Warlords of Atlantis (1978)
Being a child of the seventies I was raised on films. I saw a good many classic during my most formative years, usually on a Sunday afternoon, which I'd watch with my family. I also use to enjoy the adverts in the Evening Standard for the latest cinema releases. The poster art was lurid and exotic and would often promise so much. As video was not yet available to the domestic market, trips to the cinema were much more of an event than they are now. By 1978 I was already a firm fan of the fantasy genre (mainly thanks to the work of Ray Harryhausen) so when Warlords of Atlantis was released I was duly excited. I had seen all the previous films that John Dark had produced in this series. The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core and The People That Time Forgot. Although cheap and cheerful, they were very entertaining, especially to younger audiences.
Now it is important to judge Warlords of Atlantis both within the historical context of the times and in accord with its budget. These movies were modest productions by the standards of the seventies and were certainly not in the same league as Harryhausen's fantasy films at the time. But Roger Dickens rod puppet monsters have a peculiar charm about them. They strive to beat the technical restrictions of their budgets. The miniature work is also good, but then again John Richardson was (and still is) an expert in his field, with a very distinguished pedigree. I would also draw attention to Mike Vickers score which is rather enjoyable. It adds an extra dimension of bogus quality to the proceedings.
The cast is packed with stalwarts of the industry and indeed this genre. Doug McClure was a man who could play himself with great intensity. Then there’s also Shane Rimmer, in-between his work for Gerry Anderson, as well as Michael Gothard and Peter Gilmore. All provide performances that are totally suitable for the material in question. Malta and Gozo once again provide the exotic location required for the mysterious undersea kingdom. Not being hindered by any progressive politics, there is also the ubiquitous ample breasted female. For an unreconstructed ten year old, raised during the pre-Thatcher era, this film just kept ticking the right boxes at the time. There is no laconic humour, or postmodern irony. The story is played straight and the better for it.
Unlike previous John Dark productions, Warlords of Atlantis was not based on the work of Edgar Rice Burroughs. The screenplay was the work of Brian Hayles, one of the bastions of British television. He wrote prolifically for early Doctor Who (The Celestial Toymaker, The Smugglers, The Ice Warriors, The Seeds of Death, The Curse of Peladon and The Monster of Peladon) and often explored socio-political themes. These are present in Warlords of Atlantis, with an elite class of oppressive Martians using a slave class to stave off the constant attack of mutations. I believe the film was originally entitled “Seven Cities of Atlantis” before being altered, to one that did not invoke such high budget imagery.
The market of the time was soon to be saturated by Star Wars rip-offs and as a result, this was the last of the Amicus productions in this vein. Their traditional approach may seem dated to today’s modern sensibilities and I doubt if a contemporary audience would see any virtue in them. I shudder to think what sort or "re-imagining" these films would require to reach the screen today. However, if you can look beyond the superficial, there is entertainment to be had from Warlords of Atlantis. Enjoy it for what it is. It's one hundred times better than any low budget equivalent you’d find these days on Syfy.