Why is it that ship’s captains are almost always portrayed as grizzled? Okay, that’s not quite fair. Many are depicted as being very clean-cut and rule-conscious, but they’re usually captains of a cruise liner that’s about to hit a tidal wave or in the military. Whenever a captain owns their own vessel or if that vessel is a working craft (freighters and such), they are always scruffy and look like they stink worse than their cargo. They weren’t always this way (oh, sure, there were always slovenly seamen, but they couldn’t be trusted, regardless). In King Kong (1933), Captain Englehorn was a very strait-laced yet agreeable fellow. The same goes for Commander Carl Nelson (a military man) in King Kong Escapes (1967) and Captain Ross in the 1976 Kong remake. Yet in Peter Jackson’s 2005 version of the story, Englehorn, while still a principled man, is now much more of a hands-on, working sailor (note his rumpled clothing and five o’clock shadow).
I think the gruff stereotype for sailors was cemented in the public conscience with Robert Shaw’s portrayal of Quint in 1975’s Jaws. Like the proverbial hooker-with-a-heart-of-gold, Quint was colorful (just ask Chief Brody) and cantankerous, yet somehow also sincere and magnetic. Henceforth, we don’t think of crisply-dressed men in starched uniforms when we think of captains. No, we think of a person like Phil Harris from Deadliest Catch. I’m not impugning that man’s character, but he fits the bill for the mental image of a modern sea captain handily, you must agree. But you don’t have to.
The Texas Rose, a fairly nice-sized ship, approaches the Bermuda Triangle. Aboard are her small crew, captained by Captain Daniels (Shane Rimmer), and the Aitken Expedition, led by Professor Aitken (Donald Bisset) and his son Charles (Peter Gilmore). They are accompanied by engineer and all-around he-man Greg (Doug McClure) who designed and built the new, open-bottomed diving bell that they will use on their deep sea exploration. Greg and Charles descend into the abyss and come upon a large gold statue (and a dinosaur) which they haul back to the surface (the statue, not the dinosaur). But before the crew can mount a full-on mutiny for the filthy lucre, a giant octopus rises from the briny deep and snatches the ship’s crew up, whisking them away to the fabled nation of Atlantis. But will they be met with open arms or closed fists? Or neither?
After finding some success with the trifecta of films inspired by/adapted from Edgar Rice Burroughs (The Land That Time Forgot, At The Earth’s Core, and The People That Time Forgot), director Kevin Connor and lucky charm star McClure made Warlords Of Atlantis (aka Warlords Of The Deep). However, unlike the former three films, this one had no attachment to the influential pulp author Burroughs, and by all indications, its script was original. Seeing as how all four films essentially share the same basic plot, though, “original” is actually a very subjective term. Still, Connor and company learned a thing or two from their previous outings, and certainly knew how to throw together a pulp-y adventure film. When the film succeeds, it is highly enjoyable, but when it doesn’t, it really isn’t. Large sections of this film are loaded with inactivity and go nowhere, and it’s these sequences (which feel more like padding than anything else) which prevent this (and, admittedly, the other aforementioned films) from being a favorite, at least from a story perspective. The action sequences almost make up for the inaction sequences, but it truly is an uphill battle to regain an audience’s attention once it has been lost.
Like so very many films focusing on the lost continent, this one deals with Atlantis as a mystical, spiritual place (as was the popular take of the time). The mind is more important than the body in Atlantis. In the fifth city (of seven), where the elite Atlanteans carouse, the surroundings are immaculate, and most of the architecture is pyramidal, playing on not only the notion of pyramids as structures of power but also on the concept that the ancient Atlanteans were instrumental in helping shape the course of civilization on Earth. This provides a link to Egypt, considered by many to be the “Cradle Of Civilization,” and we all know what we think of when we think of Egypt: Mummies. Okay, and pyramids.
The other cities are closer in look and function to decrepit castles and fiefdoms. Here is where the workers (read: slaves) toil their lives away, because of course, you may be able to construct a sewage system for your society with the power of your mind, but you’d most likely rather leave the job to menial laborers, being a not very glamorous undertaking. The slaves are kept in line by hulking warriors, and importantly, we never see any of their faces. They wear reflective helmets with smooth, curved surfaces. They are Atlantean only in point of origin (and the implication is that they are created rather than birthed), because they are not true citizens but dogs serving their masters. They have no faces, because they have no identity. They are a pack of fighters and fodder, period.
This plays into the titular Warlords of the film. These elite want to control the path of man’s destiny, and they mean to do so by creating ever-more destructive weaponry (they claim to want “neutron power”). However, if past actions are any indications, the only thing they truly want is domination, and they’re not above employing violence to achieve it. There is a rather on-the-nose line drawn between the Atlanteans and the Nazis in the film, but it’s an intriguing idea all the same. They want to rule the world, and they certainly have the ability to do so. So, my question is, why don’t they? They say that they need Charles’s intellect to help them along, but considering what they’ve achieved, is this one man’s mind truly going to help them over hurdles they apparently surmounted eons prior? And here’s another beef I have with the film: It’s very idea-oriented, and many of the ideas proffered are fascinating (at least in a drunken brainstorming sort of way). Sadly, they’re also left hanging out in the wind so that the filmmakers could finish up their plot, which is simply a set of arbitrary motions. There is no real resolution, and the film doesn’t have a true ending; it just sort of stops. Whether this was done to leave the door open for future films, I cannot say (and I would suggest that this movies’ spiritual successor is Ruggero Deodato’s Raiders Of Atlantis). What I can say is that by being so open-ended with just about every aspect of this film, it effectively leaves the viewer with nothing to do but sigh rather than cheer.
MVT: The sense of wonder and adventure in the film is infectious, and it is this which does the heavy lifting of the picture. That it is left without solid footing to support it, is lamentable.
Make Or Break: The giant octopus attack scenes make this film. The practical effects (many of which appear to be full-sized, and if they weren’t are even more impressive to me) will make Monster Kids the world over happy. The other creatures in the movie are equally delightful, and the often-wonky puppetry is charming as all hell.