Tuesday, November 24, 2009

The Lost Continent (1968)

And I thought War-Gods of the Deep was mis-leading.

I thought that maybe this was a re-make of 1951's Lost Continent starring Cesar Romero, but that's arguably my own fault. The poster doesn't claim that at all, and since that movie was of fair quality at best, it's not necessarily a bad thing that this one has nothing in common with it.

But the poster does make other claims that the movie isn't equipped to make good on. The biggest one - and, interestingly, this was also a problem with the 1951 movie - is that there's no lost continent. In '51 there was at least an island that the characters actually set foot on, but '68 doesn't even have that. There's a land mass with some people living on it, but we never get to visit it. The entire film takes place at sea, with the "islanders" (we're never told how big it is) coming out to meet the ship.

More insulting than that though is those cephalopod tentacles on the poster, because there's no such creature in the movie either. What those actually are are plant tendrils. The main threat in the film is killer seaweed.

And that's what's kind of sad about the marketing for this movie, because I'm here to tell you that there's absolutely nothing wrong with killer seaweed. And there's not much else wrong with this movie either; it's just a very different film from the 20,000 Leagues-esque film promised on the poster.

Although it predates most of the movies I'm thinking of, The Lost Continent reminded me a lot of a '70s disaster flick. There's a large cast of strangers - each with a mysterious background or something they're running from - that's thrown together just in time to face something horrific. We're not sure who's going to make it through to the end, and oftentimes we're not even sure who we want to make it.

I had a hard time finding someone to root for during the first half of the movie. None of the characters are very likable, though they're all interesting. Take the captain and his first officer, for example. The movie opens with a beat-up old tramp steamer as it busts out of an African port, pursued by customs ships. It escapes and we quickly learn that the steamer's owner/captain is crooked. His ship's falling apart and he's gambled the lives of his crew and passengers on a scheme to smuggle illegal, highly explosive material to South America. If he makes it, he'll have enough money to retire on.

The first mate is new to the crew. He's young, completely by-the-book, and horrified at the captain's unconventional behavior even before he finds out about the cargo. He's also a craven coward, reactionary, and an idiot. In contrast, the captain - though selfish and mean - is brave, decisive and smart.

Who do you root for between those two? The movie doesn't make it easy to decide and it's the same way with the other characters. People you begin the story hating become your favorites by the end. People you think are pretty okay at the start turn out to be despicable. The cast is awesome in its complexity.

Know what's even more awesome than that though? Killer seaweed. After various disasters that I wouldn't dream of spoiling, the cast ends up trapped in an ocean of sentient seaweed. In order to escape they'll have to overcome giant arthropods and rescue an island girl from a ship of Spanish inquisitors and conquistadors who have their very own theocrat and an accompanying Sarlaac pit in which to throw infidels. The special effects are all rubber monsters, but with a little imagination from the viewer it's spectacular.

My only real complaint about the movie is that it's resolved a bit quickly, which means that some loose ends aren't resolved at all. It's easy to fill in those details yourself, but I was caught off-guard when the closing credits began.

Four out of five Inquisitorial Sarlaacs.

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