For what it tries to be, about the only thing I can find wrong with The Final Countdown is the title. There really is no countdown involved and, even if there were, there would be nothing particularly final about it. We shouldn’t let that hamper our enjoyment about what has to be the best movie ever made about a time-traveling aircraft carrier.
This is one of those movies that would be nothing without its cast, as it depends upon actors with a certain level of gravitas that you need to sell a profoundly silly premise and this film has scored a jackpot in that department.
This film would make an interesting companion to Lost in La Mancha. Both films deal in essence with the wheels coming off of film production. While Terry Gilliam’s The Man Who Killed Don Quixote died a quick death from sudden blunt force trauma, Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled production of Apocalypse Now seems to suffer the slow death of a thousand cuts. Originally budgeted at $13 million with a shooting schedule of sixteen weeks, it took more than a year and cost more than twice as much. The story of how this production went so wrong yet resulted in a film regarded as an enduring masterpiece is almost more interesting than the movie’s actual story.
Oliver Stone’s reputation as a wide-eyed provocateur of the left is mostly founded around one movie, the unfortunate JFK, and those who only see him through the prism of that one movie might expect Wall Street to be nothing less than a lacerating indictment of the entire capitalist system. The director’s target is more specific than that, however. His father was a stockbroker, so Stone isn’t about to trash the entire profession, but he does take aim at some of the more egregious excesses of the mid-eighties.
Keep in mind that this was before day trading and the days of CNBC and cable news channels with a full time stock ticker running across the bottom of the screen, so elements that seem familiar to us in 2007 were actually somewhat revelatory in 1987. Thus, Stone’s insider’s look at the world of corporate raiders and leveraged buyouts was pretty eye-opening at the time.
Perhaps a better title for this movie would The Martyrdom of Saint Robert. This movie spends most of its two hours genuflecting before the memory of JFK’s little brother. While it’s not hard to believe that Bobby Kennedy was the most interesting person at the Ambassador Hotel on the night of the California primary, this movie would have you believe that the Senator was the only interesting person present that night.
Eighty-seven years after they founded this country with the institution of slavery still intact, the country celebrated the Fourth of July in the bloodiest way possible in any effort to resolve that question. The Turner Network’s film of the decisive Battle of Gettysburg is a rigorously faithful adaption of Michael Shaara’s novel The Killer Angels. Perhaps they were a bit too faithful. This movie occasionally suffers from a little of what I call “The Longest Day Syndrome,” which is the tendency for characters to pontificate on the importance of the events in the film as if they were reading from, well, the pages of Michael Shaara’s The Killer Angels.
If F-words were horses, Martin Scorcese’s The Departed would be a stampede. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Scorcese film without an intensive barrage of R-rated language and this is a prime example of the director in his natural environment, among cops and wise guys and navigating a morally ambiguous urban landscape.
Scorcese has spent the last decade away from his natural milieu, possibly pursuing a level of artsy respectability that would earn him that long denied Best Director Oscar. That makes it someone ironic that he finally won the award with a lurid, violent but insightful crime film that played to his strengths.
I don’t know why, but over the years, the best films based on the works of Stephen King have been those based on material that didn’t fit into the stereotypical mold of the horror-meister, like Stand by Me, Misery and David Cronenerg’s adaptation of The Dead Zone. The straight spook-and-slash flicks have been cranked out by hacks who lean entirely on the gooey red stuff and toss King’s characterization and texture over the side. On the other end of the spectrum was Stanley Kubrick’s arid interpretation of The Shining, where the director’s distance from the material could be measured in light-years.
Francis Ford Coppola’s feverish anti-war epic Apocalypse Now actually began its journey to screen in the late sixties when Über-macho filmmaker John Milius attempted to meet the challenge presented to him when he was informed that no one had successfully adapted Joseph Conrad’s novel Heart of Darkness, although several had tried, including luminaries such as Orson Welles. His original screenplay was true to Milius’s conservative, pro-military outlook, containing a great deal of praise for the warrior lifestyle and nothing but contempt for the hippies he saw protesting against the Vietnam War.