Almost since the days of Star Trek: The Next Generation in the mid-eighties, the powers that be at Paramount had been threatening to do a new Star Trek television series or film that would follow the hallowed characters of the original series through their early days at Starfleet Academy, sort of a Star Trek version of Muppet Babies. However, the idea of casting younger actors in the iconic roles of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy always seemed to carry the faint whiff of sacrilege, like a female pope or eating a cheeseburger with mayonnaise.
Rollerball is one of those movies that, once you dig down past the disco-era cheese, you might find very thoughtful and prescient science-fiction. On the other hand, you might just find another layer of that cheese. Norman Jewison’s 1975 fable of full-contact sports gone insane dares you not to take it seriously, to dismiss it as merely a more cerebral cousin of Logan’s Run.
The original TRON was most impressive as a demonstration of technology that was, for the most part, still lingering just over the horizon. It was more of a demo reel with a plot, fondly remembered by the geeks who were wowed by its then-revolutionary visuals and couldn’t be bothered by the lack of an engaging story.
In some ways this movie is the cinematic equivalent of artificial insemination using a dead man’s swimmers. A.I. had been on Stanley Kubrick’s back, front, and middle burners at various times since the early seventies. For a while, it looked like it wouldn’t see the light of day until development hell froze over and, when Kubrick kicked it after completing Eyes Wide Shut, it seemed inevitable that A.I. would forever remain as Kubrick’s great “lost” project.
I think I’ve discovered at least one of the secrets of Pixar’s inexplicably consistent excellence. Many movies are so desperately eager to dazzle us visually, put their technical prowess on display, that they lose sight of anything resembling story. Pixar seems to wade into each project with supreme confidence in their ability to provide a feast for our eyeballs. This self-assuredness allows them to focus on details like story and character, things that turn a mere lightshow into an enchanting narrative and even help it transcend the boundary into art.
The Blair Witch Project meets Godzilla. Some idiot keeps his video camera on the whole time while monsters are trying to kill him and destroy New York. Before the munching even starts, however, you will be more annoyed than entertained.
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.
Theatrical and director’s cut: ★★★★★
1980 Special Edition: ★★★★★
What was it in the water in 1977 that directors of classic sci-fi movies couldn’t leave well enough alone? Long before George Lucas had turned the words “Han Shot First” into a fanboy battle cry, Steven Spielberg had already done a major facelift on his landmark UFO film. When Close Encounters was in production, Spielberg was aiming for a summer, 1978, release. Columbia Pictures, on the verge of bankruptcy, forced him to finish the movie for the fall of 1977, leaving unfilmed several of what he thought were key scenes.
Before he struck it big with Disney, Pixar and The Incredibles, director Brad Bird helmed this minor delight of a movie for Warner Bros. which, sadly, almost nobody ever saw when it first came out. A well-deserved cult status followed its release on home video, however, paving the way for its director to move on to bigger and, although it’s difficult to believe, even better efforts than this.