Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Warlords of Atlantis (1978) review


Doug McClure (Gregory Collinson), Peter Gilmore (Charles Aitken), Shane Rimmer (Captain Daniels), Lea Brodie (Delphine), Michael Gothard (Atmir), John Ratzenberger (Fenn), Cyd Charisse (Atsil)

Directed by Kevin Conner

Professor Aitken and his son, Charles, charter a boat into the Atlantic Ocean along with engineer, Gregory Collinson. Having designed an unusual diving bell, Greg and Charles submerge below the depths of the ocean where they are attacked by a prehistoric creature. When the duo locate a gigantic ancient artifact made of gold, it becomes quickly apparent to Greg that the Aitken's had more in mind than simply looking for species of fish. After the ominous golden emblem is hoisted aboard the Texas Rose, the ship hands decide to make off with the gold and attempt to kill Greg and Charles by severing the lines to the diving bell. A gigantic octopus emerges from a sea cave and captures those still aboard the ship as well as the diving bell below. The group find themselves alive and in a strange, fantastic land.

It is soon learned that they have been brought to what remains of the lost seven cities of Atlantis. Charles is taken away while the others are imprisoned. Taken to the sanctum of Atsil and Atraxon, Charles learns that the Atlanteans are actually a martian race that have manipulated the history of mankind for centuries with wars and strife. The aliens wish to amalgamate Charles's superior intellect into their circle making him one of them. The others are to be turned into gill men to be used as slaves. However, Greg and the other captives manage to escape during an attack by gigantic monsters. They rescue Charles and narrowly escape Atlantis to make it back home alive.

The John Dark/Kevin Connor lost world series concludes with this fourth installment; the only one not from an Edgar Rice Burroughs story and also not part of the Amicus fantasy series. Amicus had already dissolved before this film went into production. It's an interesting script yet somehow this fourth, evidently more ambitious film, is the weakest of the quartet.

The plentiful effects work both visual and monster designs surpass the previous entries yet are still done with limited means but possess much imagination. With this said, something is still missing. Perhaps it's the weak characterizations. Unlike the other films (especially PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT), the viewer cares very little for any of the characters onscreen. The entertainment value takes the place of interesting personas.

Even Doug McClure fails to live up to his lively roles in the prior pictures. According to Connor, he was a pleasure to work with and did all his own stunt work. McClure made a nice niche late in his career performing in horror and monster pictures that are fondly remembered by monster fans. McClure also appeared in the Roger Corman 'boobs & blood classic', HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) and one of the sleaziest movies ever to come from a major studio, THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982).

Shane Rimmer returns from the previous film, eschewing comedy relief for the role of the captain of the Texas Rose. His role is bigger than the other movie, but not nearly as memorable. Rimmer has had a steady career in film and television in bit roles including SUPERMAN 2 (1980) and ROLLERBALL (1975).

As exquisite as the stunning frame of Lea Brodie is, her character is sadly underdeveloped and is of lesser interest than the similar character played by Caroline Munro in AT THE EARTH'S CORE. However, one big difference is that Brodie gets in on the action during the conclusion firing on the Atlanteans so the humans can make their escape. Oddly, this British actress seemed to drop off the radar in cinema presumably settling on a different profession. A shame she didn't continue her career in film.

John Ratzenberger appears in an early film role as Fenn, one of the duplicitous shipmates. Ratzenberger would soon find fame as Cliff Claven, the mouthy and annoying mailman on the 11 season run of the classic series, CHEERS (1982-1993). Ratzenberger also took roles as a Heavy Metal band member (Ivan & the Terribles) in the film MOTEL HELL (1980) again directed by Kevin Connor. He also had a comedic role in HOUSE 2: THE SECOND STORY (1987).

Director Connor keeps the pace going at a fair clip although the movie bogs down a bit once the humans reach Vaar. The Atlanteans take Charles away to explain who they are and how they came to be below the oceans depths. Meanwhile, Gregory and the other prisoners devise a means of escape. This section slows down the proceedings a bit but picks up considerably once the two Zarg attack the city. These creatures are prickly backed monstrosities with a spiked club for a tail. They resemble an Ankylosaurus from the Cretaceous Period in mans pre-history. The Zarg also has the ability to crawl up walls. This segment entails a good portion of the films running time.

Following this lengthy sequence, Gregory and company manage to rescue Charles and escape Vaar with the beautiful Delphine. This is where the action never lets up till the final credits roll. A gallery of monsters attack the escaping humans including a mutated millipede like monster seen earlier in the picture guarding the entrance to Vaar. Man eating flying fish and sea serpents also attack the protagonists. Once they ascend to the surface, there is one last appearance by the impressive octopus model to take back the golden totem.

