The Final Countdown is a 1980 American alternate-history science-fiction war film about a modern nuclear-powered-aircraft carrier that travels through time to the day before the 07 December 1941, attack on Pearl Harbour.
Produced by Peter Vincent Douglas and Lloyd Kaufman (founder of Troma Entertainment) and directed by Don Taylor, the film contains an ensemble cast starring Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Katharine Ross and Charles Durning.
Also known as U.S.S. Nimitz: Lost in the Pacific (Europe (English title) (DVD box title)).
In 1980, the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz is departing Naval Station Pearl Harbour for naval exercises in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The ship takes on a civilian observer – Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) a Systems Analyst for Tideman Industries working as an efficiency expert for the US Defence Department – on the orders of his reclusive employer, Mr. Tideman, whose secretive major defence contractor company designed and built the nuclear-powered warship.
Once at sea, the Nimitz encounters a mysterious electrically-charged storm-like vortex. While the ship passes through it, radar and other equipment become unresponsive and everyone aboard falls into agony. Initially unsure of what has happened to them, and having lost radio contact with US Pacific Fleet Command at Pearl Harbour, Captain Yelland (Kirk Douglas), commander of the aircraft carrier, fears that there may have been a nuclear strike on Hawaii or the continental United States. He orders general quarters and launches an RF-8 Crusader reconnaissance aircraft. The aircraft returns after photographing Hawaii but the images appear to date from 1941, showing an intact row of U.S. Pacific fleet battleships moored on “Battleship Row” at Pearl Harbour, a sight which has not existed for four decades.
When a surface contact is spotted on the radar, Yelland launches the ready alert, with two Grumman F-14 Tomcat fighter jets from VF-84, to intercept. The patrol witnesses a civilian wooden yacht, Gatsby, being strafed and destroyed by two Imperial Japanese Navy Mitsubishi A6M “Zero” fighters, killing three of the crew members. The F-14s are ordered to drive off the Zeros without firing, but when the Zeros inadvertently head towards the Nimitz, Yelland gives clearance to shoot them down. The Nimitz rescues survivors from the yacht: prominent US Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning), his aide Laurel Scott (Katherine Ross), her dog Charlie, and one of the two downed Zero pilots (Soon-Tek Oh). Commander Owens (James Farentino), an amateur historian, recognizes Chapman as a politician who could have been Franklin D. Roosevelt’s running mate (and his potential successor) during his final re-election bid, had Chapman not disappeared shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbour on 07 December 1941.
When a Grumman E-2 Hawkeye scouting craft discovers the Japanese fleet task force further north in unpatrolled waters, poised to launch its attack on Pearl Harbour, the Nimitz crew realise that they have been transported back in time to the day before the attack. Yelland has to decide whether to destroy the Japanese fleet and alter the course of history or to stand by and allow history to proceed as they know it. The American civilians and the Zero pilot are kept isolated, but while being questioned, the Japanese pilot obtains a rifle, kills two Marine guards, and takes Laurel, Owens, and Lasky hostage. He threatens to kill them unless he is given access to a radio to warn the Japanese fleet about the Nimitz. Lasky tells Commander Owens to recite and describe the secret plans for the Japanese attack, and the Japanese pilot lowers his guard and is overcome and shot by Marines. Laurel and Owens develop an attraction for each other.
Chapman is outraged that Yelland knows of the impending Japanese attack but has not told anyone else, and demands to be taken to Pearl Harbour to warn the naval authorities. Yelland instead orders Owens to fly the civilians and sufficient supplies via helicopter to an isolated Hawaiian island, assuming they will eventually be rescued. When they arrive, Chapman realizes he has been tricked and tries to force the pilot to fly to Pearl Harbour, but instead causes an explosion that destroys the craft and kills everyone on board, which strand Laurel and Owens on the island. The Nimitz launches a massive strike force against the incoming Japanese forces, but the time storm returns. After a futile attempt to outrun the storm, Yelland recalls the strike force, and the ship and its aircraft safely return to 1980, leaving the past relatively unchanged. Upon the return of the Nimitz to Pearl Harbour, the Pacific Fleet admirals board the ship to investigate the Nimitz’s bizarre disappearance. Meanwhile, Lasky leaves the ship with Laurel’s dog, Charlie, and encounters the mysterious Mr. Tideman face-to-face. Tideman is revealed to be a much older Owens, along with his wife, Laurel. Owens says to Lasky that they have a lot to talk about.
- Kirk Douglas as Captain Matthew Yelland, Commanding Officer, USS Nimitz.
- Martin Sheen as Warren Lasky.
- Katharine Ross as Laurel Scott.
- James Farentino as Commander Richard T. “Dick” Owens, Commander, Air Group of Carrier Air Wing 8, later appearing under the identity of Richard Tideman, head of Tideman Industries.
- Ron O’Neal as Commander Dan Thurman, Executive Officer, USS Nimitz.
- Charles Durning as Senator Samuel S. Chapman.
- Victor Mohica as Black Cloud, USS Nimitz weather officer.
- James Coleman as Lieutenant Perry (credited as James C. Lawrence).
- Soon-Tek Oh as Imperial Japanese Navy pilot Shimura.
