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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.'
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Following a ferocious storm, a man is washed up on a beach. The local
hospital cannot revive him, so Dr.Elisabeth Merrill is brought in. An
examination of the dying man's bronchial system reveals the existence
of gill-like membranes. She returns him to the spot where he was found;
as para medics put him back in the water, he suddenly recovers, his
cat-like eyes staring at her.
In addition to being able to breathe underwater, he can swim at incredible speeds ( faster than a dolphin! ), endure the pressures of the deep, and possesses superhuman strength. He needs to wear dark glasses as his eyes are sensitive to light, and must return to the sea at regular intervals. When all the data pertaining to this strange individual is fed into a computer, it comes up with the following answer: Last Citizen Of Atlantis?
Dr.Merrill christens him 'Mark Harris'. He agrees to locate a missing experimental submarine known as the Seaquest. A number of other submersibles have also recently disappeared. Mark requests that when the job is done he be allowed to return to the sea.
Mark discovers the existence of an undersea base under the control of one Mr.Schubert ( Victor Buono ) who wishes to create a new civilisation, and plans to obliterate the existing one by triggering World War Three...
The success of 'The Six Million Dollar Man' led to imitations such as 'The Invisible Man' starring David McCallum and 'Gemini Man', shows in which men with extraordinary powers worked for the good of Mankind with the assistance of secret organisations. 'Man From Atlantis' was produced by Herbert J.Solow, who had worked on 'Star Trek', and the pilot was by Mayo Simon, co-author of the screenplay for 'Futureworld'.
Its an unusually intelligent T.V. movie, with none of the high camp you normally find in a show of this kind. Victor Buono, well remembered as Batman's arch enemy 'King Tut', is remarkably restrained as the villain of the piece. As 'Mark Harris', Patrick Duffy ( not one of my favourite actors ) is surprisingly good, neatly combining Steve Austin with Mr.Spock. The final scene in which he tells Merrill 'I have not learned enough' is very moving. Keeping him silent for the first half was a good idea, as it comes as a genuine shock when he finally speaks. Belinda Montgomery is appealing as what was probably on paper a stock character - the glamorous lady doctor.
Direction was by Lee H.Katzin, who had worked on other shows such as 'Space: 1999' and 'Mission: Impossible'. S.F.X. of the sort we now take for granted did not exist in 1977, of course, but there's some impressive underwater and model shots. Duffy threw himself into the spirit of the thing by doing much of his own swimming. The sets for the undersea base are superb.
When this was first shown in the U.K., critics had a field day disparaging Duffy's yellow trunks and distinctive way of swimming - 'wiggling his bottom' according to Margaret Forwood of The Sun. She went onto claim that the pilot was the most laughable thing on television since the 'Crossroads' episode when Noele Gordon married John Bentley and the whole of Birmingham turned out to watch the event. Come off it, Maggie! Nothing was as bad as that!
Three more T.V. movies were made, followed by a short-lived spin-off series. 'Man From Atlantis' had gotten off to a flying ( or should that be swimming? ) start.
In response to the user who said that his reaction to the show was puzzlement at the sight of 'Bobby Ewing' underwater, let me just say that I admire your powers of foresight, sir. 'Dallas' did not go into production until after 'Man From Atlantis' had ended!
...and he's apparently the last citizen of Atlantis.
When doctors try to revive a man (Duffy) who's turning blue and can't breathe properly (and also has strange webbed hands), a female oceanographer, Dr. Merrill (Mongomery), convinces them to hand him over to her. She takes Mark to the water, pushes him under and he's suddenly revived.
The Man from Atlantis, given the name Mark Harris, is taken to a Navy base where a series of tests are run on him. He swims incredibly fast, can withstand huge pressure under water, has weird looking eyes that are light sensitive and he can't stay above water for too long. Dr. Merrill's commander wants to use Mark's special talents to retrieve a submarine that's been lost; Mark agrees and he discovers an undersea lab run by a Dr. Schubert (Buono) who intends to destroy all of humanity on land by simultaneously launching every nuclear missile.
