' ' Cinema Romantico: It's Time to Retire The Final Countdown

Thursday, April 14, 2022

It's Time to Retire The Final Countdown

Loyal frustrated followers will recall that a few years ago, after an unfortunate encounter with “You Sexy Thing” outside a Chicago dining venue, I borrowed an exercise from NPR’s All Songs Considered and decided that Hot Chocolate’s 1975 anthem should be retired. I argued it should be retired because Paul Thomas Anderson had succeeded in siphoning every ounce of sexiness from the song in “Boogie Nights” (1997). When Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s hapless Scotty J. makes his entrance to it, the song instantly became pathetic rather than provocative, meaning it could never hope to mean what it was intended to mean again. This occurred to me recently when I saw “The Lost City.”

I generally liked “The Lost City”, but we’ll get to that later on the blog, maybe next week. In remixing “Romancing the Stone”, “The Lost City” is about a romance novelist who finds adventure and romance with her doofy book cover model Alan (Channing Tatum). We know Alan is doofy from his introduction, his fake long hair waving in the fake breeze, making karate moves like Mac on “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and, oh yes, because of his entrance music: “The Final Countdown” by Europe

It’s not that “The Final Countdown” is bad, per se, even if a Rolling Stone reader poll ranked it the second worst song of the 80s. Indeed, Rolling Stone itself disagreed in its original review. “The words to ‘The Final Countdown’ make almost no sense on paper,” wrote J.D. Considine, “but there’s genuine drama to the way Tempest’s keening vocals surge through the mock-orchestral morass of synths and guitars.” Allmusic’s Doug Stone agrees, deeming it “bombastically brilliant” and “glorious garbage.” “You could live without ‘The Final Countdown,’” reckons Stone, “but why?” Well Doug, I’ll tell you.

The song was both made famous for a whole new generation and ruined forever by the cult TV show of the mid-aughts “Arrested Development,” utilized as the entrance music for its vain yet insecure and utterly hapless magician – nay, illusionist – GOB (Will Arnett), as in George Oscar Bluth, son to the family’s patriarch George Sr. In this context, the triumphant synthesizer line only casts a harsh, comical light. Indeed, in writing about the song and the song as GOB’s anthem for March Shredness, a 2018 March Madness-inspired bracket of hair metal, Nick Greer wrote how in the hands of Arrested Development the song becomes “a critique of the same bluster it was meant to celebrate.”

Greer goes further than that, noting that given the lyrics of “The Final Countdown,” released as a single a couple months before Chernobyl, about blasting off from Earth and heralding “the decline of western civilization,” it’s strange the song itself hasn’t died yet. “It’s ‘The Final Countdown,’” he writes, “but it’s still being played, deeming it even more of a joke if not also a lazy but effective way to sell car insurance, but during a time when the country is being run by suits as absurd as the schlockiest corporate villains of a save-the-community-center movie, it’s hard to laugh along.”

I take his point, and I am not inclined to disagree, but I also see Tatum dancing to GOB’s song in more simple terms. Like some modern comedian kvetching that he gets “no respect,” or explaining how he employs Robitussin to cure all ailments including broken limbs, at this point when you enter a room to “The Final Countdown,” you’re just stealing Will Arnett’s bit. 

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