There is one script conceit taken from a factual altercation that adds a bit of supplementary interest to the film. Brian Hayles figures into his screenplay the bizarre Mary Celeste incident of 1872 wherein a ships captain, his family and crew disappeared without a trace leaving behind an empty vessel. Robert Brown plays Captain Briggs in this film, the former skipper of the Mary Celeste having been brought to Atlantis by the ominous octopus and turned into a gilled slave and defender of the city of Vaar. Brown appears in a handful of scenes before being swallowed up by the Zarg monsters during the major attack scene in the course of the latter part of the movie.

Despite the weak matte paintings and the mock up monsters, fans of old school style creature features will find a lot to savor here. When Atmir "welcomes" the humans to Atlantis, the journey to Vaar, the fourth city, is adorned with striking otherworldly vistas and images of the other cities. Since STAR WARS had hit theaters the year prior, revolutionizing special effects in movies, the effects in WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978) pale in comparison. Signaling the end of the fanciful Saturday Matinee style fantasy adventure and the onslaught of the Hollywood blockbuster (first introduced back in 1975 with the release of JAWS), WARLORDS was one of the last of its kind.

WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978) is basically a reworking of AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976) substituting the world of Pellucidar beneath the Earth's crust for the undersea Atlantis setting. A similar story modification was utilized for the Bond film, MOONRAKER (1979), which was more or less a remake of 1977's THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. In that film, the villain was attempting to create a world under the sea populated by a superior race whilst the space age MOONRAKER had the villain attempting the same thing only in outer space. Bond is also paired with a female super agent in both.

In WARLORDS, the story has McClure's character devising the Bathysphere with which to make the journey below the Atlantic waters. In CORE, McClure's character again designs the gigantic mole that he and his professor friend drill beneath the Earth's crust. CORE, also like WARLORDS, has a society enslaved by a dominating race of beings. Both films also feature romantic subplots for McClure to become entangled in. In WARLORDS, it's never fleshed out and seemingly forgotten about almost as soon as it transpires. Also in both films, this female love interest is unable to leave the world in which the heroes have placed themselves in having to stay behind much to McClure's dismay. This plot device was handled far better in AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976).

This last John Dark and Kevin Connor collaboration is an enjoyable romp despite lacking much of the magic of the previous three pictures. Mike Vickers score does an admirable job of adding a mysterious ambiance to the Atlantis scenes and aids boisterously in the action set pieces.

However, the absence of worthy characters keeps the film from reaching the heights of the previous three regardless of whatever limitations these productions may contain. Even still, taken as simply a monster movie, WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978) succeeds on the level of 90+ minutes well spent and a must for creature feature fans.

This review is representative of the R2 Studio Canal British DVD.

Goliath Against the Giants (1961) review


Brad Harris (Goliath), Gloria Milland (Princess Elea), Fernando Rey (Bokahn), Barbara Carroll (Daiena), Fernando Sancho (Namath), Nello Pazzafini (Jagoran), Mimmo Palmara

Screenwriters: Gianfranco Parolini, Sergio Sollima; AD: Romolo Girolami; 2nd Unit director: Jorg Grau; Music by Carlo Innocenzi

Directed by Guido Malatesta & Gianfranco Parolini

Away fighting in a war for five years, Goliath plans to return to his homeland after learning King Argastese of Beyrath has been dethroned with the evil Bokan taking his place. After rescuing a mysterious and beautiful maiden on the island of Ayallus, Goliath and his crew are attacked by a sea monster. His ship destroyed, they end up on the beaches of Veyrath where more dangers ensue including a motley of giant men whom Goliath banished to the valley of Janafar. On his quest to restore his homeland, Goliath must battle assorted monsters and armies of soldiers to eradicate the treacherous Bokhan.

Original director Malatesta was replaced by Parolini after he lost control of the production. Parolini was able to get the film back on track and the resulting film proved to be a hit both domestically and internationally. While the bulk of the film is of a higher quality than the usual Malatesta movie, the chaotic nature of the film shows that enough of Malatesta's scenes remain in the final product. There are enough monsters and action for several fusto movies combined. The finale seems to go on interminably. Goliath manages to liberate the city of Beyrath then goes after Jagoran before dueling with the giants of the title when out of nowhere, another dragon shows up(!)

Earlier in the film, Goliath's ship is destroyed by a sea monster which in some shots is a real lizard inside a tank of some sort. A rather detailed upper torso of the lizard is also utilized for the action shots with the actors. Aside from the fakeness of the bits using the real lizard, the sequence is well handled. Irregardless of what many reviewers may say, I find the hydraulically controlled monstrosities in Italian muscleman movies to be quite well designed some of the time.