Most reviewers cite a nostalgic factor for liking the series while pointing out that the resulting weekly show didn't do too well and was cancelled pretty soon (after 13 episodes). I've never seen the show but I'm such a sucker for 70's TV and most of what I've seen (in the comedy - drama - suspense department) has been hugely entertaining so I took a gamble on this; thinking to myself that I have yet to give an adventure/sci-fi series a look. Well; this Pilot episode is quite OK in most respects.
It's actually pretty slow moving and Mark doesn't agree to go on the mission to retrieve the submarine until a good half hour in. Up until then it's mostly fun watching the "fish out of water" routine where this Aquatic man tries to adjust to this new world. The "swim-scenes" are well done; Mark racing a dolphin is executed with skill and all the underwater sequences look good. Once Mark discovers the underwater lab (a pretty effective and good looking scene when he tracks the submarine and enters the facility) you kinda' get a feel for what kind of adventures are in store for him and the film changes gears.
The idea of a scientist attempting to destroy everything on land and create a underwater utopia of sorts is, at best, somewhat worn out in sci-fi terms at least (also; "The Spy who Loved Me", the James Bond flick, had a very similar scenario - and released the same year). The bracelets the scientist puts on his kidnapped workers, which effectively brainwash them into submission, does enhance the sci-fi feel the film is obviously trying to squeeze in.
Everything is resolved in a very benign way with no violence or bad language. It's very kid-friendly so it's no wonder why grown up reviewers who caught this initially on TV get all nostalgic. For a 70's TV show; it looks good enough; Budget wise this must have been at least average to semi-expensive.
Duffy looks good in just his swim trunks and looks great when he's swimming like a dolphin. He's not shown great leading man potential for a series just yet but it's sill early in the game.
Overall; a decent pilot and I'm looking forward to the rest.
This show was formula camp, but it had a couple of quirks that made it less painful to watch. Someone else commented on the recurring villain, Mr. Shubert, played by Victor Buono, but there was more to the character than he mentioned. In the pilot movie, Mr Shubert was indeed played relatively straight. He was the typical Bond-style villain with an elaborate secret underground(water) fortress, a submarine, and legions of heavily armed troops. In the series, however, the heroes seem to have taken over his base and fancy equipment, but left him free to plan new ventures. He appears several times in various episodes, but due to his dwindling resources, his plots are progressively less elaborate, till, in the end, he's reduced to planning some minor mischief from inside a miniature lighthouse at a marina with his one remaining loyal minion. By then, his character has come to resemble "King Tut", whom Mr. Buono played on the "Batman" TV series. Plotting, scheming, but ultimately incompetent. Mr. Shubert also has the obligatory daughter who becomes involved with, and ultimately saves, the hero, but instead of a leggy blond in a jumpsuit, she was a sort of plain, almost dumpy, brunette with horn rimmed glasses and an annoying laugh. Rather than becoming romantically involved with the hero, they become friends, although the series ended without this being developed further. At least the writers had the sense not to even TRY to take this premise too seriously. Otherwise it would have been another "Manimal".
Oh my, what's Bobby from Dallas doing swimming like a fish?
That was my initial reaction to this movie when it first came out. The film and its resultant series are not too bad. However, the series fell into the "Incredible Hulk" zone straight away and never recovered. What's the Hulk zone? Well, it's where you know that (in the Incredible Hulk) David Banner will invariably become angry at least twice in each show, no matter what else happens. In short, an over-used plot device.
With Man from Atlantis it's the same, except you knew that in every episode our fishy hero would be be caught or trapped away from water and begin to dehydrate only to be saved by his trusty side-kick (Belinda Montgomery).
It's formulaic and repetitive, but fun in a silly kind of way. Just don't look for any deep and meaningful stuff.
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