Monday, August 15, 2011

Diving Into The MAN FROM ATLANTIS (1977)

I received my Man From Atlantis DVDs - both the TV Movies Collection and Complete Series set - from Warner Archive (thanks, Matt!) last Friday, and spent a large chunk of my weekend submerged in its 70's retro TV charms. I will be posting a full review later this week, both here (with screenshots) and at my DVD Late Show site (without screenshots), but I wanted to make a few observations here that might not make it into my formal review.

One thing I noticed was that while the 90-minute TV films were science fiction, and had plots based around scientific (or pseudo-scientific) elements, the weekly television series was pretty much pure fantasy, with amnesiac aqua-mariner Mark Harris gallivanting around through time and space, often without even any attempt to rationalize or explain his travels. In one episode, "Shoot-Out At Land's End," he meets his identical, water-breathing twin in the Old West, but the time-shift is completely unexplained. In another, "The Naked Montague," he magically finds himself in the midst of Shakespeare's fictional Romeo and Juliet - and it's portrayed as being a "real" experience.

While the TV movies seem to be aimed at a family audience, with a little something for both parents and kids, the weekly series - probably by network dictate - seems to be purely a kid's show. There is virtually no violence at all in most episodes (even fist fights), and stories tend to be wrapped up in the most remarkably anti-climactic manner; usually by Mark just being infuriatingly calm and reasonable. For one example - "Imp," which stars Pat (Karate Kid) Morita as a mischievous - and utterly inexplicable - magical troublemaker who wreaks havoc and causes several deaths over 40 minutes... only to (SPOILER) meekly apologize and go away (to wherever he came from) once Mark gets a chance to talk to him for 30 seconds and reasonably explain to him the damage he's caused. Sigh.

The weekly show looks great, though, with consistently nice photography, great sets (the revamped interior of the Cetacean submersible and the Foundation's underground headquarters are both really slick, by 70s TV standards), and marvelous, Old School miniature effects. There's even some little bits of stop-motion here and there, handled by Gene Warren's (The Land Of the Lost) effects house.

Patrick Duffy is always likable and engaging, and Belinda J. Montgomery (who unfortunately sees her role drastically diminished once the show goes to series - and is absent entirely from the final two installments) is beautiful and sexy-smart. Victor Buono is amusing as Mark's recurring nemesis, Mr. Schubert, but he's frankly overused (he appears in five out of the first seven episodes) and far too genial to be much of a threat. In fact, he's so nonthreatening, that it really drives home the idea that NBC saw Man From Atlantis as a prime-time kiddie show, rather than a general audience science fiction adventure.

Again, I'll be writing full reviews for later in the week, but I will say that Warner Archive's "remastered" DVDs look really good. There's still plenty of specks and bits of debris on the prints, but overall picture quality is very stable and strong, with bright colors, and generally excellent detail. Stay tuned.


  1. A friend really likes this show, and I've been wondering why I'm drawing a blank on it. I know I saw some episodes. This informal review looks like my answer. The show doesn't sound like it would have held my attention even as a kid. "Don't worry, it's for kids. Nothing has to make sense."

  2. I remember enjoying the pilot movies when they aired, but when the weekly series arrived in the fall, I was dismayed at how the powers that be had made it stupid. Having read "The Making of Star Trek" back in fourth grade two years previously, I knew that network executives often tried to force the inclusion of stupidly bad ideas upon those who actually make the programs. I wandered away from the kiddified version of "The Man from Atlantis" because the show was too painful for me, as an intelligent child viewer. to watch.

    A couple of years later, I read Alan Brennert's account of working on Glen Larson's "Buck Rogers" series in STARLOG and the forced inclusion of "Lucky the Dog" in "The Return of the Fighting 69th" and other nonsensical diktats from Standards and Practices. Basically, air was awash in stupidity at disco-era NBC.

  3. Well, the 70's were filled with TV shows that were family-friendly and appear pretty lame by today's standards. But it was a time when the whole family could sit down and watch the same show and everyone walked away pretty happy with the results. We live in a very different time today, where most parents may watch dramas/comedies, the little kids watch cartoons and the teenagers watch reality shows.

    I for one, remember this show fondly and it was canceled way too soon.

  4. "Family-friendly" is not (and should not be) synonymous with "lame". While every era has its unsuccessful shows that make you scratch your head and ask "Whatever made them think that was a good idea?", it seems to me that the lasting iconic genre shows of the late-sixties generally got the mix between being family-friendly and genuinely entertaining right in a way that too many of the imaginative genre programs of the mid-to-late seventies did not.

    When I criticize programs like "The Man from Atlantis" or "Logan's Run" or "Buck Rogers", it is done out of love for telefantasy, rather than to rag on how lame old shows are with a sense of ironic hipster superiority.

    In my twenty-first century household, my children were brought up with my video collection. We lived a decade in rural Appalachia without cable or satellite and only received a PBS affiliate clearly. For that period it was very rare to see something made after 1995. My children were exposed early to "Doctor Who", "Star Trek" (TOS and TNG), a limited selection of "The Wild, Wild West", "The Avengers", "The Prisoner", "Space:1999", "Red Dwarf", "Star Blazers" and so on.

    Unfortunately, at the time, the Space: 1970 era wasn't too well-represented on video.

    Through the magic of YouTube, I've tried to introduce my now-adolescent daughter to the magic of Sid and Marty Kroft (or at least a smattering of scenes and title sequences from their shows)... I think I broke her mind with those. :-) I've also introduced her to Kolchak; The Night Stalker, which she enjoyed.

    My daughter likes old-style programming and is not afraid of black and white.

  5. I tend to lean towards Chris' comments regarding Atlantis, now seeing the series on the official DVD release. I was one who never thought the series would see the light of day on DVD, and invested in a bootleg off air VHS to DVD set, and was pleased with that, so to now have the official release as a Christmas gift, suffice to say I'm a very happy boy. It's reminding me when I watched it as a 10 year old who thought Elizabeth was hot and that sub was cool.

    Sure, it's campy, leaning towards kids. That's half the fun for me looking back at it.

    Today's reality show world of prime time has a lot of meanness and promotes being nasty. It could use a bit of camp and foolishness. There have been worse shows that have a following...70s Doctor Who, Starlost, all have a certain thing that connect with someone one way or another.

    I agree with Patrick Duffy who said the show never reached it's potential. Network censors and practices certainly hinder such a thing. They probably needed Gene Roddenberry along with Herb Solow going to bat for MGM against NBC for atlantis. With that, it might have a chance, but it didn't.

    Enjoy what was made, and don't over analyze the show. I know watching the DVD's, I have.