Warlords of Atlantis (1978)
The name of British director Kevin Connor has become synonymous with a series of Sci-Fi and Fantasy movies released in the 1970s by the short-lived British production company EMI Films which were famous for their not-so-special special effects, their clunky scripts and mixed repertoire of actors and actresses including Hammer Horror stalwart Peter Cushing and American B-movie legend Doug McClure (more famous now as the major inspiration for the character of Troy McClure in the ‘Simpsons’). However over the years the films of the EMI series have joined those other cult classics in the British tradition of low-budget but imaginative TV and movie offerings in the Science-Fiction and Horror genres, including the ‘Quatermass’ series (1953-2005) and of course ‘Doctor Who’ (1963-present). In the case of EMI such gems (or at least, nuggets) as ‘The Land That Time Forgot’ (1975), ‘At the Earth’s Core’ (1976) and ‘The People That Time Forgot’ (1977) are fondly remembered and remain high on the B-movie picks of many a geek. However the ‘Warlords of Atlantis’, though in some ways probably the most ambitious of the series, is also conversely the poorest and most lacklustre.
The storyline is simple enough (unsurprisingly). Set around the turn of the 19th century it features a British archaeologist called Professor Aitken (British actor Peter Gilmore in a quiescent role far away from his boisterous performance as the star of the contemporary BBC TV drama ‘The Onedin Line’) who has chartered a ship to take him out to sea in search of underwater evidence for the lost city of Atlantis, using a diving bell designed by American engineer Greg Collinson (McClure in a rather tired performance). However the crew of the ship almost immediately encounter danger, first with a giant reptile that attacks the diving bell while on a deep sea expedition and then by a mutiny onboard the ship which is interrupted by the attack of a giant octopus (in glorious, unconvincing rubber!) dragging most of the crew down to the undersea domain of Atlantis.
There they meet the warlords of Atlantis (there is actually a genuinely wonderful stay-in-the-memory moment where the helmeted guards of the Warlords rise menacingly from the waters of an undersea lake) and become aware that the Atlanteans use human beings for slaves: as servants and warriors. The Atlanteans themselves are in fact alien refugees from Mars, who hide behind and manipulate human history. The rest of the movie is taken up with attempts by the main characters to escape the underwater city, and the inevitable romantic liaison for Dog McClure’s character with one of the female followers of the Atlanteans, Delphine (minor British actress Lea Brodie), until a less than satisfying dénouement is reached.
And that is pretty much it. Despite the above par direction, and sparks of imagination, the film is frequently let down by the rather lame nature of the script, the stretched out scenes where noting much in particular happens, and the sub-‘Blakes 7’ effects (even the hairstyles of the warlords look ABBA-esque silly). Most of the acting is ok, though no one in particular shines, and McClure is even more wooden than usual (if that is possible). However, justified criticisms aside, ‘Warlords of Atlantis’ is still likeable enough to make it worth a viewing, with a bright Technicolor feel to it (thanks to the ‘exotic’ locale shoots) and is in some ways everything that a good Saturday afternoon Sci-Fi flick should be about: easy on the eye and easy on the mind. And if the script or special effects don’t work for you – well, there is always Lea Brodie to look at.
‘Warlords of Atlantis’ is available in a rather pedestrian DVD edition perhaps reflecting its limited popularity – even within the world of cultdom. However there is an excellent value for money bundle available, with the wonderfully overblown title of ‘The Doug McClure Fantasy Adventure Triple Bill’, which features along with the ‘Warlords of Atlantis’, two other classic titles: ‘The Land That Time Forgot’ and ‘At the Earth’s Core’. Now that is what I call a good way to spend an evening. Settle in with a good Chinese and enjoy!