Monday, April 18, 2011

Atlantis: The Lost Empire (2001)

The movie's ten years old, but in case you haven't seen it and think you might some day: SPOILERS BELOW.

Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an almost perfect film.Typically when I'm watching an adventure movie I spend a lot of time thinking about how I'd improve it. Even if it's one I really like. Especially if it's one I really like. "Oh, that's so good, but if he did this..." Or, "That was awesome except for the ending. What if this happened instead." Since those thoughts often turn into actual stories, I find that flawed movies are even more inspirational to me than perfect ones.

Take Atlantis, for instance. When I watch it, I enjoy it so much on almost every level: the steampunk setting, Mike Mignola's production designs, the quest for Atlantis, the eclectic team of diverse characters who are searching for it, the fantastic voice cast, the humor in the script and animation, the plot twists and how they're resolved, the giant robots... There's little that I want to change. If anything, the film kills my interest in writing a story even vaguely similar to it, because it's already been done and done so well.

If there's anything I'd want to change, it's Atlantis' being powered by a sentient crystal that protects itself in times of danger by merging with a member of the royal family. Mostly that's because sentient crystals go into the red section of my New Age Tolerance gauge. I understand that the idea of Atlantis is pretty New Agey to begin with, but it doesn't have to be and the film was doing so well when it was just focused on the conflict between questing for knowledge and searching for good, old-fashioned, non-mystical, material gain.

But while the crystal bothers me, it's wrapped into the plot so well that you really can't pull it out without unraveling a bunch of other stuff. It's a great object for the movie's villains to desire because - unlike gold and jewels - it represents Atlantis itself. The city can't survive without it. That means that the good guys and bad guys can all fight over it and that the victorious good guys can still go home with unbelievable wealth bestowed on them by a grateful city. Which is something I really like: the good guys being rewarded for their trouble. I don't want to pull at the loose thread of the crystal and risk unraveling the whole sweater. It's a really excellent sweater.

There is one other thing that I'd change if I could do it without ruining everything else: Helga's death. Or, no...what it really is is her playing sidekick to Rourke. Her death is just the natural consequence of that. When we meet Helga - all husky voice and legs in the shadows - she's in charge. And she stays in charge up to the point that Rourke appears. Even though she works for Whitmore, she's more than his right-hand, she's his field agent; his eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and weapon outside the sanctuary of his large, spooky house. Once Rourke shows up, she's nothing more than a goon. Such a waste of potential.

I take back what I said about not being inspired by Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I want some stories about a tough femme fatale who works for an eccentric, rich dude who wants to go on collecting knowledge and artifacts, but is too old to leave his creepy, old mansion to go on his own adventures anymore. That's the sequel to Atlantis that I'll never get unless I end up writing it for myself.

(Speaking of sequels, by the way, have any of you seen Atlantis: Milo's Return? Is it as heart-breakingly mundane as it looks?)


Joe said...

Milo's Return was actually three episodes of the ultra crappy TV series that never took off slapped onto a dvd. It was horrible. I think that's how they killed any possibility of a franchise or even getting Kida into the Disney Princess line (it's a crime she get's left out).

Michael May said...

That confirms my fears. Thanks for saving me the pain of checking it out.

Mike D. said...

" It was the heat of the moment..."

Ken O said...

Rent it just to check out the deleted scenes for one of the episodes alternate ending.

I was lucky enough to hear some stories from the people that worked on it; it seems like Disney didn't get what they were trying to do and chipped away all the really cool aspects of it. The whole, "that's too scary, kids will never understand that, etc...".

Michael May said...

The whole, "that's too scary, kids will never understand that, etc..."


Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I remember seeing this when I was a kid, and that's about it. Given its uniqueness in the Disney Animated Canon I've been meaning to see it again with an adult eye and see what I make of it. Thanks for putting the blip back on my radar.

Jay said...

I really should give Atlantis a second chance. Initially I couldn't overcome the overly-articulated Don Bluth-i-ness of the characters.

I suppose that's not reason enough to leave it off the Netflix queue.


Michael May said...

I think I know what you mean. The characters do move a certain way that - once you notice it - doesn't look like the way real people move.

I sort of like it in Atlantis, but if I were a bigger connoisseur of animation (as opposed to the casual appreciator of it that I am), I can see how it might get old.

Kelly Sedinger said...

Disney really had some interesting stuff from that time period (late 90s into the early 2000s). Even less-successful items like Treasure Planet had some original things going on, and when they got it right -- as they did with Atlantis and the amazing The Emperor's New Groove, in which I swear they were channeling the spirit of Chuck Jones -- they really came up with some terrific stuff. They weren't just doing animated musicals! (And even when they were, some of those were better than remembered -- I can't be the only one who thinks Hercules was great!)

Michael May said...

It's been a while since I've seen Hercules, but I have good memories of it. I need to watch that again with David. He's into Greek mythology lately.

And I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one who likes Treasure Planet. I think the general dislike of it was more a product of Disney burnout than a reflection on the actual quality of the movie. People were just getting tired of Disney by then and needed a break.

Erik Johnson Illustrator said...

I've got a soft spot for "Treasure Planet" as well. I even wrote a brief review attempting to examine its strengths contrary to its poor box office performance.

ShadZ said...

I think the Atlantis tv series would have been good. Greg Wiseman was going to be the show runner, and I like him. But Milo's Return wasn't very good -- all setup, no pay off except for an extremely tacked-on ending.

My main problem with the movie's plot (the real movie, not Milo's Return) was the idea that the Atlantians were very old and had been around since the sinking and has just forgot how to operate their technology. I think it would have been much stronger if the current Atlantians were the decendents of the originals.

Michael May said...

That's a good point. All you'd lose would be Kida's recovering her bracelet from her mom, which would be no loss.

Unknown said...

See i really don't think Helga is "dead" though since the film just gives up on her and it becomes really vague as what actually happened with her.

Which is sad really since out of the loose female characters in this....thing of a story(in which action takes over the story and not the other way around) she was actually the best female there then say Kida, i think.

For some reason the filmmakers just give up on this movie just for the sake of it being a "mature" action blockbuster that made the mistake of being release around the same time as TOMB RAIDER and SHECK, which in turn killed it.

Also the whole out of nowhere "the entire sub crew are the villains" thing really hurt the idea of this being a "team" adventure movie since it never get really foreshadowed and the fact that they did it(in a lazy way as well) for just more action scenes.

Other then that the only way DISNEY would ever something with ATLANTIS again would be doing it with MARVEL's the Namor the Sub Mariner


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