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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Atlantis, The Lost Continent

Some films just barely qualify for inclusion on sci-fi movie lists. George Pal's Atlantis, The Lost Continent is clearly one of them. It is 90% sword-and-sandal fantasy adventure flick. A casual viewer could easily miss the few sci-fi bits. Pal and MGM put on a grand show, though the result doesn't achieve greatness. The pretty-but-wooden acting by the leads did not help. Pal's Atlantis does, at least, steer the movie tradition back in line with the Greek legends.

Quick Plot Synopsis
Following some intriguing preamble about why the old world and new had similarities, the movie begins. Greek fisherman Demetrios discovers an unconscious woman floating on a raft. She turns out to be Princess Antillia of Atlantis. She demands to be taken back home. En route, she falls in love with Demetrios. They met by a fish-shaped submarine which takes them to Atlantis. Once there, Demetrios is imprisoned in the mines by Zaren, Antillia's pre-fiancee and aspirant to the throne. Demetrios, thinking that Antillia betrayed him, is miffed. His miffdom brings out her surly side and the two fail to reconcile. Zaren thinks to get rid of Demetrios with a gladiatorial fight, but Demetrios wins and is free. Zaren is using the slaves to mine a huge solar crystal which will power a heat beam weapon. With it, he plans to rule the world. Azor, the high priest, warns Demetrios that the one true God is angry at Atlantis for their cruelty and idolatry. Amid much palace intrigue and a slave revolt, the end does come. The volcano erupts, sending lava flows into the city. Earthquakes crumble the classic architecture. Demetrios and Antillia find each other and flee to a waiting boat. Zaren is about to roast them with the heat beam, but is stabbed by Azor. While Demetrios, Antillia and other refugees watch from their boats, Atlantis does in fact, sink into the sea. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Pal's production has an impressive epic quality to it. The sets are luxurious with details. For a sci-fi fan, the fish-sub and crystal heat beam are high points. Hearing Paul Frees do narration and some voice-overs is fun too.

Cold War Angle
Note that the solar crystals can be used for either heating and lighting homes, or as a destructive weapon. Sounds like nuclear power. Zaren and his regime are a model of despotism. They plan to attack peaceful nations on the presumption of preventing an attack. Nationalist paranoia.

Pre-Nemo -- 1961 was a year for Nemo revivals. Robur, in Master of the World was a Nemo-type. The cool fish-shaped submarine in Atlantis was very reminiscent of Nemo's Nautilus. Later in the year, Mysterious Island will revive the character of Nemo himself and Nautilus.

Faithful Pal -- It was a hallmark of Pal's productions, that his Christian faith would enter the story somewhere. After his long career, Pal was feeling less subtle. He has Azor, perhaps on the model of Melchizedek, come to believe in "the one true God," and not all the usual Atlantean idols. Azor gives Antillia the gospel and later pronounces that God will judge (destroy) Atlantis for their wickedness and wantonness. All this brings an air of Biblical epic flavor to his movie (as in The Ten Commandments, etc.

Sci-fi Roots -- George Pal produced and directed several big sci-fi movies, When Worlds Collide ('51), War of the Worlds ('53), Conquest of Space ('55) and Time Machine ('60). The screenwriter, David Mainwaring, wrote for the classic Invasion of the Body Snatchers ('56)

Bull! -- In a dark take-off of a trope from Pinocchio, the sinister chemists of Atlantis are turning slaves into bull-men, complete with snouts, ears and horns. The motive is apparently a strong-like-bull labor force who don't question commands. While not explored much within the script, such tampering is yet another reason for God's justice upon Atlantis.

At Least There's Water -- Previous films about "Atlantis" had the place far from any ocean. Pierre Benoit's novel had been made into several films. L'Atlantide, 1921, Queen of Atlantis 1932, and Siren of Atlantis 1949. All of these used Benoit's notion that Atlantis was actually a city under the sands of the Sahara desert. The '32 film starred Bridgette Helm (from Metropolis as Antinea, Queen of Atlantis. In 1961, Edgar Ulmer directed yet another remake of Benoit's novel, using the earlier title, L'Atlantide. At least in Pal's version, Atlantis bore a closer resemblance to the ancient Greek legends. There was water.

Bottom line? Unless you happen to like sword-and-sandal movies, Atlantis will likely disappoint a sci-fi fan fond of rockets or saucers or aliens. There is precious little for the usual sci-fi fan beyond the cool sub (which only gets a few minutes of screen time) and the crystal heat beam. It has an historical niche, however.

1 comment:

Randall Landers said...

It's a gorgeous epic that I remember fondly, and never miss it when it airs on TCM.