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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.


X7 said...

i saw this in the theaters when it came out, and quite enjoyed it. it's too bad it's not available on R1 DVD, but i may even spring to get the R2.
good review!


venoms5 said...

Hi, David. I think the disc is getting harder to find now, but you can get it much cheaper at amazon UK than I paid for it when it was easily obtainable through

Here's a link for you if you do decide to pick it up...

Sean M said...

Only saw WARLORDS very recently but i agree that it is the weakest (but still very enjoyable) movie of the Doug McClure series.
In order of preference i rate the 4films in this order.


ATEC scared the shit out of me as a kid and there are still elements that i find unnerving to this day ie the predatory flying lizards with their ear piercing telepathy with their equally unpleasant footsoldiers.But there is excellent comc relief provided by Peter Cushng in one of my favourite roles for him.This movie also features easily the most satisfying climax with the spectacularly burning destruction of the evil reptile empire including a terrific scrap with the (i think) albino top winged lizard.
For me LAND definitely has the edge over PEOPLE because the latter lacks the suspense as we've already been introduced to the Caprona.I also enjoy the WW1 element to LAND with the numerous double crosses that entail throughout the film.I know that most likely PEOPLE's plot followed the book but i think it goes too far by delving into the medieval thus losing some of it's charm.I don't think the climax is as strong which ape's LAND's with the adventurers fleeing an exploding landscape whilst being pursued by neandertals.Whereas PEOPLE concludes rather cheesily with the scantily clad cavegirl being oggled in the safety of the ship,LAND ends rather more powerfully with the disintegration of the U-boat and the 2 survivors grim realisation of being stranded in the bleak icy landscape of Caprona.

venoms5 said...

I like them all but PEOPLE is my favorite of the quartet. It captures a certain sense of adventure more than the others. Possibly it's the bulk of location work and the excellent score by John Scott helps immensely. It was recently released to CD. The write ups for the remainder of the series is coming soon. A shame they don't make them like this anymore.

Oscar Solis said...

I'm about 13 years late to the game but I remember seeing this one at a drive-in on a double bill with Close Encounters of the Third Kind. As I've gotten older, I've come to appreciate what they were able to accomplish on such low budgets. They may not have been "A" list films but they were very enjoyable. I have to admit, while Close Encounter's effects and production design will always be at the top of any list of great accomplishments in those areas, the story is tiresome. I always find myself skipping around. I never skip around when watching Warlords of Atlantis or any of the Kevin Connor Burrough's films.

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