Final Countdown, The (US - BD)
Gabe can't get the Europe song out of his head. Ba na na naa, Ba na na na na
An inexplicable and swirly phenomenon transports a 1980 era nuclear warship back in time. Soon the crew realizes that they’re on the cusp of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and they must decide between allowing the bloody attack to take place and preventing it, which could forever change the course of history.
The film geek world broke out the good champagne to celebrate Blue Underground’s announcement that they’d be going ‘Blu’ by the end of the year. Bill Lustig’s grindhouse friendly studio became the industry standard for image and sound quality in low-budget and forgotten releases almost immediately when they burst onto the scene in the early 2000s. Final Countdown makes sense as the studio’s first hi-def release, based on the original film’s sizable budget and production values, but the film’s place in the studio’s catalog is a little strange.
Final Countdown was a (lowish budget) studio release in its day, featuring large scale production values, and major stars. Apparently the film was such a massive flop that studios were afraid to touch Top Gun five and six years later (according to Jerry Bruckheimer on the making-of Top Gun), and it was this floppiness that led to the film being forgotten for decades. Before Blue Underground remastered the film for their original DVD release most cult movie fanatics hadn’t even heard of the film. Really the only thing connecting Final Countdown to the usual exploitation ‘trash’ that Blue Underground specializes in is the presence of Troma founder Lloyd Kaufman as a producer, and in a small acting role (he’s the worried guy with the beard mugging it for everything he’s worth).
Final Countdown is a very subdued, slow burner of a film. Thanks to Blue Underground’s reputation I kept waiting for something seedy to happen, but the PG rating isn’t some kind of mistake. Once I finally got over my idiotically forced misconception I was able to enjoy the film for what it was. Tonally and stylistically Final Countdown is dated, obviously a child of the pre-MTV era of military movies. The story is told through relatively still images, and the plot unravels in a much steadier manner than most of us are used to these days. The filmmaking style reminds me most of the ‘adult’ features the Disney studio put out in the ‘70s, with a touch of early ‘70s disaster cinema, which may explain the film’s box office failure. Perhaps Final Countdown was a victim of changing times.
Ultimately my personal opinion on the film is just that, a personal opinion. There isn’t a lot of simply, fact based criticism I can lob against it. I can’t accuse Don Taylor of over-directing or losing control, I can’t complain about any of the performances, nor can I argue that the script is full of holes or unneeded subplots. I suppose that the dated pacing may’ve hurt my enjoyment a bit, but the fact of the matter is that I just wasn’t into the story. At it’s most basic Final Countdown is an elongated episode of The Twilight Zone, where some army guys go back in time and are given a chance to stop the Pearl Harbor attack. The story is presented in a very classy manner, and the characterizations, though perhaps a little broad, are generally realistic and relatable. Perhaps 102 minutes is just 62 minutes too many to devote to the subject. The lackluster finale doesn’t really help, but I’m not sure where else this story could’ve gone.
Admittedly I never saw Blue Underground’s original DVD release of Final Countdown, so I can’t tell if this 1080p transfer has been revamped, but it’s safe to assume even the nicest DVD could be this clean and artefact free (my best comparison are the 480i special features, which look generally the same with less detail). The 2.35:1 transfer is comparable to other Blu-ray releases born of the same era. The details aren’t as finely tuned as many new releases, but the image quality has closed the gap between 35mm theatrical and home video presentations. Colours are clean and realistic (save a couple of reddish skin tones), edges are sharp (except where the original cinematographer or photo lab made an error), and there’s almost zero sign of any digital compression. If we look really closely at some of the film’s richer reds (the pads on most of the ship’s chairs), some of the less impressive (or more dates) optical effects, and some of the model shots we can see some inconsistent grain, dirt, and a little bit of low level noise. This transfer won’t impress viewers used to the detailed look of modern releases, but fans won’t find a better presentation in this lifetime.
Readers may notice a lack of screen caps. That's actually why it's taken me so long to release the review live. If anybody out there can supply some I'd be much obliged.
Remixing Final Countdown into 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is a bit of overkill, but there are a few bits of genuinely impressive surround work on this disc. The vast majority of the film is light on sound effects, and heavy on dialogue. These sections are clean, clear, and mostly centered, but are a little flat. Strictly speaking the majority of the track sounds like a stereo surround track with a really well centered dialogue track, but the rear channels are let in on the action enough times for it to sound natural. Most of the surround effects belong to the jets and airplanes, which zip through the channels with relatively impressive discreetness. The most impressive audio bits come with the time tunnel scenes, which are pretty intense examples of white noise. The LFE track doesn’t get much play, but has a few prosperous moments during dog fights and explosions. John Scott’s horn and snare heavy score is clean, but doesn’t feature a lot of breadth. For their part, the disc’s producers manage to separate some of the score’s elements into the rear channels, but the lack of dynamic range does not go unnoticed.
The extras start with an audio commentary featuring director of photography Victor J. Kemper and a moderator. The track is pretty dry, mostly surviving off Kemper’s solid grasp of the technical aspects. There really aren’t any juicy details about the film’s rough production or forgotten release, mostly recollections of being aboard the really big boat.
Next up is a 14 minute interview featurette with Lloyd Kaufman, who talks about his one time Hollywood associate producer credit. Kaufman doesn’t have a lot of positive memories about the experience, and has nothing nice to say about director Don Taylor or his crew (apparently they were ‘shitheads’). If Mr. Troma is to be believed, Kurt Douglas’ influence was the only good thing about the production, and his presence was felt beyond simply acting.
‘Starring the Jolly Rogers’ is half an hour of interviews with the Jolly Roger Squadron, who were the feature fliers of the film. This featurette features plenty of footage behind the scenes of a late ‘70s aircraft carrier (likely not the one in the film), and happy interviews with a series of aging flyboys briefly reliving their salad days, all cut to music and footage from the film. I’m not personally all that interested in the ins and outs of the different aircraft and technical aspects of living on a carrier, but the featurette’s pacing is quick enough, and the stories told with enough vigor to make the time fly. Sadly, my favourite bit of info was a negative story about Kathrine Ross acting snobby towards the fellahs. Everything is finished out with a series of trailers and TV spots.
I’m not a very big fan of Final Countdown, but I respect the film enough, and recommend it to fans of the more patient filmmaking that predated the MTV generation. As a teaser for Blue Underground’s Blu-ray capabilities the disc does its job. The audio and video presentations aren’t entirely comparable to newer release Blu-ray discs, but are more than even to most major studio catalogue releases (save those abnormally perfect James Bond releases).
* Note: The images on this page are not representative of the Blu-ray release.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may not be suitable for children
Release Date: 4th November 2008
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master 7.1 English, Dolby TruHD 7.1 English, Dolby Digital EX 5.1 English
Subtitles: English HoH, French, and Spanish
Extras: Cinematographer Commentary, 'Lloyde Kaufman Goes to Holywood', 'Staring the Jolly Rogers', Trailers and TV Spots
Easter Egg: No
Director: Don Taylor
Cast: Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katharine Ross, Ron O'Neal
Length: 106 minutes
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