Sunday, 20 October 2013
Warlords of Atlantis (1978)
The early sequences of the movie have a very decided feel that would today be described as steampunk. It is 1896 and an ambitious expedition is setting out (on a marvellous steam yacht), their destination - the bottom of the sea!
Professor Aitken (Donald Bisset) is the driving force behind the expedition and he is the one putting up the money. American inventor Greg Collinson (Doug McClure) has designed a rather nifty diving bell. He and the professor’s son Charles (Peter Gilmore) will be the ones making the descent. What Collinson has not been told is the real purpose of the expedition. It is not merely to explore the sea floor. Professor Collinson hopes to find the underwater city of Atlantis. The fact that the professor is an archaeologist probably should have given Collinson the clue that the intention is to find more than just interesting species of fish.
They soon have a remarkable stroke of what seems like good luck but turns out to be very bad luck. They discover an impressive golden statue. This is unfortunate because the crew of the yacht Texas Rose are thoroughly unreliable and are soon infected with gold fever. This is about to cause very serious problems when an even bigger problem comes along - a very large and very unfriendly octopus. When I say very large I mean the octopus is rather bigger than the Texas Rose, and when I say very unfriendly I mean the octopus intends to have both the steam yacht and its crew for lunch. In fact their fate turns out to be less immediately fatal but every bit as disturbing and they find themselves in Atlantis.
At this point the movie takes a rather unexpected turn in a very science fictional direction. The Atlanteans are not an ancient Earth civilisation. They are aliens from outer space. They were stranded on Earth aeons ago and their intention is to leave this planet and find their destiny once more among the stars. Unfortunately in order to achieve this destiny they will have to shape the destiny of Earth, and shape it in a very destructive way.
These alien Atlanteans have various paranormal powers and claim to be incredibly advanced although strangely enough the only weapons they have with which to defend themselves from the incessant attack of an unpleasant array of monsters are muzzle-loading cannons and rifles captured from the inhabitants of the upper world (in other words captured from us).
The Atlanteans have plans for the unlucky crew of the Texas Rose and they have very special plans for Charles Aitken. There’s more at stake than just survival - the future of Earth hangs in the balance. Fortunately the aliens have no idea that they’re up against Doug McClure.
These were the days when special effects meant stop-motion animation, miniatures and matte paintings rather than CGI. These were also the days when movie-makers were not dismayed by limited budgets. They were quite willing to tackle very ambitious projects such as this with seriously limited budgets and more often than you’d expect the final results were quite satisfactory. This movie being a definite case in point. Underwater action, vast underwater cities, battle scenes and monsters (lots of monsters) are among the treats in store for the viewer and by and large they look pretty good.
Peter Gilmore makes a fine secondary hero. Doug McClure is, well he’s Doug McClure. You know what to expect and you won’t be disappointed. Look out for Cyd Charisse as an alien.
By this stage Kevin Connor definitely knew what he was doing with a picture like this. The aim is entertainment and Connor keeps it coming. He wasn’t going to let the low budget bother him and there’s no reason why the audience should either. This movie takes its story just seriously enough. In fact the movie strikes the perfect balance in every department. It throws in a few interesting ideas but never lets them bog the story down.
Studiocanal’s Region 2 DVD offers a reasonable if not outstanding anamorphic transfer without any extras.
The steampunk background is a delight and overall Warlords of Atlantis is splendid entertainment that can be recommended without any reservations.