polished and well paced. Though some have argued the film doesn't fully realize the possibilities of its premise, it still presents an interesting twist in the end. Credit, in this regard, goes to screenwriters David Ambrose, Gerry Davis, Thomas Hunter and Peter Howell for making the tale edgy and taut, while never taking it over the top.
For aeronautic buffs, "Final Countdown" has garnered a following for its realistic sequences. Similarly, the Nimitz acts as one of the film's primary characters (much as does the USS Enterprise in any "Star Trek" adventure). Additionally, John Scott's score ignites a sweeping sense of duty during its militaristic moments and during the interludes, grows memorably haunting.
"Final Countdown" could have sailed in any number of directions with varying success. It may not satisfy all viewers (particularly those who wish to explore the concept's unrealized paths), but for those intrigued by time-travel, this all-star outing will likely stay enthralling from its adventurous opening through its chilling, final cap.