Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Atlantis: The Lost Empire

(Movie Reviews)

Why I Watched This Movie
So... like A Goofy Movie, this was another movie that I watched for the first time because I was using in my ESL class.
Over the past few years, I've been doing a lot of movie worksheets with my students.
Picking an appropriate movie is always difficult.
Anything too new or too popular, and they've already seen it.  But anything too old or too dated, and they get bored quickly.
I've had the same students for 3 years now, and I've worked through all of my good ideas.  Peter Pan, The Jungle Book, Ichabod and Mr Toad, The Secret of Nimh, The Emperor's New Groove Winnie the PoohPrincess Mononoke, Robin HoodThe Sword in the Stone, 101 Dalmatians, Ducktales, and A Goofy Movie.

I'm running out of ideas.  So for the next movie, I gave my students a choice of 5 movies to vote on, and I put Atlantis on the list.
I had never seen Atlantis before.  I know it had gotten mixed reviews, but at the same time I always thought it looked kind of cool.  So I decided to take a chance on it.  And the students voted for it.

The Review

Over-All
This was an experiment for Disney--an action/adventure animated film.  And experiments are always interesting, even if they don't work out.
I mean, they could've so easily gone with another princess story with cute animals.
This movie, in the end, doesn't work out.  But seeing Disney try to pull this off is so fascinating that, for all it's faults, I can't hate the movie entirely.

Part of the problem is the mix of genres.  This film can never really decide if it wants to be for 10-12 year old boys or for little kids.  And so it tries to do both--violent action scenes for the preteen crowd, but silly cartoon gags for the little kids.
The resulting confusion shows itself on screen.  It's clearly a movie that doesn't know what it wants to be.  But that's part of the fascination as well.

The action sequences are impressive for their animation quality.  The camera zooms around following flying ships and submarines through tunnels and caverns.  (Somebody obviously spent a lot of time working on the animation for this movie.  And I assume computers helped.)
But at the same time, the action sequences are a little bit too busy.  It's sometimes confusing telling what's going on with all the vehicles flying around, and the explosions.

I should note that this isn't actually Disney's first attempt to go after the 10 year old boy market--see also Treasure Planet, and The Black Cauldron.
But even compared with those other movies, Atlantis is by far the most violent.
There's actually a fairly high body count in this movie.  Most of the crew that starts out on the expedition dies along the way.
(Albeit we never see anyone we know die--all of the deaths are faceless extras.  And most of the deaths happen off-screen.  You see the explosion, but you don't see the dead bodies.  But still...)
And the ending sequence I'm fairly sure sets a record for "most machine guns fired in a Disney animated movie".
Is this a good thing or a bad thing? Well... who knows.  10 year old boys will love it.   (And the movie went over fairly well with all the 10 year old boys in my classroom).
As someone who was once a 10-year-old boy myself, part of me can't help but feel that this is exactly the type of movie I would have loved to see at 10 years old, and to view it fondly for that.
But the older part of me wonders if this might be another marker in our  culture's "loss of innocence"--when even Disney movies become filled with machine guns and explosions.

I'll get around to nitpicking other aspects of it down below.

Atlantis
I've always been fascinated by the myth of Atlantis.  And if pop-culture is anything to go by, other people are as well.  (Back when I lived in the United States, I remember the History channel regularly used to run documentaries in which experts debated about the truth of Atlantis.)

Of course there basic concept is fascinating--an entire civilization lost to history.
But there's something even more fascinating about the antiquity and vagueness of the myth.
A lot of the ancient myths feel like they could have some historical value--that they could be mankind's earliest historical record.  The truth may have been distorted over the years, but there could just be a nugget of truth behind the mythology.  (Well, after all, Schliemann found Troy, didn't he?)

Maybe... just maybe... in the mists of antiquity, there was a real lost ancient island civilization out there.
(Yes, I know, most scholars think that Plato was just using Atlantis as an allegory, and that it doesn't come from an ancient oral tradition.  But it's fun to imagine anyway.)

