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Mt. Holz Science Fiction Society
09/07/01 -- Vol. 20, No. 10
Table of Contents
THE FINAL COUNTDOWN (comments by Mark R. Leeper):
With the release of PEARL HARBOR an Internet radio program played music from a lot of different films that treated the Japanese attack on December 7, 1941, beginning the Second World War for a country that was unaware that it had already been going on for 27 months. (In fact, really the war's most significant blow to the German Western Front had already been struck by Britain, though virtually nobody, least of all the Germans, knew it at the time. Or am I being enigmatic?) But we were talking in this article about the Pacific War.
In any case, the 1980 film THE FINAL COUNTDOWN has always seemed a little strange to me. In the first place, I do not remember there being a countdown anywhere in the film, final or otherwise. The film is really just a dressed up version of a "Twilight Zone" episode. (Not that that is a surprise. For five seasons "Twilight Zone" churned out an idea a week. Some were just ghastly, but some were pretty good ideas and a lot of the fantasy films that came out after those five seasons show the influence of "Twilight Zone." CARNIVAL OF SOULS is a very effective horror film, but it is made of elements taken from "Twilight Zone" episodes, particularly "The Hitchhiker." I am told that Spielberg paid royalties to Richard Matheson because he openly borrowed part of the plot of POLTERGEIST from the "Twilight Zone" episode "Little Girl Lost" where a little girl has to be retrieved after falling into another dimensional universe.) The "Twilight Zone" episode "The 7th Is Made Up of Phantoms" has a tank crew getting lost in time and finding themselves at the Little Bighorn. This is the idea that was recycled for THE FINAL COUNTDOWN, though there it was an aircraft carrier that found itself at Pearl Harbor just prior to the Japanese attack. (Time travel fiction seems to think that the laws of physics seem to have some particular interest in important events of American and occasionally European history. Nobody ever gets dropped in the middle of an empty plain someplace with nothing much of interest happening within 2000 miles. Nobody ever gets dropped in the middle of even a Chinese war, much less an ant war. Anyway, THE FINAL COUNTDOWN has the USS Nimitz dropped just off Pearl Harbor just before the Japanese attack. While the commander discovers he cannot stay around for the actual attack, he can take on some of the vanguard of the Japanese planes headed for the raid.
What does Captain Yelland (played by Kirk Douglas) discover? Sure enough modern planes are really good at taking out 1941 Japanese bombers. Apparently this film and their victory has become a point of pride with the real United States Navy. They have taken John Scott's score for THE FINAL COUNTDOWN and use it in Navy recruiting films. This strikes me as a little odd since it is a commonly known truism of military history that countries are always preparing to be ready to fight their previous wars. As we entered World War II we were really very ready to fight World War I. They are always ready to fight war in a way that would have been state of the art the last time they fought. It is great that the Navy is so proud of the message that they are all set to fight World War II again and this time we could decisively beat the Japanese. This may not be such a thing to be proud of. The film shows us valiantly beating 1940s Japanese planes with 1970s American planes. Actually, unless my memory is failing me, I think we did decisively beat the Japanese and we did it using 1940s weapons. I am pretty sure that some government policy says that we fight wars using contemporarily available weapons exclusively. I guess someone thinks that is a real triumph or there would not have been a film made about it.
Perhaps this discussion would not be complete without mentioning the classic written story along the lines of modern in previous is "A Hawk Among Sparrows" by Dean McLaughlin. In this story a modern fighter pilot finds himself and his plane back in World War I fighting biplanes. He discovers much to his chagrin that while the biplanes cannot do a lot to hurt him, he cannot do much to hurt the biplanes. Heat-seeking missiles need to seek a lot of heat. The motorized box kites that were the planes of World War I just do not generate much heat and are safe from modern missiles. It is impossible without stalling out to slow down a modern fighter enough so that it can even engage a biplane. However, ... Well, it is a good story. Places where it can be found are listed:
THE DEEP END (a film review by Mark R. Leeper):
CAPSULE: Tilda Swinton stars as a mother who tries to hide the death of her son's male lover and in the process gets herself involved in a web of blackmail and deceit. Swinton gives a very good performance, but her character is more like a cork in water buffeted by the force of those around her than a person who takes action. The film is tense but not entirely satisfying. Rating: 6 (0 to 10), high +1 (-4 to +4)
For any thriller to work fully there are two real requirements. The viewer has to have some emotional investment in the characters, particularly the main character, and the characters have to make choices that will affect the outcome of the story. If we do not care what happens to the main character we might as well be watching pieces on a chessboard. If the people in the story do not make judgments and choices then they might as well be on a thrill ride at an amusement park following its inevitable track. They just ride through the various dangers they face. In THE DEEP END we are given reason to empathize with Margaret Hall (played by Tilda Swinton), but after the first half-hour or so she is mostly doing just what she has to do. While other characters are complex and at times do the unexpected, once we know Margaret well enough to care for her, we also know the choices that she will make. And by never doing anything unexpected she loses much of her interest value. The film is almost a morality tale. Having made a bad choice at the beginning, this long chain of events is what she has earned for herself.
Margaret Hall lives with her family in an idyllic existence in a nice house on Lake Tahoe. Her son Beau (Jonathan Tucker) is a promising music student making applications to various colleges. Margaret's one wish is to protect Beau from the clutches of a male lover whom she is sure just wants to use her son. After a clandestine assignation between the two Margaret finds the lover dead. Without telling anyone she decides to hide the body so her son will not be implicated in the investigation. This leaves her prey to blackmail and a horrific chain of events.
Swinton is known mostly for roles of women who have foregone anything like a "normal" lifestyle. Somehow her unusual, almost albino, looks lead to unusual roles. In ORLANDO she plays her best known role, an immortal who at one point for no obvious reason spontaneously changes gender from male to female. Frequently she plays women of power. It is a little odd seeing her play a housewife who at least starts out somewhat typical. Of course not long into the movie she is juggling her life as a housewife with her secret life dealing with blackmailers. The man who has contacted her for hush money also shows sides to his personality we would not expect.
This is the second screen adaptation of the 1947 novel THE BLANK WALL by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding. The first was the 1949 film THE RECKLESS MOMENT with James Mason and Joan Bennett directed by Max Ophuls. Ophuls chose to use actors who would be familiar to audiences, hence making it a glossier production. The team of Scott McGehee and David Siegal who have been writing and directing thrillers since 1993's SUTURE. Here again they wrote and directed. They chose to use generally less familiar actors than the previous version. Only Swinton and character actor Peter Donat were even vaguely familiar to me.
THE DEEP END is a well-acted story of a woman who makes one mistake and then faces some fairly harrowing consequences. I rate it a 6 on the 0 to 10 scale and a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale. [-mrl]
Mark Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Quote of the Week: When a man wants to murder a tiger he calls it sport; when a tiger wants to murder him he calls it ferocity. --George Bernard Shaw
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