Thursday, November 29, 2018

Movie Review: Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

I hesitate to call this a "blast from the past" movie review even though it's for the film podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood because I never saw Atlantis: The Lost Empire in theaters even though it came out the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school. Perhaps I should have, since it wasn't long historically speaking (less than a decade) until The Princess and the Frog and Disney abandoning old-school 2D animation in favor of 3D stuff like Tangled and Wreck-It Ralph. Let the record state I generally like the 2D look better, especially in the hands of a master like Disney alumnus Don Bluth when he did things like The Secret of the NIMH and Titan A.E., both of which, incidentally, I previously reviewed for Myopia.

Oh well. Too late now. Here's the podcast. And now for the review...


The Plot

It turns out Atlantis was real, but sank beneath the ocean in a cataclysm that killed many of its citizens but left a few survivors hidden in force-fielded disaster shelters. Flash forward thousands of years and we meet Milo Thatch (Michael J. Fox), a boiler-room worker and sometimes academic at a museum whose board of directors is tired of hearing about his theories on Atlantis. Recruited by a friend of his late grandfather, he sets off on an undersea voyage in search of a lost city and its legendary advanced technology. Unfortunately some members of his crew have ulterior motives, and trouble ensues.

No wonder we did this as the last film in a month ostensibly dedicated to Indiana Jones films...

The Good

*The movie starts out with a bang with the destruction of Atlantis (well, most of it) and then we cut straight to Milo's misadventures. Those happen to be hilarious, by the way, especially when the board of trustees are running away from him in a desperate attempt to avoid listening to his theories about Atlantis. Then we meet Whitmore and the submarine and off we go.

*The animation is well-done, meshing traditional drawings with CGI.

*The supporting cast of ethnic stereotypes was kind of amusing, plus they did put some effort into developing them as characters. African-American Dr. Joshua Sweet (Phil Morris) is actually half-Native American and raised in both cultures, while Puerto Rican Audrey Ramirez's (Jacqueline Obradors) more typically masculine interests were encouraged by a father who wanted sons. And given how exaggeratedly macho she can get, one can infer this didn't make her family particularly popular back home and perhaps she had to fight. The one who got the least development is the lecherous and filthy Frenchman "Mole" (Corey Burton).

*Surprisingly edgy for a Disney film on multiple levels--one action sequence is set off by Milo setting off for a midnight crap (complete with a shovel, toilet paper, and him taking his pants off), cars with screaming soldiers exploding, on-screen bleeding wounds, etc. No wonder this one was rated PG.

*Some of the historical detail works, like WWI-style uniforms for the soldiers and one character's angsting about the dangers of the Kaiser.

*There are no contrived ways for the heroes to win without killing bad guys, or at least it's kept to a minimum. You want to stop a bunch of violent thugs from destroying an ancient culture? Prepare to get your hands dirty. I've pointed out the problems with that before. And even though our hero isn't the mightiest man by any stretch of the imagination, he gets in on it too.

The Bad

*During the leviathan attack scene, it was awfully dark and hard to tell what was going on. To be fair I watching that part on my Kindle Fire HDX while on the apartment elliptical rather than on my laptop or a television, but I don't recall having the same issues with the rest of the movie. Considering how much I liked the film's animation, this was somewhat disappointing.

*This is something I didn't notice until Nic pointed it out on the podcast, but Kida, the Atlantean princess, is either unable to or has difficulty reading the old-school Atlantean language, as do apparently many other Atlanteans. Thing is, Kida and her father at least and probably much more of the population have been around since the collapse of Atlantis itself, their aging process dramatically slowed by their supernatural/super-science crystals. It's not like Milo found a group of descendants of ancient Romans who over the course of generations have gradually forgotten most of their language--one can infer that the Atlantean king never actually taught his daughter to read.

Granted, the Atlantean king doesn't seem to be the type (he does, after all, tell Kida she will be queen after him), so I doubt that's actually the case. However, the fact it can even be read that way is a bit of a problem. I could imagine a modern Latin scholar finding a lost Roman colony and re-teaching them stuff they'd lost (remember, most people in ancient times would be illiterate anyway), but given how long-lived the Atlanteans are, it seems very unlikely they'd just forget. If it was made clear that the language used on the technology is something akin to hieroglyphics or Latin and the Atlanteans typically use only a "lower" script/language as was the case in ancient Egypt that might be one thing, but it's NOT. Also, Kida is the heir to the throne and part of the upper class. Realistically she at least would know how to read it even if the Atlantean commoners wouldn't, and given the prevalence of their technology before the collapse, I would expect more of the Atlanteans to know it too.

*The Atlanteans' ability to speak all the different languages doesn't really make a lot of sense. Even thought the Atlanteans look Polynesian, their original language seems to be some kind of Indo-European dialect (the young Kida calls her mother something resembling "Ma"), but despite living underwater for thousands of years they can speak modern English and French? Maybe if it was made clear they'd rescued survivors of ships destroyed by the guardian monster Leviathan over the centuries, that would make more sense.

(It might also replenish their gene pool--considering how they're descended from a relatively small number of survivors and all seem to look generally the same, they're probably getting more and more inbred as the generations pass.)

*It's established early on that Sweet is an Indian medicine man as well as a modern-style doctor, but we never see him trying any Native American medical techniques when things go wrong. It's like a gun on the mantelpiece that's never fired.

*And the Atlanteans initially seem awfully welcoming to people who'd barreled into their homeland uninvited, armed, and in such large numbers. It's even lampshaded by the Atlantean king. Some more mixed reactions by the rank-and-file Atlantean soldiers to their commander's sociability with the strangers might be in order. And the villains' plot could be triggered by an attack by some overzealous Atlantean (think Kocoum attacking John Smith in Pocahontas)--if some idiot gave them a pretext and it isn't initially clear who attacked whom on whose orders, that could keep some of the good people on the bad side longer.

The Verdict

Generally an entertaining film, but there are some logic issues. 8.0 out of 10.

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