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THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (1980)                      

This intriguing ‘what if’ movie examines what might have taken place if the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz had traveled back in time (from 1980) to December 6th, 1941, Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and had the opportunity to alter history by interceding in the Japanese attack on Oahu. These time travel scenarios produce a plethora of questions, most of which are unanswerable. As such, although the story-line is quite fascinating, one is still stuck with a ‘what came first – the chicken or the egg’ imponderable. And that becomes quite frustrating. I enjoyed the movie and have watched it several times, but it is difficult to get one’s head around the concept of time travel altering history. For instance, would time travel create a time paradox? What effect would extra deaths (or less deaths) impact on future generations?

The Final Countdown #movie #timetravel - Author Dennis Higgins

(L to R) Martin Sheen, James Farentino, Kirk Douglas 

Kirk Douglas portrays Captain Matthew Yelland, commander of the Nimitz; Martin Sheen plays Department of Defense assistant Warren Lasky assigned by his mysterious boss Richard Tideman to visit the carrier as an observer. He does not know it, but he will, along with the crew, encounter a weird storm that propels the vessel back to the eve of the Japanese assault. The special effects of the storm that transports the USS Nimitz through time was accomplished by a dry-ice machine, and a night club style laser beam, filmed with blue lighting. Stock black and white footage was utilized, as was material from the 20th Century Fox studio’s earlier 1970 picture Tora! Tora! Tora!  CGI was still some time in the future.

Commander Air Group (CAG) Richard T. Owens (James Farentino) happens to be a historian aboard the Nimitz who is writing and researching a book about the December 7 attack.  Senator Samuel Chapman (Charles Durning) and his lovely secretary Laurel Scott (played by Katharine Ross) are aboard Chapman’s pleasure craft not far from the carrier when they are strafed by two Zeros. The couple, plus one of the Zero pilots, are taken on board the Nimitz and things, consequently, get even more complicated. Durning’s character is fictitious, as is the ‘Senate Defense Committee’ he supposedly co-chaired in 1941. However, there did exist a real person named Samuel Chapman Massingale. He was a political figure, a representative who served in the House of Reps as a Democrat from Oklahoma from 1935 until his death in January 1941.

The Final Countdown #movie #timetravel - Author Dennis Higgins

Katharine Ross as Laurel Scott

The picture was made with the full co-operation of the US Navy and it was used as a recruiting drive. The Navy not only sponsored the premiere but displayed the film’s movie poster in branch recruitment offices throughout the US. In the mid-80s the communist government banned the picture in Hungary, claiming it glorified the United States of America’s Armed Forces. Some illegal VHS copies circulated, however, with the parts depicting the Russian trawler spying on the USS Nimitz edited out. Many of the interior scenes were shot on the actual Nimitz and not on Hollywood sets.

Interestingly, filming had to be wrapped early aboard Nimitz when it was suddenly recalled to its home base. Its helicopters and crews were required to take part in the ill-fated ‘Operation Eagle Claw’, the disastrous attempt to rescue the U.S. Embassy Iranian hostages in 1980. Sea Stallion helicopters from the Nimitz formed part of the rescue mission, but President Carter ordered the mission aborted after three marines, five air force crewmen and an Iranian civilian died in a fireball collision.

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Let me state from the outset that this is a very poor movie; a far cry from Garry Marshall’s best effort as director, which is, of course, Pretty Woman (1990). Indeed, I found, after watching The Princess Diaries for twenty minutes or so, the only real interest lay in identifying just how many people who appeared in Pretty Woman over a decade earlier were popping up here as well. First and foremost there was Hector Elizondo, one of director Marshall’s most often cast actors. In Pretty Woman he was a delight as Barney Thompson, the manager of the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. Here he played Joe the bodyguard/ limo driver. Towards the end of this drivel he and Queen Clarisse (Julie Andrews) are clearly falling in love. The Queen and the limo driver – just as they would in real life!

The Princess Diaries Cast What They're Up To Now - The Princess Diaries Stars Now And Then

Anne Hathaway – before and after the makeover

Larry Miller (also often cast in Marshall’s films) played Paulo, whose job it was to turn Anne Hathaway’s character, Mia Thermopolis, from a ‘plain Jane’ into a ravishingly beautiful princess. And guess what? With only what God gave Ms. Hathaway to work with – he did! Obviously, the man was a miracle worker! In Pretty Woman he portrayed Mr. Hollister, the manager of the clothing store from which Vivien Ward (Julia Roberts) purchased all her ‘classy’ clothes. I will say this for Larry – he is never dull.

In The Princess Diaries, Patrick Richwood, yet another Garry Marshall favorite, played Mr. Robutusen, Mia’s next door neighbor. Fans of Pretty Woman will no doubt remember him (minus the facial hair) portraying Dennis the elevator driver at the Beverly Wilshire. Less easy to recognize might be the director’s daughter, Kathleen Marshall, but she is in both films, too. In Pretty Woman she plays the Day Desk Clerk at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel; in The Princess Diaries she plays Charlotte Kutaway.

Even bit player Allan Kent lands a part in both movies. In fact, he even gets to utter the same line in each of them as well. He is the waiter who catches the snail that slips from Vivien’s tongs at the restaurant in Pretty Woman. In this picture he is again a waiter, this time helping Mia collect up the pieces of the glass she shattered with her fork as she attempted to draw everyone’s attention to a speech presentation. In both movies Allan gets to utter the less than immortal line, ‘It happens all the time.’ Incidentally, both Garry Marshall and his sister, director Penny Marshall have tiny cameos in The Princess Diaries. They are guests at the Genovia Annual Independence Ball at the end of the film.


Footnote: For reasons I care not to go into, I was compelled to sit through The Princess Diaries 2 : Royal Engagement. It made the first film look like a masterpiece! It was that bad! Believe it or not, the same actor who caught the snail in Pretty Woman, and who cleaned up the broken glass in The Princess Diaries, caught a bracelet thrown by Mia in the sequel – and he uttered the same line for a third time! Garry Marshall directed #2 also and, despite his death in 2016, there has been talk of possibly churning out a sequel to the sequel! Hathaway, Andrews and Elizondo have all said they would return for it if ‘the story did justice to Marshall and the first two movies. Surely, they were not serious.

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