They're clearly fake, but a lot of care went into their creation and most should remember that this was in Italy in the 1960's. They couldn't match most US productions in the budget department and had to make do with creativity and ingenuity. In addition to two dragons (probably the same creation refurbished to look different), there's also an army of Amazons, a huge ape creature, an attack by some lions and the giants of the title. The character of Goliath definitely gets a workout in this movie in addition to the gorgeous women he interacts with throughout the films 90 minute running time.

Brad Harris is perfect for these kinds of movies and is one of the better actors to play the muscleman roles. He has a ruggedness that gives him an almost comic book appearance that adds another layer to the films he participated in. He was an American performer who also appeared in SAMSON (1961) and THE FURY OF HERCULES (1962) among his sword & sandal credits. Harris was also a stunt man as well as a producer. He also dabbled in a few obscure spaghetti westerns before returning to the peplum arena in the awful Bruno Mattei cheese fest, THE SEVEN MAGNIFICENT GLADIATORS (1983) co-starring alongside Lou Ferrigno.

Fernando Sancho is almost unrecognizable as Namath, the faithful compatriot to Goliath. He is a bit smaller in weight, his hair is curly and he is without his bushy mustache seen in his countless spaghetti westerns. An unusual role for Sancho, he exits the picture rather early. It's a shame he didn't make it a bit further into the film as he was definitely an unusual presence in a production such as this. Sancho carved an indelible niche for himself as an actor portraying bandits in the later western productions that took over after the peplums finished their run.

The gorgeous Gloria Milland is a stand out beauty with some very fine curves. Like most all other peplum actresses, she's put into harms way on multiple occasions allowing several glimpses of her heaving chest bound within tight dresses. She also features in THE REBEL GLADIATORS (1963) starring Dan Vadis and Alan Steel and HERCULES AGAINST THE BARBARIANS (1964) starring Mark Forest.

Fernando Rey brings a classiness to his role as the evil usurper Bokhan. He attacks his role with conviction unlike most actors playing sadistic rulers in these movies. Rey is one of many bright spots found here. Nello Pazzafini rules a number of scenes as Bokhan's main heavy. He's more of a presence here than in a fair number of other peplums he featured in. In this genre, Pazzafini fluctuated from playing good and bad guys later confortably migrating in much the same capacity in the Italian westerns that followed.

Again, there are some strong scenes of violence one featuring the villains tossing some men and an old woman from a cliff. We see the body (a dummy obviously, but still effective) as it rolls and tumbles bones breaking as it crashes to the craggy bottom below. An arrow delivered to the injured winner of a bloody game of gladiatorial death matches and a vicious sword to a bad guys face round out the brief bits of startling violence not normally seen in the US import versions of the Torch & Toga flicks.

GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (1961) is a very silly movie. Some of the fights seem almost like rehearsals but there's so much energy and near nonstop action that any shortcomings are easily forgiven. The film delivers lots of popcorn thrills for viewers who simply want to be entertained for 90 minutes. The film was popular enough that it led to bigger things for Parolini. Sadly, things didn't work out so well for Malatesta whose resume is made up of lackluster and easily forgettable movies that are fun in their own right, but aren't of the same quality as this picture.

It's also obvious a bit of money was lavished on this production. Not quite as big a budget as say GOLIATH & THE SINS OF BABYLON (1963) but more than was usually afforded movies of this type. There are some huge sets created for the numerous battle sequences and the cinematography by Alejandro Ulloa is often quite stunning especially some visually impressive location shots; some of which possess an awe inspiring sense of grandeur. Ulloa also performed photographic duties on such pictures as HORROR EXPRESS (1972) and THE STRANGER & THE GUNFIGHTER (1974) in addition to a large number of Italian westerns and other genres of European cinema.

Also of curious note are the various behind the scenes technicians such as master director Sergio Sollima who had a hand in this films script. Romolo Girolami/Gurierri who became a famous director in his own right and Jorg Grau who helmed the famous Euro horror film THE LIVING DEAD AT THE MANCHESTER MORGUE round out the most notable and famous of this films behind the scenes participants. The musical score from Innocenzi is noteworthy especially the main theme.

GOLIATH AGAINST THE GIANTS (1961) is well worth the purchase and a good time for watching with the kids. Save for a few strong moments, the various monsters provide a fun distraction for the young as well as the young at heart. Sword & Sandal fans should enjoy this film quite a lot since it contains so much of what makes the genre a memorable childhood favorite.

This review is representative of the Italian RHV DVD which has an English dubbed soundtrack in addition to the Italian original.
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