Friday, 5 December 2008

Atlantis, the Lost Continent (1961)

For some reason I was expecting George Pal’s 1961 movie Atlantis, the Lost Continent to be a species of sword and sandal epic, but in fact it’s more of a sci-fi movie, albeit with a setting in the ancient world. In fact once I started watching I found myself remembering having seen this one many years ago.

A Greek fisherman, Demetrius, finds a girl drifting at sea, and he and his father take her back to their village. She claims to be a princess, from a land they've never heard of. Life in a fishing village not being to her taste she begins to pine to return to her home. She persuades Demetrius to help her, promising that if within a month they haven’t found her country she will marry him and settle down to domesticity in his village.

Soon after passing the Pillars of Hercules they encounter an Atlantean submarine, but her homecoming isn’t what she expected. Her father has become enfeebled and the real power now rests with the sinister Zaren. Things are even worse for poor Demetrius. She promised him great rewards, but instead he’s enslaved. Under Zaren’s leadership Atlantis has become cruel and warlike. Atlantean scientists are conducting horrible experiments, turning men into beasts of burden, and Zaren is planning wars of conquest. He has access to a super-weapon, a giant death ray that uses a crystal to concentrate the sun’s energies. There are however ominous signs that the future holds disaster for Atlantis.

The social effects still look (mostly) fairly impressive. There’s the usual mix of action and romance, of treachery and brave deeds as Demetrius proves himself to be a noble hero. John Dall is a delight as the wicked Zaren, hamming it up with great relish. Sal Ponti as Demetrius and Joyce Taylor as the princess of Atlantis don’t need to do much more than look decorative. Edward Platt, better known as the Chief from the Get Smart TV series, makes an appearance as a former scientist turned priest, dismayed by the wickedness of Atlantis.

There’s some moderately tedious moralising about science and technology and human sinfulness and its inevitable punishment by the one true good, but thankfully there’s not enough of this to spoil the movie. I enjoyed the fact that there are no supernatural or fantasy elements at all in the film. It might be far-fetched at times, but it's still far-fetched science fiction. Not that I don't thoroughly enjoyed the supernatural elements in most sword and sandal movies, but the lack of those things gives this one an interestingly different flavour. It’s not quite in the same class as some of George Pal’s other movies, like The Seven Faces of Dr Lao and The Time Machine, but it’s all good fun, with a spectacular climax featuring immense amounts of destruction and with plenty of entertainment value along the way.

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