- Joe Lowry as Commander Damon.
- Alvin Ing as Lieutenant Kajima.
- Mark Thomas as Marine Corporal Kullman.
- Harold Bergman as Bellman.
- Richard Liberty as Lieutenant Commander Moss.
- Lloyd Kaufman as Lieutenant Commander Kaufman.
- Dan Fitzgerald as Doctor.
- Peter Douglas as Quartermaster.
Peter Douglas was the driving force behind The Final Countdown. With a limited budget and a promising script, he was able to attract interest from the US Navy. Officials from the Department of Defence offered full cooperation after seeing a script, but insisted that for safety and operational readiness, the film schedule would be dependent on the “on location” naval consultant, William Micklos. Principal photography took place at Naval Air Station Key West, Naval Station Norfolk, and off the Florida Keys, over two five-week periods in 1979. Scenes at Pearl Harbour consisted of mainly stock footage with most of The Final Countdown exteriors shot on the Nimitz while at sea, and at drydock for interiors. During operations, an emergency landing took place with the production crew allowed to film the recovery of the aircraft on the Nimitz; the sequence appeared in the final film.
Crew members of the Nimitz were used as extras, a few with speaking parts; a total of 48 of the crew appear as “actors” in the final credits. The difficulties in filming a modern jet fighter were soon apparent when the first setup to record an F-14 takeoff at Naval Station Norfolk, Virginia, resulted in both camera and operator being pitched down a runway.
Dissension in the production crew led to major changes during location shooting, with a number of the crew being fired and replaced. Taylor’s direction was considered workmanlike, as he had a reputation for bringing projects in on time and on budget, but suggestions from US naval aviators were ultimately incorporated into the shooting schedules with the “B” crew placed in charge of all the aerial sequences that became the primary focus of the film.
In order to film the aerial sequences, Panavision cameras were mounted on naval aircraft while camera-equipped aircraft and helicopters were leased from Tallmantz Aviation, including a Bell 206 Jet Ranger helicopter, a Learjet 35, and a B-25 bomber converted into a camera platform. Three Mitsubishi A6M Zero replicas, originally built for the film Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), were flown by pilots from the Confederate Air Force, now called the Commemorative Air Force. Two of the replicas were featured in a dogfight with F-14 Tomcats; it was the first time such a dissimilar engagement had appeared in film, with the aircraft’s’ “totally different speeds…environments and weaponry”.
In one scene where an F-14 “thumps” a Zero by flying under and streaking upward in front of the slower aircraft, the resultant “jet blast” of turbulent air was so intense that the yokes of both of the Zeros in the scene were violently wrenched out of the pilots’ hands and caused both aircraft to momentarily tumble out of control. The lead pilot’s headset, along with his watch, were ripped off and out of the open canopy of his Zero, resulting in a few anxious moments as the F-14 pilots were unable to establish contact. During a scene when a Zero fires on an F-14, in order to get on the “six”[clarification needed] of the low and slow Zero, the jet fighter did a low pull up that ended just 100 feet (30 m) above the ocean in a screaming recovery.
During the climactic attack on Pearl Harbour, scenes reproduced in monochrome from Tora! Tora! Tora! featured Aichi D3A Val dive bombers, Mitsubishi A6M Zero fighters and Nakajima B5N Kate torpedo bombers.
Aircraft Appearing in the Production
- Douglas EA-3B Skywarrior.
- Grumman F-14 Tomcat.
- Grumman E-2 Hawkeye.
- Grumman A-6 Intruder.
- Lockheed S-3 Viking.
- LTV A-7 Corsair II.
- McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II (briefly).
- North American RA-5C Vigilante (briefly).
- North American T-6 Texan modified to resemble Mitsubishi A6M Zero.
- North American T-6 Texan modified to resemble Nakajima B5N Kate.
- Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King.
- Vought RF-8G Crusader.
- Vultee BT-13 Valiant modified to resemble Aichi D3A Val.
The Final Countdown was released to theatres in the United States on 01 August 1980. A novelisation by Martin Caidin, based on the screenplay, was released in the same month.
The film was released on home video, on 30 March 2004. It was later released by Blue Underground on a two-DVD set (with both full-screen and widescreen formats) and a special two-disc limited edition set with a hologram cover. Each DVD edition was accompanied by special featurettes, including a “behind-the-scenes” documentary and a commentary track by the producer and other studio principals. On 04 November 2008, a high-definition two-disc Blu-ray set was released, but lacked some of the earlier background materials.
The film grossed $6.1 million in its first 10 days of release from 630 theatres and earned a total of $16.6 million in the United States and Canada.
- Nominee, Best Science Fiction Film of Year – Saturn Award (Peter Vincent Douglas).
- Nominee, Best Actor – Saturn Award (Kirk Douglas).
- Winner, Golden Screen Award (German box office award).
- Lead actor Kirk Douglas’ son, Peter Douglas, was the film’s producer and the main force behind the movie, his first credit as a producer at age 25, he had been working on the film since he was 23.
- In the mid 1980s the communist government banned the movie in Hungary, claiming it glorified the United States Armed Forces.
