Or Deadly Martian Warlords of Atlantis would be a more accurate title, since we’re talking about bad-ass aliens coming to earth and establishing their empire on the sea-bed many centuries ago. This is something of a Boys Own scenario, and it gets a suitably ambitious treatment in Kevin Connor’s Saturday matinee classic from 1978. It’s easy enough to get your head around the plot. Following on from The Land That Time Forgot and other rubber-monster family adventures, Doug McClure plays Greg Collinson, a lantern-jawed hero who leads an early 1900’s expedition aboard the Texas Rose sailing ship, with a diving bell taking him and his crew down to the depths to a surprisingly sun-drenched undersea kingdom.
Goofy it might be, but there’s also lots of points of interest here, not least the work of monster-maker Roger Dicken, warming up for his work on Alien. From the opening sleepy-eyed octopus-attack forward, he comes up with some pretty awesome creations, even if the back projection work isn’t always up to snuff. Atlantis itself is rendered in occasion splendour, with some cool glass paintings to capture it’s majesty. Writer Brian Hayles was responsible for some of the best Dr Who episodes, and the storyline feels ripped from the Pertwee/Baker heyday. It’s not easy getting in to Atlantis, with many monsters to be tackled, and it’s even harder getting back out, but the gelid creatures encountered add some physicality to the struggle. And although the Atlantis denizens are a po-faced bunch, with their mind-control helmet being their only obvious tech, they’re suitable villains for McClure and his team to shake up.
Bonuses include John Ratzenberger, Cliff from Cheers, keenly battling the monsters, plus The Onedin Line’s Peter Gilmour leading the sailors’ charge. And in Atlantis, the random line-up includes Noel Coward surrogate Daniel Massey, plus Bond villain Michael Gothard; the undersea kingdom seems more like a Royal Shakespeare Company aquatic division than a bunch of stranded aliens. Cyd Charisse also turns up, in a costume designed to accentuate her famously long legs, which get as much screen time as the octopus’s equally lengthy appendages. And one detail sticks; when using the mind-control helmet, we see a vision of the potential future of the 20th century if the Martians win, and it’s recognisably the one that we all experienced. Which suggests that as the Martians are defeated here, we’re all currently living in an alternate universe branching off from the reality depicted in Warlords of Atlantis, a sobering thought indeed..
Warlords of Atlantis may have seemed like small potatoes in the wake of Star Wars, the last gasp of a cycle of British movies aimed at kids, but with ideas above their station. The nostalgia factor, however, is high with this one, and as a guilty pleasure, it’s hard to knock this ridiculous, and yet quaintly charming enterprise.
Thanks to Studio Canal for access to this film.