Tickets for the premiere and information about the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation are available by writing or calling the foundation: P.O. Box 332, McLean, Va., 22101; telephone, 751-4700.

Bill Thompson's wife swears her husband was hooked on the idea the moment someone whispered to him at a cocktail party that he "could never do it."

Thompson, a McLean public relations consultant and retired admiral, is the first to concede that his latest project, a Navy memorial for downtown Washington, has encountered its share of critics.Most of the opposition, he contends, came from people who were convinced that the memorial would be a statue of "another admiral."

Thompson says the criticism came before he and others refined the concept into what he describes as a "living memorial" -- a 1,200- to 1,500-seat amphitheater at Market Square on Pennsylvania Avenue, in the redevelopment area between 7th and 9th streets NW.

This weekend, Thompson's project will get its first public test. On Sunday, the U.S. Navy Memorial Foundation, which Thompson heads, will host the premiere of a United Artists movie, "The Final Countdown," to raise funds for the memorial.

Opening night events include a $250-a-person reception and a $500-a-person after-theater party hosted by Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), who is a former secretary of the Navy, and his wife, Actress Elizabeth Taylor.

"The Final Countdown," chronicles the exploits of the crew of a 1980 aircraft carrier -- the Norfolk-based "Nimitz" -- which is suddenly transported back to Dec. 7, 1941, and finds itself attacked by the Japanese fleet. It stars Kirk Douglas, Martin Sheen, Katherine Ross and James Farentino. The stars are expected to join Navy brass for the premiere at the Uptown Theater, 3426 Connecticut Ave. NW.

Thompson hopes the sea-going plot and the stars wil draw enough Washingtonians to help the foundation clear $150,000 in "seed money" for the memorial's design competition and for a campaign to raise the $5 million he expects the amphitheater to cost.

For 25 years, Navy officials have tried to win approval for a memorial in Washington dedicated exclusively to the Navy, but it was not until Thompson agreed to put aside some of his public relations agency's work and come aboard the project that it began moving.

The 58-year-old Thompson, who served as the Navy chief of information during the controversial Elmo Zumwalt era of the early 1970s, said it was the memorial's skeptics that "spurred me on."

His first task as foundation president was to win support from the National Capital Memorial Advisory Committee, the federal agency that reviews all such projects in Washington. Before Thompson even approached the committee, he was informed it had met "by telephone" and voted unanimously against the memorial.

Later, the committee reversed itself and unanimously approved the amphitheater concept. "What turned them around was that it was going to be a living thing . . . something that made sense and was needed in this town," said Thompson. "We've not had a problem since then."

After the Pennsylvania Avenue Development Commission also approved the project, Thompson began searching for a fund raising vehicle and pulling together help from the business community.

Getting the fundraising committe together was easy.

Two former chiefs of naval operations who had been early champions of the memorial -- retired admirals Arleigh A. Burke of Bethesda and Thomas H. Moorer of Mclean -- signed on early, as did former Navy secretaries J. William Middendorf II of Mclean, Paul R. Ignatius of Washington and John Warner. Two other men picked for the foundation board were actor Jackie Cooper, a Naval Reserve captain, and astronaut Alan B. Shepard, a retired admiral.

The group went to work on Congress, and this year won passage of a bill that authorized the foundation to build the memorial on public land in the capital. The law did not provide any funds for the memorial; that was left to the foundation.

Shortly after the bill was signed by President Carter, the foundation learned that proceeds from the Washington premiere of "The Final Countdown" would be given for the memorial in appreciation of the Navy's help to the filmmaker.

Thompson, who spent 32 years in the Navy before retiring five years ago, says he has no doubts what will impress most moviegoers -- the aircraft carrier "Nimitz."

"The ship is the star of the show," he said the other day. "I know it sounds corny, but that's the way it is."