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Man From Atlantis

Yes, I've been watching television again. And regretting it quite a lot, as it turns out.

For years I've wanted to watch Man From Atlantis. I have some books based on episodes of the show, and I've always enjoyed them; and I've always thought that the show itself has a great premise. I love the sea, and everything about it. Patrick Duffy is a good actor (and seems to be a nice bloke too, although that's largely irrelevant I suppose) - but for some reason I've just not got around to it. I was given the episodes a couple of months ago though; and after having wound up discussing the show in a number of places just recently, I decided it was time to dig them out and see what they're like. And I'm rather wishing I hadn't bothered. In the interests of fairness, I intend to watch all of the episodes, but it has become apparent quite early on that this is not going to be an especially easy feat. No screencaps this time, as quite honestly I couldn't be bothered. Just ranting, probably. And boggle-eyed disbelief in the case of more than one episode.

So, the Man From Atlantis cliff notes. Amnesiac water-breather, innocent in the ways of the world (or not, depending on the writer), and his scientist friend Elizabeth, tackle crime in the oceans. Or they sort of do, for a bit. Then Elizabeth stops doing anything much at all, and Mark takes to swimming through holes in rocks into hidden magical worlds every week. And nothing remotely exciting ever happens. Ever.

It has a great central concept, does Man From Atlantis. Just the idea of somebody who can breathe underwater is good, because it opens up a whole world of adventure, much in the same way that space travel does. Making him amnesiac means that you don't have to bother coming up with a backstory for him, or worrying about what his race is like, either. That's pretty neat storytelling. It also means that the audience can find out about Mark as he finds out about himself. Good way of introducing the character, and the situation into which he's been thrown. So it's a good idea. The execution, though... really not so good.

On the face of it, the pilot movie isn't bad. It doesn't quite live up to the book that I've been living with all of these years, but that's mostly a time factor thing. It's not very long for a pilot, and some interesting story ideas get skipped over. Is Mark a prisoner of the Navy? He seems to be, but it's not directly addressed. He makes a brief attempt to escape, but it's all dealt with very quickly, and then glossed over. What are Elizabeth's plans for him? That's not really addressed at all. She studies him like a science project, but then gets annoyed with the Navy when they compromise his freedom - yet she's been doing the same thing herself all along. Possibly this is when she realises that herself, and changes her attitudes accordingly, but either way, it could do with being covered. What were her initial plans for him? Is Elizabeth as white on white as it appears?

Then there's the bad guy, Schubert. Now, Victor Buono is a perfectly competent actor, and he's made many appearances in many productions over the years. I don't recall ever thinking any of them were particularly bad. There's just something about Schubert, though. It's as though he's not trying. He's not believable as a bad guy. He tries to drown people just for disagreeing with him. He plans to wipe out humanity just so that he can start again with some people deemed 'worthy'. And yet there's nothing remotely sinister about him. He's not even season three Men From UNCLE material, when that show was in its comic phase, and Napoleon Solo was ballrooming dancing with a gorilla instead of tackling serious crime. I suspect that Man From Atlantis was designed for the same early evening slot that turned the likes of Galactica 80 into such a laughing stock, with the studio censor refusing to allow anything too scary, for fear of frightening the kiddies. This is a dangerously limiting factor for a series that sets out to be adventurous. It needs a proper bad guy. It needs some sense of danger and excitement. It has neither.

Also, Mark has damn silly hair in the pilot. A minor point, perhaps, but I think one that's worth mentioning. Stupid hair aside, he's an interesting character. He needs water to breathe, but he can exist in air for limited periods. Although his strength underwater is enhanced, on land his strength is only normal for a man of his size. Fairly quickly he begins to weaken, and after four hours on land, he's noticeably sluggish. This immediately creates tension, and the possibility for excitement. It gives Mark a tight time period in which he needs to work; always a good idea when you want to create a bit of atmosphere, and put your characters under pressure. It also makes him vulnerable, which is useful. Since under the water he's well nigh unbeatable, it's important that he have weaknesses, or he becomes too powerful, destroying any chance of peril or danger. So it's a shame, then, that Mark was completely redrawn following the pilot, in order to lose those all important vulnerabilities. He keeps a few for a while, but not for long, and after that the show is left with less drama than a children's cartoon. But that's for another post. As the pilot draws to a close, Mark decides to stay with Elizabeth, in order to learn more about humanity. Elizabeth is delighted by this, although she wouldn't be if she'd read ahead. You might be a top scientist now, Elizabeth, but in no time at all, all you'll be doing is pushing buttons and saying "Yes, Mark." Isn't carefully thought out character development a wonderful thing.

Oh dear. That wasn't very positive at all, was it. Let me attempt a list.

Good:

- Mark.
- His swimming technique. Yes, it's daft, and there's little chance that a humanoid creature would develop that swimming technique without evolving a tail, as it's not very energy efficient without one. But it looks cool.
- The sea.
- The whole idea of the thing.

Bad:

- Schubert (the bad guy who has no trace of menace about him at all).
- Elizabeth (the co-lead, whose main ability seems to be to smile sweetly. And that's it).
- The plot, or how it's realised at least. If Schubert is so dangerous then let him be dangerous.
- Does Mark really leave those orcas behind in Schubert's underwater lair? After empathising with them over their desire to be free, he rushes off to rescue the humans, but then leaves them behind to drown?
- Mind control bracelets. It means that in Schubert's underwater base, there are only Schubert and Mark to carry the story along. Everybody else might as well not be there. Besides, it's a lame idea. Sci fi clichés are never particularly encouraging when they turn up in the very first episode.
- The way the writers can't decide whether or not the Navy top brass are bad guys, and just leave their power over Mark unaddressed.

