Atlantis is the mythical island which supposedly sank beneath the waves thousands of years ago and it hasn’t stopped making trouble since, from the writings of Plato to the screenplays of Hollywood this fabled landmass has provided a great backdrop to some quite entertaining tales, also not so entertaining ones, and today we will be looking at one of those lower tier offerings, this one is called Warlords of Atlantis.
The plot of director Kevin Connor’s Warlords of Atlantis is that of your typical action-adventure fantasy movie, one typical of the 1960s and 70s, where we find a ragtag bunch of adventures stumbling across some lost civilization or another. In the case of this film, we have British archaeologist Professor Aitken (Donald Bisset) and his son Charles (Peter Gilmore) leading an expedition to find the lost city of Atlantis, the wrinkle here is that he has not even told the Captain (Shane Rimmer) or any of the crew about their actual goal, including American engineer Greg Collinson (Doug McClure) who has designed a state-of-the-art diving bell. His reasoning for this is that he believed no one would agree to go on an expedition with such a ridiculous destination, but as Doug McClure had already built an “Iron Mole” for a journey to the Earth’s core I’d say he’d most like have been game.
The jig is up rather quickly when the occupants of the diving bell come across a statue made of solid gold near the entrance of an underwater cave, a sure sign that they have found proof of Atlantis, unfortunately, the gold statue is too much of a temptation for their scurvy crew and before you know it there is a mutiny in the offing. Not that this mutiny lasts long as the inhabitants of Atlantis have a giant octopus on the payroll and before you can say “Captain Nemo” the crew are seized by its tentacles and dragged beneath the waves. The castaways are taken to a cavern beneath the ocean floor where they are greeted by Atmir (Michael Gothard) of the Atlantean ruling class and are quickly escorted by spear-wielding Guardians to one of the few remains cities of the fabled Atlantean island. It’s quickly made apparent that this is no vacation stop as the surface-dwellers are taken through a prehistoric swamp inhabited by monsters and are quickly locked in the city dungeon, with the exception of Charles who is escorted to a meeting with King Atraxon (Daniel Massey) and Queen Atsil (Cyd Charisse). These members of the ruling class offer him a position as part of the Atlantean Elite, due to the fact that he is a scientist and they respect his “Alpha mind” and consider him a superior intellect to that of his fellows.
It is from Atsil that we learn that the original Atlanteans came from outer space, Mars to be specific, and while leaving their dying world a collision with a wayward comet resulted in their splash landing in the middle of the Atlantic. Over the centuries they’ve been sending their giant octopus topside to snatch up people to fill out the working class, which mostly consists of fighting off the various monsters that plague the city, eventually the Atlanteans plan to use their great intellect to lead the surface world in a utopia of their making but one doesn’t rush these kinds of things. Meanwhile in the dungeons, as required by any self-respecting adventure story, Greg has befriended a beautiful slave girl named Delphine (Lea Brodie), whose father (Robert Brown) was the captain of the Mary Celeste before the Atlanteans used their recruiting octopus to drag him and his crew below. It’s from him that they learn that they will soon be given gills and with that alteration, they will never be able to return to the oxygen-rich surface. This doesn’t sit well with our hero so he immediately starts plans for escape, unfortunately, this will entail them not only having to rescue Charles from becoming a “One Percenter” but also escaping the city and making their way past various giant monsters.
• You know you’re in for a rough go when the first shot of the film is of a fiery meteor approaching Earth, which makes no sense as it’s thousands of miles from Earth and thus there is no atmosphere for it to burn in.
• The captain of the Texas Rose keeps complaining about how dangerous these waters are, and that many ships have been lost there, but if it’s so dangerous why did he take the job?
• One of the mutinous crew members of the Texas Rose is played by actor John Ratzenberger and I couldn’t help but wish that this was a Pixar movie I was watching.
• We see the diving bell making lateral moves through the water and I start to question the filmmaker’s understanding of how diving bells work, and when the support ship does start to move forward that’s an even worse idea as they can’t tell what underwater obstacles are in the bell’s way.
• A bizarre Atlantean helmet gives Charles visions of a “Scientific Utopia” but he mostly sees acts of war that include the rise of the Third Reich, the Vietnam War and the atomic bomb, clearly, their version of utopia is very different than ours.
While not written by Edgar Rice Burroughs, Warlords of Atlantis definitely has that same pulpy feel found in those classic adventure tales of the 1920s, not to mention the fact that this film also reteamed director Kevin Connor and star Doug McClure who had previously collaborated on three Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptations, The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, and The People That Time Forgot, which makes this film even more in keeping with those pulp adventure stories, though the inclusion of the undersea city of Atlantis and a giant octopus also gives off some serious Jules Verne vibes.
If there can be any fault directed at this film it would be that it was a little too ambitious for the budget it had, we never really get the scale of Atlantis and the chambers where the “Elite” hang out looked like leftover sets from some low-rent Bible story and the plot races along at such a breakneck pace that there is no time for the film to build up a sense of wonder or amazement, which is a key ingredient in any decent fantasy film. What does work are the creature creations by Roger Dicken, whose attack octopus is a real showstopper, and while the other monsters aren’t as ambitious or on par with those found in a Ray Harryhausen film, the variety of monsters on display should keep most of the fans of the genre happy. In conclusion, Warlords of Atlantis is a fun little enterprise that may fail in its delivery of world-building adventure but it’s hard not to enjoy Doug McClure fighting off a variety of villains and monsters.
Trivia Note: This film was originally known as Atlantis but in an attempt to avoid confusion with the 1961 film Atlantis, the Lost Continent it was changed to 7 Cities of Atlantis, but when the television series The Man from Atlantis flopped the executives did not want to associate the film with that show either so it became known as Warlords of the Deep, however, Columbia Pictures had partly financed the film and they believed that this title this too close to their other film The Deep, so it was changed again to Warlords of Atlantis.
Warlords of Atlantis (1978)
Movie Rank - 6/10
If you can get past the issue that the screenwriter had no clue as to how a diving bell works – they don’t tend to float to the surface on their own – there is a lot of fun to be had with Kevin Connor’s Warlords of Atlantis, and much of that is due to the cool monsters and the always fun Doug McClure.