This was actually the first of four TV-movies featuring the Man from Atlantis, each of which I eagerly looked forward to. After this, there came 'The Death Scouts,' 'Killer Spores,' and 'The Disappearances,' AKA 'Ark of Doom,' all progressively worse. But none of these compared in sheer awfulness to the short-lived series that followed. That died a lingering death, and fans of the movies could only watch in horror -- when they did watch. Marvel Comics also had a comic book tie-in based on the movies and series. That followed a similar pattern, with a fine first issue followed by intolerably bad ones, leading to a quick cancellation after seven issues.
This first telefilm eschewed camp altogether, playing it absolutely straight. Even the late Victor Buono's Mr. Schubert character was taken seriously. He could easily have been a retread of Buono's King Tut (from the 'Batman' TV series) but instead is a brilliant - maybe a little implausibly so - man hiding his sinister intentions behind a jovial, roly-poly facade. Unfortunately, the plot about a madman wanting to use the superpowers' nuclear arsenals against each other while preserving his own perfect society is too familiar from too many James Bond movies, notably 'The Spy Who Loved Me' and 'Moonraker.' Still, Schubert was far better here than when he resurfaced in the series, where he finally did become as cartoonish as Tut was.
Patrick Duffy got his first big break with the title role. He successfully brought an air of innocence to the usual stranger in a strange land and looked completely at home underwater. His Mark Harris is also virtually unrecognizably slight of build compared with his recent self on ABC's 'Step by Step.'
The special effects were often merely average for '70s sci-fi TV-movies. One exception was the brief scene when Mark races a dolphin in a pool. It conveyed very well the impression of great speed in the water. Also impressive was the production design of Shubert's underwater habitat. Far more convincing than most of the glitzier Bond sets.
Fred Karlin's score was very '70s but still holds up pretty well. It often featured classical guitar as well as relatively lush orchestrations. Especially noticeable (and welcome) is the lack of a driving back beat in most of the pieces.
Belinda J. Montgomery (Elizabeth Merrill) and Lawrence Pressman (Phil Roth) would be reunited 12 years later as regular cast members of 'Doogie Howser, MD.'
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