No, that's not very positive either, is it. Oh well. There's always episode two.

Comments

( 16 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )
eandh99
Mar. 28th, 2011 07:40 pm (UTC)
being very, very old, I watched this on original release and remember enjoying it quite a lot. It can't just be because Patrick Duffy is cute and swims in an interesting way. Hopefully it gets better. This show lives in the same "fun tv to watch with my dad" box as the A Team in my memory.
swordznsorcery
Mar. 28th, 2011 08:51 pm (UTC)
Oh, it gets worse. Lots worse! Patrick Duffy is very engaging, though.
ladygretchen
Mar. 28th, 2011 10:36 pm (UTC)
err...uh..wow..I get this review, I totally get this. I think the whole concept of the series is fantastic, but it needed a better execution. Patrick Duffy is charming, love Mark, the ocean and swimming, I love fish out of water stories, but you need an ensemble to carry the whole thing. and I wish they did more with Elizabeth than have her worry about Mark. I really do like her as a character. All the sub talk was trying too hard to be impressive. It would work better too if the story evolved, like more bits and pieces of Mark's past start to come into play. They did try with 'Death Scouts' but that was..well, you know, and then there is a good episode with Mark off in the past of the old West. As for Schubert, he isn't very scary, he's just weird. It needed some really fishy villains to get it going.
Still, If I get bored watching this as an adult, imagine a teen, or a child. I guess I watch it strictly for Duffy. :>
I could see this show being remade, then we can have Duffy come back as a scientist or even a Navy guy. lol. But ocean shows don't seem to get a break, even the Pilot to the Aqua Man spin-off from Smallville was never bought.
swordznsorcery
Mar. 29th, 2011 02:02 pm (UTC)
I rather enjoyed the cowboy episode. :) Pretty much the only one, though! Duffy's great. He does a fine job, and he's a very engaging lead. Nothing at all wrong with him. It's definitely not the show for me though, I'm afraid.
ladygretchen
Mar. 29th, 2011 02:32 pm (UTC)
Well, you tried, and ya can't win em' all.Duffy carried it. It brightens my day to see him in anything he's that engaging. Maybe if there were pirates..not like the modern ones with the siren, but REAL arrr..matey! Pirates, that would have been cool. ;D
jekesta
Mar. 29th, 2011 07:05 am (UTC)
Oh, it's such a shame, because even with you hating it it still sounds so cool. It's one of those concepts that you just can't imagine being as bad as someone is saying it is. HE SWIMS LIKE A DOLPHIN. HE DOESN'T WEAR MANY THINGS. MIND CONTROL BRACELETS! UNDERWATER LAIR! HOLES IN ROCKS LEADING TO MAGICAL WORLDS! Why don't they remake it and sort out its problems? They remake everything else.
swordznsorcery
Mar. 29th, 2011 01:56 pm (UTC)
I know. It's a fabulous premise, it really is. It should be absolutely awesome. They just forgot to put any awesome in it. Usually I hate the idea of remakes, but they really ought to give this one another go. Just as long as they could come up with a decent lead.
ladygretchen
Mar. 29th, 2011 02:36 pm (UTC)
Oh the lead is sooo important. But I'm totally stuck on Duffy. Totally. FYI-Christopher Reeve was originally cast in the role of Mark, but he didn't want to wear the contacts and webbed hands! lol. He said it in his autobio. 'Still Me' I find that funny because I thought Duffy's portrayal of Mark reminded me of Chris as Superman. Cool.
swordznsorcery
Mar. 29th, 2011 05:11 pm (UTC)
Gosh, yes. I remember reading that about Christopher Reeve, now that you mention it. Probably just as well he turned it down. He might not have got to play Superman otherwise! Thinking about it, though, I really like him, but I don't know that he'd have been as right for the role as Patrick Duffy was. Chris Reeve was a big fellow. I can't imagine him being nearly so agile underwater, either!
iceandstars
Mar. 29th, 2011 11:54 am (UTC)
...told you... ;)
swordznsorcery
Mar. 29th, 2011 01:58 pm (UTC)
I know you did. :) It's just that I've always wanted to see this show, and it all sounds so cool, as jekesta said. How did it all go so wrong?!
iceandstars
Mar. 29th, 2011 08:54 pm (UTC)
Ive been asking that for years. Some decision in the creative department, I suppose. a remake could work, certainly. can't think of anybody who would be a good idea for the lead, though. Patrick Duffy looked like he could handle himself. So many actors nowadays look like they could get knocked over by a good sneeze. Or even not a good sneeze.

Can Matt Bomer swim, do you think?
swordznsorcery
Mar. 30th, 2011 05:41 pm (UTC)
Translation: basically you just want Matt Bomer in swimming trunks. Hard luck, he's staying in "White Collar". :p
iceandstars
Mar. 30th, 2011 08:00 pm (UTC)
What, I can't have both?! :p
elenopa
Mar. 29th, 2011 12:45 pm (UTC)
I remember watching this, but really only the webbed hands and Marks style of swimming, which I tried to copy in the swimming pool.

Don't remember many plots at all. Just one where he gets locked up in a jail and gets really weak from being away from the water too long. Somehow he tricks them into turning the fire hose on him and he gets strong enough to bend the bars of the jail and get out.

I must have bee quite young, as that's it.
swordznsorcery
Mar. 29th, 2011 02:00 pm (UTC)
That would be "The Hawk Of Mu", featuring recurring bad guy Schubert's spectacularly awful daughter.

It aired in 1977 in the States, so probably here at much the same time. Not surprised you don't remember it! And there weren't all that many episodes anyway.
( 16 fierce growls — Growl fiercely )

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