The Final Countdown (1980)

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Released 10-Aug-2001

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Science Fiction Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated PG
Year Of Production 1980
Running Time 97:55 (Case: 99)
RSDL / Flipper No/No Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Don Taylor
Studio
Distributor
Richard R. St. Johns
Beyond Home Entertainment
Starring Kirk Douglas
Martin Sheen
Katharine Ross
James Farentino
Ron O'Neil
Charles Durning
Case Amaray-Transparent
RPI $32.95 Music John Scott


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
16x9 Enhancement
Not 16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 2.35:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles None Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits Yes, montage of flight crew during credits

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    Lest anyone get this title confused with a certain annoying 1980s piece of pop rubbish by the same name, The Final Countdown, at least where this review is concerned, is a 1980s production that poses a very unlikely scenario. Now, by the standards that were commonly accepted in 1980, the USS Nimitz was a very big and powerful aircraft carrier, with a complement of what was then ultra-modern fighter aircraft. So the makers of this film thought to themselves that it would be a cool idea if we transported all that ultra-modern technology and firepower back to the time just before the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and see what happened. It would have been nice if we had a little more science and less fiction, however, given that the F-14 Tomcat's Vulcan cannon fires a hundred rounds per second, which is more than enough to literally disintegrate the notoriously fragile Japanese Zero.

    The film begins with Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) being brought on board the USS Nimitz, which is captained by one Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). His job is to observe the procedures of the crew aboard the vessel and report back to the powers that be about how their efficiency could be improved, a task that he sets about in earnest. Unfortunately, strange weather patterns are brewing in the area, and as quick as you can say "what's that silly-looking special effect on the horizon?", the USS Nimitz is swallowed up by the strange weather patterns and spat out again on December 7, in the year 1941, mere hours before the Japanese raid over Pearl Harbor. While the Nimitz and its crew are trying to figure out exactly what happened, a small yacht containing Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning) and some of his staff is sailing out in the middle of the ocean, unaware of the danger that is heading towards them.

    As luck would have it, two of the Nimitz's F-14s are in the area as two Zeros shoot the yacht apart, and the match that ensues between these fighter aircraft is very uneven to say the least. The idea of two planes from the 1940s against two planes that were designed in the 1970s gives a whole new meaning to the latter aircraft's designation as an air superiority fighter. In any event, the crew of the Nimitz are understandably sceptical about the idea that they have somehow been sucked into a time warp back to the 1940s until Senator Chapman introduces himself to them. From then on in, the dilemma of what to do about the Nimitz's plight of being in a time nearly forty years before its construction, and how its appearance in the conflict will affect the outcome of World War II, takes hold of the proceedings to give us a rather interesting what-if. Once you overlook the massive plot holes, the film is an enjoyable enough way to waste ninety-eight minutes.

    Given that The Final Countdown runs for half the length of a certain piece of Hollywood twaddle based around the same events that is currently doing the rounds, but is twice as entertaining from what I have seen so far, I don't have any hesitation in recommending one at least indulges themselves in the plot. Sadly, I cannot recommend this DVD presentation as anything more than an overnight loan or, if you're desperate enough, a rental, for reasons I'll get into right now.

Don't wish to see plot synopses in the future? Change your configuration.

Transfer Quality

Video

    This transfer is presented in an aspect ratio of 2.35:1, and it is not 16x9 Enhanced. If you've already read Michael D's article about 16x9 Enhancement and why it is so important to DVD, you'll recall that one reason for insisting on such transfers is the fact that they have to have been created using equipment that was built since the advent of DVD. This transfer strongly suggests having been converted from inferior source material.

    The sharpness of this transfer is quite variable, with shots in the same sequences often varying from indistinct and hazy to razor-sharp, all within mere seconds of one another. This variance in sharpness cannot be explained away by special effects techniques, either, as the aerial photography in this film was captured using real planes and telescopic lenses. The shadow detail of this transfer is below average, with the blacks in the picture being indistinct and rather shallow, although this is more likely a source material issue, considering the age of the film. There is no low-level noise.

    There are occasions when the colours in the transfer vary from shot to shot, too. During the scene when two F-14s pass over a politician's powerboat, the colour of the sea said boat is in changes from a greeny blue at 31:05 to a very light blue at 31:09 to being completely green at 31:23, and finally back to a light blue at 31:31. I hope this is simply a lack of attention being paid during the filming process, because it is a most disconcerting effect. Thankfully, there is no smearing or bleeding to add to the fun.

