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Monday, August 15, 2011

I received my Man From Atlantis DVDs - both the TV Movies Collection and Complete Series set - from Warner Archive (thanks, Matt!) last Friday, and spent a large chunk of my weekend submerged in its 70's retro TV charms. I will be posting a full review later this week, both here (with screenshots) and at my DVD Late Show site (without screenshots), but I wanted to make a few observations here that might not make it into my formal review.

One thing I noticed was that while the 90-minute TV films were science fiction, and had plots based around scientific (or pseudo-scientific) elements, the weekly television series was pretty much pure fantasy, with amnesiac aqua-mariner Mark Harris gallivanting around through time and space, often without even any attempt to rationalize or explain his travels. In one episode, "Shoot-Out At Land's End," he meets his identical, water-breathing twin in the Old West, but the time-shift is completely unexplained. In another, "The Naked Montague," he magically finds himself in the midst of Shakespeare's fictional Romeo and Juliet - and it's portrayed as being a "real" experience.

While the TV movies seem to be aimed at a family audience, with a little something for both parents and kids, the weekly series - probably by network dictate - seems to be purely a kid's show. There is virtually no violence at all in most episodes (even fist fights), and stories tend to be wrapped up in the most remarkably anti-climactic manner; usually by Mark just being infuriatingly calm and reasonable. For one example - "Imp," which stars Pat (Karate Kid) Morita as a mischievous - and utterly inexplicable - magical troublemaker who wreaks havoc and causes several deaths over 40 minutes... only to (SPOILER) meekly apologize and go away (to wherever he came from) once Mark gets a chance to talk to him for 30 seconds and reasonably explain to him the damage he's caused. Sigh.

The weekly show looks great, though, with consistently nice photography, great sets (the revamped interior of the Cetacean submersible and the Foundation's underground headquarters are both really slick, by 70s TV standards), and marvelous, Old School miniature effects. There's even some little bits of stop-motion here and there, handled by Gene Warren's (The Land Of the Lost) effects house.

Patrick Duffy is always likable and engaging, and Belinda J. Montgomery (who unfortunately sees her role drastically diminished once the show goes to series - and is absent entirely from the final two installments) is beautiful and sexy-smart. Victor Buono is amusing as Mark's recurring nemesis, Mr. Schubert, but he's frankly overused (he appears in five out of the first seven episodes) and far too genial to be much of a threat. In fact, he's so nonthreatening, that it really drives home the idea that NBC saw Man From Atlantis as a prime-time kiddie show, rather than a general audience science fiction adventure.

Again, I'll be writing full reviews for later in the week, but I will say that Warner Archive's "remastered" DVDs look really good. There's still plenty of specks and bits of debris on the prints, but overall picture quality is very stable and strong, with bright colors, and generally excellent detail. Stay tuned.


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