There are lots of stories about time travel dealing with people wanting to change the past so that they can produce a better future. However, the message often portrayed in time travel movies is that everything happens the way it does for a reason, and that nothing can be altered in order to avoid the infinite number of paradoxes that would inevitably arise from trying to change the past.
Nevertheless, what would happen if a modern nuclear powered aircraft carrier suddenly found itself transported back in time to 1941 on the day prior to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Should the US crew try to rewrite history, or risk the possibility of complete chaos by changing the course of history as we know it. After all, it was the attack on the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor which helped catapult America into World War II, and so ultimatley bring a successful resolution to the conflict. Although that is the question posed by The Final Countdown (1980), any exploration of time travel paradoxes that may occur are ultimately sidelined in favor of presenting an entertaining fun-filled movie utilizing all the technology and special effects of the time.
In 1980, the assistant of the Department of Defense Warren Lasky (Martin Sheen) is assigned by his mysterious chief Richard Tideman to visit the aircraft carrier USS Nimtz which is commanded by Capt. Matthew Yelland (Kirk Douglas). Lasky is there as an observer of the ship’s routines, but during his visit the vessel suddenly faces a weird natural electromagnetic storm which sends them back in time to the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor on 6 December 1941. Now the crew of the Nimtz is forced to deal with an impossible decision: change history forever or leave one of the war’s most tragic attacks to come to pass.
The potential ramifications of altering one of the biggest events in America’s military history are cannon fodder for a multitude of different possibilities, outcomes and alternate realities when it comes to time traveling. This movie, however, seems more intent to explore the action elements of the premise, and making all the ships, aircraft and sailor protocols look as perfect as possible, which is not surprising when one considers that the movie was filmed with the U.S. Navy’s full cooperation, and that many of the movie’s extra were actual crew members.
In terms of acting, Marin Sheen and Kirk Douglas put in solid performances, although the acting from everyone else seemed a little stiff, and shallow. Overall, “Final Countdown” is a moderately entertaining time travel movie which probably focusses too much authenticity on its ship and soldiers rather than on the people and plot they’re lucky to have assembled. It takes steps to explore some of the “what if” themes presented by its interesting premise, but does not go far enough in pursuing their huge potential.
I give “The Final Countdown” 2 stars out of 4.