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REVIEW: "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", Disney

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  • Rob Slade, doting grandpa of Ryan and Tr
    VDATLNTS.RVW 20010617 Atlantis: The Lost Empire , Disney, 2001, , %A Disney %C Anaheim, CA %D 2001 %E Disney %G %I Disney %O www.disney.com %P
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 20, 2001
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      VDATLNTS.RVW 20010617

      "Atlantis: The Lost Empire", Disney, 2001, ,
      %A Disney
      %C Anaheim, CA
      %D 2001
      %E Disney
      %G
      %I Disney
      %O www.disney.com
      %P 88 min?
      %T "Atlantis: The Lost Empire"

      At the beginning of the movie, we are presented with what is, truly,
      our sole source of information about Atlantis: Plato's story of it's
      destruction. Out of this scrap of information has come one of the
      most fertile breeding grounds for speculation that the world has ever
      known.

      Plato's description of Atlantis is thin. It lies to the west of
      Greece. It has an advanced civilization and technology. If we trust
      the numbers in his account, it is a subcontinent in the Atlantic
      Ocean. It was destroyed and "sank" in a very short space of time: a
      single night and day.

      (There is evidence that the story came to Plato from Egypt. If we
      accept a mistranslation of Egyptian numbers; a sort of "off by one
      digit" error; the description places us squarely on the island of
      Thera, in the Mediterranean Sea. This island is commonly believed to
      have been the centre of the Minoan civilization, which dominated the
      Greeks before they came to prominence. Since the Greeks, at the time,
      basically used big rowboats that could take advantage of favorable
      winds, a decent sailing ship would have been advanced technology. The
      island was destroyed by a volcanic explosion almost four millennia
      ago, and most of it sank below sea level. That was pretty much the
      end of Minoan civilization, or, at least, influence. Ironically, this
      happened about the time that a fellow named Moses was shepherding his
      relations out of Egypt. But I digress.)

      The screenplay appears to have been put together by committee. Loose
      ends abound. Why does an underground (and underwater) tunnel lead to
      a city that originally existed on the surface? Who created the giant
      lobster, and why is it still working when nothing else is? What
      happened to Grandpa, and why didn't he go after Atlantis? What makes
      the villain think he can get to the surface through a volcanic vent
      that presumably opens underwater? How did the honourable ancestors
      get out of the cavern within a cavern? Why haven't the team killed
      Cookie already? Why do people who must have been writers at one time
      forget how to read when they are surrounded by inscriptions? Why does
      the lost city know "lingua-Roma" when they sank out of sight more than
      a millennium before Latin was more than a local dialect spoken by the
      inhabitants an obscure village in Italy? What happened to the cat?

      We have the standard cast of Disney characters. There is the good-
      hearted but misled hero, the princess, the old sage nobody listens to,
      the newly standard villain-in-goodguy-clothing, and the eccentric
      companions. In it's ongoing attempts to offend everyone equally,
      Disney this time has the part of the comic animal sidekick played by a
      Frenchman.

      The story committee does not appear to have come to any agreement as
      to whether the tale is a comedy or a tragedy, and the result is the
      usual farce. Motivation, always problematic with recent Disney
      movies, seems to have been completely abandoned in this attempt.
      Characters change in an instant. The hero, a bumbling innocent
      through most of the film, changes in the final ten minutes to the Last
      Action Hero. The team leader goes from all-American to monster quite
      suddenly (and, in the end, literally). (It must be said that James
      Garner does a good job of the "disciplined villain" part.) A band of
      tomb robbers, together for a number of years and escapades, changes
      sides the first time somebody tells them they should be ashamed of
      themselves. A thirty eight hundred year old princess not only still
      looks like a teenager, but acts like one as well.

      The Review Project's sociology consultant has noted a definite "anti-
      Barbie" influence at work: both the good princess and the wicked vamp
      have larger hips and thighs than ... chest measurements. This is more
      than a mere fashion statement. Heretofore, women have been, even if
      important to the plot, primarily the objects of men's desires and/or
      protection. While the women in "Atlantis" are few, they are fairly
      strong. The princess starts out as quite a powerful character, and
      even gets to chide the hero for his wimpish aspects. The wicked vamp
      henchperson is a completely new role, and even, in some ways, an
      admirable one. She is not in love with the prime villain, but is
      working with him on her own terms and for her own reasons. She even
      gets to take her own revenge for betrayal.

      (Coincidentally, we also saw the "anti-Disney" movie this week. Shrek
      has a very strong female character, who can take care of herself in a
      fight with six armed guerrillas, using the best moves from both Bruce
      Lee and Jackie Chan.)

      Disney's strange relationship with computer animation is still
      evident. While the lobster and the submarine are obviously primarily
      computer generated, traditional animation still takes centre stage
      most of the time. Oddly, the traditional animation seems to be
      getting worse. Hands are particularly bad this time around, so much
      so that one is jarred out of "willing suspension of disbelief" any
      time one appears. On the other hand (sorry), the marketing department
      seems to have gotten the message even if senior management hasn't.
      The movie trailer concentrated heavily on the computer generated
      images, which is one reason why the trailer is so much more exciting
      than the movie. (Those interested in seeing the movie based on the
      trailer advertising may be sorely disappointed in the actual product.)

      The "modern" technology (circa 1914) is a bit of a problem. When we
      land on the shores of the underwater cavern, we are in a vessel that
      holds at least ten trucks, one of which is at least ten feet high and
      thirty feet long, plus staff and supplies. So our ship has to be at
      least a small ferry, a minimum of fifty metres (150 feet) in length,
      and probably longer. When it detaches from the submarine, it appears
      to be less than a tenth of the length of the larger ship, so that
      makes our sub about 750 metres long and roughly one hundred metres
      wide. Inside the freighter the sub is dwarfed by the hold, so the
      hold has to be at least five hundred metres wide and about the same
      height. Given the aspect ratio of the freighter, we have a ship that
      is roughly five kilometres, or three miles, long. We also have
      folding aircraft that are astoundingly capable (and amazingly Teutonic
      looking) that would have made mincemeat out of any aircraft in the
      first world war. (Billy Bishop wouldn't have had a chance.)

      Initially, I had less trouble with the Atlantean technology. In
      Arthur Clarke's inimitable (though arguable) phrase, any sufficiently
      advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic: we shouldn't
      expect to understand it. However, the Project's sociology consultant
      pointed out that it isn't Atlantean technology, it's Atlantean
      theology. And so it is. How else do you explain that Atlantis Light
      and Power Corp needs a human sacrifice every few thousand years? Oh,
      and what a mixed theology it is, to be sure! We have eastern ancestor
      worship, African tribal masks, Polynesian totems, animist facial
      tattoos, mid-east "sacrifice of the royal line," gnostic secret
      knowledge, pantheist pervasive powers, Greek "rescuing the loved one
      from hell," Norse giants, and, for the newagers, crystals, going
      toward the light, and a general, vague, "feel good" power that makes
      everything come out all right, regardless. The Church of the Whatever
      with a vengeance.

      Now, the kids seemed to like it. Mind you, this particular age seems
      to like Bananas in Pajamas, too. They like things that move, things
      that are noisy, flashes and vistas with no particular reason to them.
      These the movie does provide. But it doesn't provide any of the depth
      that would be needed to make it a classic.

      copyright Robert M. Slade, 2001 VDATLNTS.RVW 20010617

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