- However, some illegal copies were circulated on VHS with parts about the Russian trawler spying on the USS Nimitz edited out.
- The script called for the Japanese pilot to try to force the F-14 into the water.
- The pilot who basically did a hammerhead and pulled out real close to the water was Richard “Fox” Farrell (VF-84 XO), now retired.
- He did kick up quite a bit of seawater and was really pushing the envelope with the Tomcat.
- WWII ace-in-a-day Archie Donahue was one of the Zero pilots.
- The Zeroes (converted AT-6 Texans) were flying with the throttle to the stops and the F-14s were flying at stall speed (note wings fully extended in most scenes).
- That was so they could get both aircraft in the same shot at the same time (remember, no CGI stuff back then!).
- Reportedly, the filming wrapped early on the U.S.S. Nimitz as it was recalled to its home base so that it could take on the helicopters and crew that were used in the ill-fated “Operation Eagle Claw”, the attempt to rescue the US Embassy Iranian Hostages in 1980.
- The movie was used as a recruiting drive for the US Navy with the maritime force sponsoring the picture’s premiere whilst the film’s movie poster was displayed in branch recruitment offices.
- During shooting of the opening shot where the CAG’s Tomcat is taking off from Pearl Harbour, the film crew actually underestimated the blast radius of the Tomcat’s exhaust and one of their cameras was blown over when the plane went to full afterburner, which resulted in the shot being filmed from a slightly different angle than originally planned.
- Kirk Douglas initially wanted his son Michael Douglas to play the Martin Sheen role – but this proved impossible as Michael was deeply involved in post production and publicity on The China Syndrome (1979).
- Many of the interior shots were filmed aboard the actual USS Nimitz (not Hollywood sets)
- The Philadelphia Experiment, a 1984 science fiction film starring Michael Paré.
- The Philadelphia Experiment 2, a 1993 sequel.
- The Philadelphia Experiment, a 2012 made for TV film, starring again Michael Paré and Malcolm McDowell.
- Forever Young: A 1992 time travel through cryostasis film.
Production & Filming Details
- Don Taylor.
- Kirk Douglas … executive producer (uncredited).
- Peter Douglas … producer (as Peter Vincent Douglas).
- Lloyd Kaufman … associate producer.
- Richard R. St. Johns … executive producer.
- Thomas Hunter … (story) and screenplay).
- Peter Powell … (story) and screenplay).
- David Ambrose … (story and screenplay).
- Gerry Davis … (screenplay).
- John Scott.
- Victor J. Kemper.
- Robert K. Lambert.
- Bryna Productions (as The Bryna Company’s Production of).
- Film Finance Corporation (Presents).
- Polyc International BV (Copyright MCMLXXX).
- Sandy Howard/Richard St. Johns Productions (Presents).
- Producers Sales Organisation (PSO) (1980) (World-wide) (Non-US) (theatrical).
- United Artists (1980) (UK) (theatrical).
- United Artists (1980) (Australia) (theatrical).
- United Artists (1980) (USA) (theatrical).
- Union Générale Cinématographique (UGC) (1980) (France) (theatrical).
- Concorde Film (1980) (Netherlands) (theatrical).
- New Gold Entertainment (1980) (Italy) (TV).
- Shochiku-Fuji Company (1980) (Japan) (theatrical).
- Jugendfilm-Verleih (1980) (West Germany) (theatrical).
- Europa Film (1981) (Sweden) (theatrical).
- Filmes Lusomundo (1981) (Portugal) (theatrical).
- American Broadcasting Company (ABC) (1982) (USA) (TV).
- CBS/Fox (1982) (USA) (video).
- Fram Film (1981) (Norway) (theatrical).
- South Pacific Video (1981) (France) (VHS).
- Warner Home Video (1984) (UK) (video).
- Warner Home Video (1984) (Australia) (video).
- VCG (1985) (Greece) (VHS).
- European Video Corporation (EVC) (Netherlands) (VHS).
- Vestron Video (1987) (USA) (VHS).
- Image Entertainment (USA) (video) (laserdisc).
- New Line Home Vídeo (Brazil) (VHS).
- Aquarius TV (1998) (Greece) (TV).
- AVU-Video-Vertriebs-GmbH (2000) (Germany) (VHS).
- Indies Home Entertainment (2001) (Netherlands) (DVD) (VHS).
- Rough Trade Distribution (2001) (Germany) (DVD).
- Pacific Family Entertainment (2003) (USA) (DVD).
- Blue Underground (2004) (USA) (DVD) (widescreen).
- Blue Underground (2004) (USA) (VHS).
- Manga Films (2004) (Spain) (DVD).
- EMS (2007) (Germany) (DVD).
- Blue Underground (2008) (USA) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Indies Home Entertainment (2008) (Netherlands) (DVD).
- EMS (2009) (Germany) (DVD) (Collector’s Edition).
- Rough Trade Distribution (2009) (Germany) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Panorama Distributions (2010) (Hong Kong) (Blu-ray) (DVD).
- Release Date: 21 May 1980 (London, UK) and 30 May 1980 (UK general release).
- Running time: 103 minutes.
- Rating: PG.
- Country: US.
- Language: English.