Warner Bros. // 1977 // 1001 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Jim Thomas // August 14th, 2011
Ever wonder what Patrick Duffy did before Dallas?
In the late Seventies, when the fall schedule rolled around, you could be assured of two things:
* M*A*S*H would be there.
* Each network would have at least one underdeveloped science fiction show, desperately hoping to cash in on the post-Star Wars craze. Said show would invariably be cancelled midseason, leaving hoards of disappointed youngsters and unsold merchandise in its wake.
In 1977, ABC was actually ahead of the curve, with The Six Million Dollar Man going strong; they were also developing Battlestar Galactica for the following season. CBS went with Logan's Run to go along with the established Wonder Woman. NBC had brought The Bionic Woman over from ABC for what turned out to be a final season. NBC also had another idea that they were nurturing carefully -- the tale of a mysterious man who just might be the last survivor of Atlantis.
NBC initially aired four TV-movies in the spring and summer of 1977, whetting the audience's appetite for the fall series; said series lasted thirteen episodes before being sent to Davy Jones Locker. Warner Archive previously released the movies separately, but now combines them with the episodes to bring Man From Atlantis: Complete Collection to the court.
One stormy evening, a man washes up on the California coast. He's rushed to the hospital, but despite everyone's best efforts, he appears to be slowly suffocating. The case comes to the attention of marine biologist Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda J. Montgomery, Doogie Howser, M.D.). When she examines the man, she notices a number of things:
1. His eyes react to light differently than human eyes.
2. His hands and feet are webbed.
3. His lung structure is vastly different than human lungs, looking more like gills.
Playing a hunch, she takes the man to the sea and quickly confirms that those odd-looking lungs are in fact adapted to extract oxygen from seawater, not air. Elizabeth takes him to the Foundation for Oceanic Research, a government agency conducting deep-water experiments. Additional test reveal that the man -- whom she dubs "Mark Harris" (Patrick Duffy, Dallas), has exceptional strength and agility underwater, but his strength quickly fades once he's on dry land. He's pretty much Aquaman, without the ability to talk to the fishies. They speculate that he is the last survivor of Atlantis. Unfortunately, Mark himself is of little use as to his origin, as head trauma suffered during the storm has left him with amnesia.
In the middle of their experiments, the Navy shows up with a problem -- a research vessel has disappeared, and they want Mark to try and find it. What Mark discovers is an undersea base controlled by Mr. Schubert, a rich eccentric whose interests in oceanography has led him to the conclusion that the planet would be best served if mankind were wiped out on the surface in order to take up an undersea existence (think Karl Stromberg from The Spy Who Loved Me, but with a folksier attitude). Schubert is fascinated with Mark, and thinks that studying him will enable Schubert to create his own undersea race.
Gosh, will Mark be able to foil Schubert's dastardly scheme?
That's a rough synopsis of the pilot movie. Mark and Elizabeth operate out of the Foundation's headquarters on land; Mark spends relatively little time in the water. Once the series proper gets cranked up, the Cetacean, a deep-water sub, becomes more of a fixture and the plots are less landbound. (Actually, the sub was initially used by Schubert in the first movie; presumably the FOR simply confiscated the sub for its own use.)
On the surface, Man From Atlantis has a solid pedigree. Developed by Herb Solow and produced by Robert Justman, two guys who not only had a lot of television experience, but were also instrumental in the development and production of Star Trek: The Original Series. You'd think these guys would know what they're doing, right?
The evidence suggests otherwise. The TV movies, despite their charm, are rather plodding affairs; each could probably be trimmed down to an hour without sacrificing plot. The episodes have more energy and are better acted; Patrick Duffy in particular has a better handle on the character. However, the writers can't seem to make up their mind if they're taking the show seriously or not, and the results at times border on the stupid. Is it a serious show or a campy show? Part of the problem is that the show uses Victor Buono's Mr. Schubert as the villain five times in the first seven episodes, destroying any sense of menace. On top of that, the costume choice makes it somewhat difficult to take him -- and, by extension, the series -- seriously. I give you People's Exhibit A:
At this point, we're only a hop, skip, and a jump from the final season on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, or even worse, TV's Batman. The concept is promising, but the producers apparently wanted a light, breezy feel to the show.
Acting is a mixed bag. Duffy and Montgomery do their best, but there's only so much you can do with bad material. In the offbeat Mark-discovers-he-has-a-twin episode "Shoot Out at Land's End," Mark finds himself in an Old West town. The writers are much more comfortable with this setting, and the dialogue and the acting are substantially better (in retrospect, that might be why this episode stuck in my head after forty years). There are some interesting guest stars other than Victor Buono, including Kareem Abdul-Jabaar (Airplane!) and Pernell Roberts (Trapper John, M.D.). Video is highly variable. For the underwater and outdoor shots, they had to use a faster film stock, hence a much grainier image. Scenes shot in the studio look much better. The mono audio track is pretty good.
The show is not without its charm; both Duffy and Montgomery are likable actors, and they have good chemistry together. However, overall the show just gets a little too silly for its own good.
The defendant is guilty of drowning a promising concept. Walk the plank, matey!
Review content copyright © 2011 Jim Thomas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 1001 Minutes
Release Year: 1977
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Wikipedia: Man from Atlantis