I have lots of strange memories regarding this movie and its many incarnations - TV broadcasts, VHS, Beta and DVD - but most of them are positive. The film has always looked colourful, bright and full of activity. The setting of the Nimitz lends itself to complex and busy shots of naval personnel scurrying about, flight decks awash with colour, massive blue skies, the odd explosion and wild streaks of supernatural lightning - and boy, does this BD release (2.35:1 and encoded via VC-1) do it proud. Well, for the most part anyway.
Greater definition allows for quite an incredible amount of detail to be revealed. The previous edition from Blue Underground on SD was certainly no slouch in the visual department either, offering bright colours and a fine transfer of a very sharp print. All this has been enhanced in 1080p, with facial details, hair, eyes and insignia really providing new depths and clarity. The machinery - vehicles, weaponry and equipment - now offer up even more nuts and bolts, screws and rivets. Deep shots of the Nimitz are much clearer, although sometimes, the imagery in bigger frames and long-views, seems to drop back to little better than the SD. The Senator's yacht sequences look supremely sharp and colourful, far more so than in any previous edition. You can also now plainly see the fresh sunburn on Charles Durning's arms, as well as lot more detail on the dog's fur. Stuff like winch-cables, rotors and monitor displays and readouts all look more detailed and integral on this release.
Colours are actually incredible. All the primaries are incorporated and they are deep, bright and very crisp. Yellow jerseys, red helmets, US flags, green flight-suits, vast blue skies and the intensely blue storm effects, garish, splashy blood, the white of the helicopter and the lush warmth of wooden body of the Senator's yacht - every shade and hue is wonderfully presented without a hint of smearing or over-saturation. They don't even seem embellished purposefully for this release, either, everything looking perfectly natural for colours that are necessarily and very deliberately vibrant and viewed, for the most part, in bright sunshine. Thus, The Final Countdown becomes a very, very colourful and vivid movie, which is all the more surprising considering that much of it takes place below decks inside a big, grey aircraft carrier. Contrast is excellent and there are some great blacks, as seen during the subdued lighting sequences in the comms room, for instance, with only the display monitors exhibiting any colour.
There are problems, however. But these are problems that were inherent on the previous transfers too. Several shots, or even entire scenes have a smeary, blurred appearance taking place somewhere within them. Most notably, when we see Durning, Ross, Sheen and Farentino reacting to Soon Tek-Oh's sudden attack, the image is horribly smudged in the mid-to-background. But there are other moments when something like the lowest tenth of the image is smeared right across the width of the screen which, if anything, is actually more noticeable in hi-def than it was in SD. Although I no longer have any other version besides Blue Underground's past edition to compare it to, I can only assume that this effect is either inherent to the original prints used, or was picked up for the previous transfer and has been used again here. Either way, it is not a fault with the Blu-ray transfer, itself.
Although grain is still here - and it is certainly prone to fluctuation with the odd stock shot cropping up - I'm not going to state categorically that noise reduction has not been applied. There are some shots that seem a lot smoother than others, but even so, any DNR is absolutely of the most minimal. The edge enhancement that dogged certain shots earlier is now much less apparent too. Damage-wise, there are still some tiny pops and flecks here and there, but, on the whole, this is a very commendable improvement over any version that I've seen on disc before.
A definite disappoint, this. Promising so much, yet delivering so little, Blue Underground grant The Final Countdown with the luxury of lossless audio in both full DTS-MA 7.1 and Dolby TrueHD varieties, as well as DD EX 5.1 track, and, sadly, the original audio just doesn't warrant such an extravagant deal. The previous SD release was given a regular DTS track that looked terrific listed on the blurb but singularly failed to ignite the speakers or the film, so really we shouldn't have expected anything more from this. Which would have been appropriate - as we don't get anything more.
Between the two lossless tracks, there is nothing in it. Personally, I stuck with the DTS-MA 7.1. The roar of jet engines is fine and we do get some steerage out of the planes' audio design, with a couple of front to back and side to side fly-bys, but beyond the aerial shenanigans, there really isn't much going on besides the two storm fronts. Now, here, there is a decent stab at all-round immersion, with the startling whine and shriek of the freakish elements gathering strength and vigour around the set-up. Likewise, engines and activity thundering around the flight-deck does provide some wraparound, but only of a very cursory nature, and nothing at all spectacular. Dialogue, whilst always intelligible, is often sunken deeper into the soundtrack than it should be, with some conversations, even when there isn't any bombastic activity taking place, occasionally sounding a tad muted and dialled-down. John Scott's terrific score fares a bit better, feeling richer and louder and more energetic than it has before ... yet still lacking the punch, dynamism and spread that would expect from such a luxurious audio spec.
