Earlier this month, we mourned the passing of Ray Harryhausen. One of Harryhausen’s earliest jobs was working for another effects pioneer, George Pal, on his series of Puppetoons films. Pal went on to produce and/or direct a wonderful variety of films…including “The War of the Worlds,” “The Time Machine,” and “The 7 Faces of Dr. Lao.” For today’s film, Pal took viewers to that island of legend, in 1961’s “Atlantis, The Lost Continent.”
The film begins with a young fisherman named Demetrios (Sal Ponti…but credited as Anthony Hall) and his father out at sea. They discover a raft, adrift in the middle of the sea, with a young woman named Antillia (Joyce Taylor) on board. They take the girl in at their home and care for her. However, it doesn’t take Antillia long to start making demands…for, you see, she is actually a princess. She is desperate to get back to her home and she eventually convinces Demetrios to set out to sea with her to find it. But on one condition, that she marry him if they cannot find it.
The couple ends up spending most of their sea voyage cuddling in the ship. Right about the time they decide to turn back, they are discovered by a submarine shaped like a giant mechanical fish. It is piloted by soldiers from Atlantis…Antillia’s home.
When they arrive in Atlantis, Antillia is taken to the palace and Demetrios is made a slave. The slaves, all travelers from other lands, work mining crystals which the Atlanteans are using to create weapons. Leading this effort is Zaren (John Dall), who has plans to take over the throne from Antillia’s father and launch a war against the rest of the world.
Demetrios, though, is not content to be a slave…especially with the woman he loves livin’ it up in the palace. When he ends up defeating a 7 foot tall hulk of a man in a strange gladiator style battle he ends up a free man. This allows him the opportunity to win Zaren’s trust…giving him strategic information on how to attack the Greeks. In reality, he is working to sabotage Zaren’s plans from the inside. It also doesn’t hurt that Zaren is oblivious to the impending destruction of Atlantis, having ignored the warnings of the head priest (Edward Platt…yep The Chief from Get Smart).
Atlantis has inspired tons of films over the years. Usually, the Atlanteans are portrayed as being, somehow, much more advanced and intelligent than the rest of the world. Here, that’s the case, once again, however, they are also bloodthirsty. More enlightened, but also the bad guys.
“Atlantis, The Lost Continent” is an interesting movie, but far from Pal’s strongest effort. There’s certainly a lot of great stuff to look at. The sets are absolutely massive and incredibly impressive. They just don’t make ‘em like this anymore…well, without a computer, anyway. Beyond the actual sets, Pal’s miniatures of Atlantis are equally impressive, especially when it comes to their destruction.
At the same time, as visually spectacular as this film is, I couldn’t help but feel that there were many missed opportunities. There really aren’t all that many “fantasy” elements to this story. Early in the movie, Demetrios sees Poseidon rise from the waters…giant and green! I’m thinkin’, “alright, here we go!” But it turns out to be a dream; nothing comes of it. Later, Demetrios is taken to a Moreau-like character who is transforming slaves into man/beasts. Now we’re talkin’! But again, this doesn’t really go anywhere. Perhaps the budget was all spent on fancy sets and costumes, leaving little for creatures. A bit of a shame, if you ask me.
“Atlantis, the Lost Continent” has it’s share of entertaining moments…the gladiator battle is an especially fun scene, in a crazy sort of way. But ultimately, the film feels a bit like George Pal lite…not allowing his considerable talents and imagination to run wild.