Back in Time Movies: Final Countdown Wins

DATELINE: Past Tense


A couple of time travel movies caught our eye for the Turkey Day film festival, and only one turned out to be a turkey.

We went back in time to see 11/22/63, based on the Stephen King novel about a time traveler who intends to stop Lee Harvey Oswald from killing President JFK, and in The Final Countdown, a modern aircraft carrier is transported back to Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

Both films debate the conundrum and moral dilemma of changing the past—but actually both films are ersatz Twilight Zone episodes. One is about nine hours and the other is about 90 minutes. Can you guess which one has more suspense?

James Franco, looking worse for the wear, is the history teacher who finds a time portal in a diner that returns him (repeatedly, it seems) to a day in 1960. We can say the cars used in all those scenes of the early 60s were stunning. And, if the best you can say is that the old cars made the movie interesting, you have a problem.

Without knowing all the minute details of the Kennedy conspiracy, you might be a bit lost. To top it off, most of the film forces us to bear a tiresome love story that is supposed to give us a poignant ending.

And, time in 11/22/63 looks like it learned its fateful tricks that the past does not want to be changed—and resists. Of course, the USS Nimitz learns the same lesson about changing the past. Both stars (Douglas and Franco) used their production companies to make the movies.

The better movie of 1980 features Kirk Douglas, with fresh face lift, Martin Sheen, and Charles Durning as a troublesome senator from the past who causes most of the problems. Lucky for the script, there is an amateur historian on the ship who knows all the details about the Pearl Harbor attack and can fill us in to move the story along.

Nonetheless, the Final Countdown is a pleasure to watch—nothing out of date really, except the concept. The movie about one day drags on for three years and endless episodes, including the usual odd antics of Franco and his male costar.

Countdown seems to have been overshadowed by The Philadelphia Experiment in the time travel sweepstakes, but don’t count your chickens before they jump off the bridge of time. Kirk Douglas on the Nimitz beats Michael Pare on the Eldridge every time.