Gunfire is aggressive, though not terribly so. It is loud and has some directionality to it, but once again, it sounds fairly flat and dated. Which, of course, is only accurate isn't it? And we shouldn't be complaining about the audio remaining true to the source. But this just reinforces the argument about why bother with 7.1 mixes that are just totally unnecessary and wholly surplus to requirements.
Nice to have, maybe, but, erm, pedantic arguments aside, why bother with extra surround channels when the film never had them to begin with? The original master audio may well have been enhanced by some extra clarity and sharpness by virtue of the lossless tracks, but that definitely does not mean that the engineers should then try to go a little better by shaping it into a 7.1 configuration. The film's audio doesn't support it, never supported it and, I doubt, could ever convincingly support it. Therefore, whilst the original material may well sound the best that it ever has, this disc still carries two lossless tracks that weren't needed and build up false expectations. There is negligible material emanating from the extra channels. Fact.
For this redundant and shallow attempt to embellish the film with - well, so little - I am awarding The Final Countdown just a 6 out of 10.
Unsurprisingly, given that the film had something of a troubled production, we have only Director of Photography Victor J. Kemper to talk us through the experience of making the film in his commentary track. Egged-on by David Gregory (from the label), without whom, this track would probably be an awful lot quieter, Kemper (an ex-seaman, himself) is pretty technical about his methods and how achieved his shots on board the crowded and cramped Nimitz. He does discuss the actors and his director and even elaborates on the dangers of filming on the decks with Man Overboard Drills interrupting things - such as the Marines kidnapping the production stills photographer for one such routine. The odd mistake aside - his memory can lapse on occasion as to where certain scenes were filmed, in dock or out at sea. - he tries amiably to cover as much of the production as he can, but this still feels like a “best we could come up with” type of deal.
Next, we get Lloyd Kaufman Goes Hollywood (14 mins) which is an interview with the guy who became the co-president of Z-grade horror studio Troma - the people behind The Toxic Avenger. He had a lot of trouble with this early picture including personal problems, character clashes and even resorted to firing the crew at one stage. His frank approach is welcome, but I would have preferred a lot more than just his memories.
Then we get something that would have been far more appropriate as filler on a much better stocked disc than this. Starring The Jolly Rogers (31.14 mins) is a great feature in its own right - the F-14 Tomcat pilots who flew the fighters in the film chat together about their lives and experiences and supply some anecdotes about making of the movie - but it cannot compensate for a full-on making of for The Final Countdown. With a cult reputation and such a grandstanding concept, there are many, many elements that could have been discussed and this charming piece, as interesting as it is, just scratches the surface. Good, but once again, not enough.
Blue Underground's BD is rounded out with two theatrical trailers - offering more dialogue than is heard in the movie - a teaser, and a pair of television spots.
Well, The Final Countdown is still as much of a guilty pleasure as it always was, and as a title that many people couldn't wait to see on this format, it is definitely pleasing to state that it comes up trumps with its hi-def video. The film remains as daftly enjoyable - as much for the wrong reasons as the right ones - as ever, and the added detail in this transfer is often extremely rewarding. The movie is now unbelievably colourful and vibrant and certainly represents a serious upgrade from the old SD, even if some of those mysterious smudges are now actually enhanced by the higher resolution. However, don't be fooled by those 7.1 audio tracks, this film is most assuredly not a 7.1 experience. It may have some nice sweeps around the set-up on occasion, but a supersonic treat, this has never been. Dialogue can still sound too low and the audio is never particularly dynamic. Extras-wise, the stuff we have is certainly reasonable and almost certainly all that Blue Underground has been able to obtain, but the selection only skates over the surface of this intriguing and problematic production and just is no match for a proper retrospective making-of documentary. Still, at least we have something to help us go behind the scenes of the USS Nimitz and its exciting, but ultimately, rather pointless voyage back in time.
Stupid, but great fun, The Final Countdown could have been brilliant if it had stuck to its guns and given us the pay-off that we all wanted to see - repercussions be damned. As it stands it is merely comic-book speculation that truly sidesteps the science-fictional, supernatural or philosophical qualities that such a notion can't help but provoke. A reasonable package that, for fans, is a definite no-brainer. What counts is the visual upgrade, proving that travelling forwards in time has certainly been beneficial to the appearance of this movie.
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