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The Test of Time

Some films hold up. Others, despite how you remember them, don’t.

I had a great love for an ‘80s movie called The Final Countdown. In it, the modern-era (in the ‘80s at least) nuclear-powered USS Nimitz, commanded by Kirk Douglas, enters a time vortex and winds up back in 1941, just days out from the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Douglas, armed with enough firepower to destroy the entire Japanese fleet, let alone the 400 planes that will assault the US fleet stationed at Oahu, Hawaii, is faced with the ultimate moral dilemma: should he repulse the attack and alter the course of history, or sit back idly and let fate take its course.

I would’ve been around ten when I first saw the movie and probably mid-teens at my last viewing, but the film, and its intriguing plot themes, remained with me for years. Over time, it’s a film I have heartily recommended to fellow film enthusiasts.

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And then in 2012, news surfaced that a Blu-ray edition of The Final Countdown had landed in Australia. Excitedly, I procured a copy, and a ‘viewing posse’ was hastily assembled. “You’re going to love this film – it’s a corker”, I remember saying.

Except it wasn’t how I remembered it at all. The acting was weak; clearly Douglas and Sheen took the roles simply to pay an IRS bill. I laughed uncontrollably at the risible special effects when the Nimitz entered the time vortex, both in disbelief at how bad they were and out of embarrassment that I’d forced this group to watch this “superb movie”. The plot holes in The Final Countdown were so cavernous, you could sail the aforementioned Nimitz straight through them.

103 minutes dragged like an aircraft carrier’s anchor, but finally it was over. It looked like a Tuesday afternoon TV movie and nothing like I remembered. Perhaps the parity of my memories and the actual reality wouldn't have felt so distant had I rewatched it alone.

All those years ago, The Final Countdown had been locked in a personal golden age of cinema exploration and discovery I was experiencing as a young man. With a keen interest in history, understandably, I’d watched the film through impressionable eyes, and not the more cynical view that commenting on home entertainment for the last 15 years has instilled.

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But this isn’t an isolated incident either. Gradually, as Blu-rays have become available, I’ve revisited old favourites only to be left with a negative experience. This generally doesn’t happen to the classics: a recent retro-viewing of The Warriors, Das Boot, The Thing and Zulu confirmed that these films still stand the test of time. But invariably, the ‘classics’ were helmed by a strong director, penned by competent writers, and featured compelling acting performances.

I recognise and appreciate the importance that these films played in my formative years and the emotional connection that ties them to a particular period in my life. These were movies that ultimately shaped my taste and love of cinema, but sometimes the lid on nostalgia should be kept tightly sealed, and the memories best left where they belong; in the past.

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