Doug McClure suddenly finding himself stranded in fantastical realms and fighting off rubbery monsters seemed to happen so often during the 70’s it seemed to be its own sub-genre, but in reality it only (only) happened four times. When the leathery leading man was wrasslin’ with dinosaurs (The Land The Time Forgot), subterranean beings (At The Earth’s Core) or thick-browed cavemen (The People That Time Forgot), he did it under the reliable direction of Kevin Connor from scripts usually adapted from the works of Edgar Rice Burrows. However, for their last collaboration, they would go it alone as their final bout of adventuring would take them *unwisely adopts Sebastian voice from The Little Mermaid* under the sea to explore the lost city of Atlantis and all the fantastical threats it contains.
Far out to sea lies the vessel the Texas Rose which has been chartered by Professor Charles Aitken and his father to test a diving bell designed by charismatic engineer Greg Collinson. However, unbeknownst to Greg and the ship’s obviously untrustworthy crew (I wouldn’t even trust them to get me a sodding coffee), the two boffins are searching for the existence of the fabled lost city of Atlantis and within 20 minutes of the undersea contraption hitting seawater, Greg and Charles has not only been attacked by a sea monster, but they manage to find an Atlantian relic – talk about convenient. However, after slapping their eyes on the solid gold pillar, those dodgy crewmen start to get mutiny on their minds, but are thwarted when a giant, super-pissed octopus, flops on deck and drags everyone to the depths of the ocean.
The six survivors find themselves in the land of Atlantis and are greeted by a member of the ruling class, Atmir – a man who brazenly has adopted his sense of style from Lady Gaga – and the dome-helmeted Guardians who escort them to the fourth Atlantian city of Vaar past a giant, vicious fish/puppy/worm dubbed a Mogdaan.
However, upon entering Vaar, it becomes apparent that the rulers of Atlantis are a group of massive pricks who lord over a slave class made up of the survivors of various wrecks (their leader was on the Marie Celeste) and they have their sights on making Charles one of their own while continuing to shape human history.
Meanwhile, while Greg and the crew assist the slaves in fending off regular attacks on the city by armored beasts named Zaargs, he also somehow finds the time to woo busty slave girl Delphine and stage a revolt before they all undergo a surgical procedure like the rest of the population and get a pair of rather unfetching gills behind their ears. Making like William Shatner, Greg is willing to fight or fuck his way out of any situation – be thankful he chooses the former – but even if he and the crew of the Texas Rose escape Atlantis, that bloody octopus might have a thing or two to say about it.
As kitch and quaint as as every other creaky, fantasy film that had the misfortune to have been released around the time of Star Wars, Warlords Of Atlantis was a regular watch when I was a child. It’s endearingly shit, with floppy monsters, over eager character actors and just enough gratuitous, sweaty cleavage from Lea Brodie’s Delphine to keep the dads from fidgeting while the kids watched and yet much like other marvelously dated adventure films like Clash Of The Titans and the old Sinbad stuff, this stuff, despite its numerous flaws, just feels like my childhood personified.
The plot is pure guff and has something to do with the Atlantians originally hailing from Mars (?) and wanting to kickstart what we know World War II in order to create a united scientific utopia under the rule of Hitler – or something, theres a lot of glowy helmets involved and the rest of the film involves the bickering good guys literally wandering from problem to problem until Delphine comes along and aims them in the right direction. But no one came to these flicks for plot nuance – I mean, I certainly didn’t – and the draw from me was the variety of ropey monsters the heroes has to avoid lest they become a pair of legs kicking limply in the jaws of what is quite blatantly an intricate hand puppet that has been rear projected behind the leads as they swipe at it with rifles. To be brutally honest, most of Warlords’ menagerie is actually pretty lame (the sea serpent that attacks the diving bell at the start has a head like a frying pan for some reason), but I’ve always had a soft spot for the Mogdaan and the full sized cephalopod is cool in a rubbery throwback sort of way. To compare them to the peerless work of Ray Harryhausen would be an unfair exercise in futility as pitting undiluted cinema magic vs. glorified sock puppets hardly seems fair; but the beasts look pretty ratty even when held up against the low tech dinosaurs of The Land That Time Forgot.
The actors give the material probably more respect than it probably deserves, but McClure always had that ridiculous sense of sincere decency that seems to fit these sorts of movies like a glove, even when he unnecessarily strips off his shirt off to show his doughy midsection during the climax for absolutely no reason. Peter Gilmore’s fussy boffin, who diligently tries to name the various creatures that are trying to eat him, is another stock character and we even get a few familiar faces in Bond veteran Shane Rimmer and John Ratzenberger – although watching Cliff from Cheers try and fight off something that looks like an enormous bath toy is something of a hallucinatory experience.
It’s quite derivative too, with a lot of plot points simply cut and pasted over from Connor’s earlier extravaganzas. The plot point that some of our characters may not entirely be trustworthy stings of the shaky truce that’s made with the Germans in Land That Time Forgot while the Mogdaan scene isn’t that different from the plesiosaur attack from the same movie. Additionally, the very Burroughs-style concept of mind controlling, inhuman overseers also is cheekily shifted wholesale over from At The Earth’s Core and it gives an already unsteady story a distinct second-hand feel.
Stiil, the sets are great, the score goes for broke and despite the scotch tape holding it all together, the sense of high adventure is genuinely palpable for those who can gleefully ignore the movie’s shortcomings, but despite carving a sizable groove during my younger years, it’s simply McClure and Connor going through some very familiar motions – just add water.