Sunday, November 10, 2013

My Thoughts on "The Final Countdown"

            A while back I watched a movie from 1980, "The Final Countdown" (not the song).  It starred Martin Sheen and Kirk Douglas, so I thought it would be pretty good.  It is a high concept science fiction movie with the premise, "What if a modern 1980's aircraft carrier had been magically transported back in time to the waters outside of Pearl Harbor, the day before the Japanese attacked bringing the United States into World War II?"

Nothing in this entire movie approaches the awesome-ness of this single bit of concept art.
            Now a good chunk of the movie does two things very well, it shows the inner workings of a then modern aircraft carrier and it has people talking about implications of things.  The movie has a premise.  And it discusses that premise.  Forever.

            To just spoil the 33 year old movie, the crew is fully prepared to defend with all its firepower Pearl Harbor from attack and then report to FDR for further instruction.  The firepower on board is capable of totally leveling the Japanese fleet and more or less winning the war in a day.  But that doesn't happen.  What happens instead is that the magical storm that originally transported them to 1941 shows up again and transports them back to 1980 before they can actually attack Japan's fleet and change history.

            The entire plot and question of the movie goes entirely unanswered and amounts to nothing.  I cannot express how big a waste of time the movie is when that is the conclusion.

            If this movie had been made today it would have ended with the attack, and the battle would have been huge, pulled out all the stops and definitively shown that history as it had been was no more.  The movie would have ended and the sequels (and there would have been many, MANY sequels) would deal with the fall out of this.  It would have had to put forth a lot of questions, would we assassinate the numerous despots we knew were to come in the crib, or in the field hospitals (for instance Ho Chi Minh had been treated by American doctors years before leading North Vietnam).  How many social injustices would be confronted?  Like the black officers and crewmen on the ship, would they be able to talk to the oppressed black society of the time as to the relatively brighter tomorrow that awaited them?

            None of this is answered.  The movie is a toothless gumming of the audience's expectations.  So I had to ask myself, "Why does this movie exist?  And who is it for?"

            I believe that the movie exists to teach the audience how the "modern" 80's navy functions, and somewhat in contrast to the 40's.  Think about this.  Things like wikipedia, youtube, and the navy's own website could not just provide this information to people who might like to learn about it just to satisfy their curiosity.  A veteran of World War II who at the time of the movie could be 60 years old would like to learn what is changed since he left to become a farmer or a fireman.


            Movies like this exist to show the audience something they were curious about and illustrate it with a story that they might find entertaining or familiar.  They want to take you on a journey, lots of old movies are like this, tours or vacation spots turned into movies.  I am half certain all the exotic locals in James Bond movies are about showing people fantastic yachts and beach resorts, grand casinos and tropical islands because people couldn't see that stuff for real or on the internet.

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