This fascination with Atlantis is no doubt why so many movies and TV shows have attempted to depict Atlantis over the years.
But almost none of them have pulled it off.
The problem is that the myth of Atlantis is at its most fascinating when its mysterious.
When filmmakers try to show Atlantis on the screen, what they project is never quite as interesting as the mystery of the original myth.

...so all that is to say, I think it was bound to disappoint no matter what depiction of Altantis Disney had decided to go for.  It was a no-win situation.
But that being said, they really blew it with this one.  An Atlantis populated by crystals, and strange alien technology, and giant robots, and forcefields, and flying vehicles.  Who wants to see that?

First of all, it takes away all the air of antiquity that lent the myth so much fascination in the first place.
But second of all, the whole thing makes no sense from top to bottom.
Where does this technology come from?  Why is it so advanced?
Why can no one in Atlantis read any longer?
Why are they submerged in the ocean?  What did exactly happen?
What is going on with this crystal thing?
The movie doesn't even try to explain any of this.  In fact the movie itself knows it doesn't make sense.  It's own characters admit as much.
ROURKE:  Talk to me, Thatch. What's happening?
MILO:  Look, all it says here is that the crystal is alive somehow. It I don't know how to explain it. It's their deity. It's their power source.
ROURKE: Speak English, professor.
MILO: They're part of it. It's a part of them. I'm doing the best I can here. 
....and that's all the explanation the viewer gets.  Some strange thing about crystals, which nobody really understands even inside of the movie.

Now, this needn't be a huge problem.  (There are plenty of science fiction movies which don't entirely make sense).  Except that the movie spends so much time on it's own mythology.  If the mythos of Altantis had simply been in the background, I wouldn't complain about it so much.  But because the movie spends so much time on it, I wanted it to make sense.
There were so many long animated sequences in which the crystal transforms a character, or transforms the city.  These sequences can go on for 2 or 3 minutes without any dialogue, while mysterious music is playing in the background.
These sequences are really boring to watch, in large part because the whole world of Atlantis makes no sense.

Characters
I've read a lot of other reviews that complained about how boring all of the characters are in this movie.
I'm somewhat on the fence about this one.  Yes, most of the characters are under-developed.  Most of them just have a funny gag, and one line of backstory, and that's all the characterization they get.
But, on the other hand, it is a cartoon movie after all.  Most cartoon characters aren't really that deep.  If they have one funny gag, that's usually enough.

Part of the problem is that this movie is juggling too many characters, which means we spend too much time getting introduced to characters who are never developed.  (This is probably because Disney was originally planning on using this movie as a springboard for a TV show that never materialized (W).)

That being said, visually at least, these characters are broadly interesting as archetypes.  They at least remind you of a rich tradition of pulp fiction.  Rourke is perfect as the tough-guy adventurer.  Helga is great as the femme fatale.
Audrey and Sweet seem like characters who could be interesting if they were developed.
And Vinny is just there for comic relief, but to give credit, he is pretty funny.  (I love his deadpan delivery).

Rating
I debated between 3 and 4 stars.  It's 3 stars on the merits.  (There's a lot of flaws in it.)  But it's probably 4 stars on the watchability factor. (For all its faults, it's still pretty watchable).
And it went over well with my class of 10 year olds, so it's doing well with its target audience.
4 Stars it is.

Jules Verne
So, apparently this movie was inspired by the novels Jules Verne.
In my opinion, the influence is distant.  (It's a very loose inspiration).  But for what it's worth, here are my reviews of Jules Verne--Journey to the Center of the Earth, and Around the World in Eighty Days.

LINKS
SF Debris absolutely nails this movie.  He says everything there is to say about it.  Recommend watching his review instead of wasting time on mine.

A Look at the Background of Atlantis





Video Review
Video review HERE and embedded below:



Link of the Day
Noam Chomsky : Global Goals of USA

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