    MPEG artefacts were not an overly obvious problem in the transfer, although it appears that some grainy sequences such as at 14:12 are accented in part by the compression. So where do I begin when describing the film-to-video artefacts in this transfer? Any home video enthusiast who has been reading this site for long enough will know that a 4:3 transfer, coupled with lots of hard lines such as those you'll find on an aircraft carrier, equals a lot of aliasing. This transfer contains enough aliasing to drive even the most tolerant of home theatre enthusiasts completely batty, with an average of roughly one serious instance of aliasing per minute. Enough of this film contains shots of desks, electronic displays, and aircraft, to produce aliasing in quantities that will make your eyes water, and pausing reveals severely jagged edges on objects that looks suspiciously like edge enhancement. Just to add to the fun, some telecine wobble was noted at 22:16, although the infrequency of this problem made it forgivable. Film artefacts consisted of the usual assorted black and white marks, as well as the odd hair that got caught in the telecine machine, but these were within acceptable limits for a film of this vintage.



Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    Considering the age of the film, what we have on this disc can be considered reasonable, but nothing exciting. One can't help but wonder what would have been possible with a Dolby Digital 5.1, 4.1, or even 2.1 with surround-encoding, soundtrack.

    There is only the one soundtrack on this DVD: the original English dialogue, rendered in Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo with a bitrate of 224 kilobits per second. It is interesting to note that the German R2 version of this disc contains two soundtracks, both of which are ostensibly in German, encoded as Dolby Digital 2.0 surround and Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtracks. Having no other option, I listened to the English dialogue.

    The dialogue is clear and easy to understand at almost all times, although the moments when people speak and there are helicopters or fighter planes in the area suffered a slight, understandable loss in clarity. Aside from a few muttered words, however, following this film shouldn't pose any significant problem.

    The score music in this film is credited to one John Scott, and some music from the 1940s makes an appearance to further the story, but neither component of the film's music left much of an impression upon me. This is very much a dialogue-driven film, and the music's presence in the mix is recessed enough that it would not make a great impression even if it were as overstated as the music in certain other films set in this time.

    The surround channels are not used by this soundtrack, which is a real pity considering some of the opportunities that exist in this soundtrack for a good sound effect to pan overhead. The stereo separation of this soundtrack is nothing to write home about, either, with the same sound effects seeming to come out of both channels at the same time. One aspect of the soundtrack I found odd is that the actual sound effects seem to have been mastered at a noticeably lower level than the dialogue, with the Vulcan cannons on the F-14s, or the old things that they have on the Zeros, sounding more like a series of popcorn crackles than machine gun fire. As a result, the subwoofer had very little to do with this soundtrack, in spite of my amplifier being set up to get it in on the action whenever the sound is loud and heavy enough to warrant it. You won't be using this disc to demonstrate the capabilities of your sound setup, that's for certain.



Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Menu

    The menu is static, not 16x9 Enhanced, but very easy to navigate.

Theatrical Trailer

    Presented in the aspect ratio of 1.33:1 with Dolby Digital 2.0 sound, this two minute and forty-nine second trailer gives a basic summation of the plot without giving away too much. The video and audio quality are passable, but they both strongly suggest having been sourced from videotape.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    This disc does not appear to be available in Region 1 at the time of this writing. It is available in Region 2 from a German distributor called Laser Paradies, under the name Der Letzte Countdown, however. From what I have been able to find out, the German version is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.85:1, which is not the correct ratio from what I understand. Given that the local version of the disc is in the proper aspect ratio, with the original language (the German R2 appears to only have German soundtracks), it appears to be the best version available at this time.

    Apparently, a special edition is planned for release in Region 1, but the exact specifications have so far eluded me. I don't think the transfer on this upcoming disc could really be that much worse, and if it does get treatment worthy of a special edition, then it will easily be the disc of choice.

Summary

    The Final Countdown is very much a guilty pleasure, much like that chocolate bar you know you enjoy, but contains nothing substantial. Still, any film that uses the Deus Ex Machina plot device better than The Matrix is alright with me. It certainly will entertain you a lot more than Pearl Harbor.

    The video transfer is very ordinary.

    The audio transfer is a good, but unbalanced, stereo mix.

    The extra is a theatrical trailer.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Dean McIntosh (Don't talk about my bio. We don't wanna know.)
Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Review Equipment
DVDToshiba 2109, using S-Video output
DisplaySamsung CS-823AMF (80cm). Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum. This display device is 16x9 capable. This display device has a maximum native resolution of 576i (PAL).
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Ultimate DVD Platinum.
AmplificationSony STR DE-835
SpeakersYamaha NS-45 Front Speakers, Yamaha NS-90 Rear Speakers, Yamaha NSC-120 Centre Speaker, JBL Digital 10 Active Subwoofer

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