Beyond Atlantis

Director: Eddie Romero           
Sid Haig, Patrick Wayne, Leigh Christian

Although the lost tribe that the lead characters find in Beyond Atlantis is not an Amazon tribe, the heart of the movie is unmistakably that of your typical Amazon exploitation movie from the 1950s. There are many elements here that will be familiar to even viewers with a casual knowledge of this genre; shifty members of the expedition, hidden treasure, and intersociety romance are just some of the things here that will have you nodding in a familiar way. One of the few things that does differentiate itself from those 1950s movies is the fact it was produced in the "second wave" of cinematic Amazon portrayals. As I mentioned in my earlier review of Dinosaur Island, the genre got started and was at its highest during the 1950s. By the beginning of the 1960s, however, the output had severely slowed down, but still was active enough to keep stumbling along until it finally crashed down and died around the time of 1968's  Voyage To The Planet Of Prehistoric Women.

Strangely, this was around the time the Hollywood production code completely collapsed, and moviemakers had the opportunity to add fun stuff to their Sid Haig couldn't understand why he didn't qualify for the George Burns lookalike contestmovies like explicit sex, nudity, and gory violence. Despite this new freedom, and a genre available that seemed to be pleading to be made extra sleazy, the Amazon genre lay dormant until around '73-'75. It was around that time when a sudden burst of new Amazon movies - seemingly all with some level of foreign participation - suddenly hit theaters. Spain made a number of them, including the "Kilma" movies (Kilma, Queen Of The Amazons and Kilma, Queen Of The Jungle) as well as Jesus Franco's The Lustful Amazons. Of course, the prolific Italians had jumped on the bandwagon, making movies like Battle Of The Amazons and The Amazons, the latter of which was helmed by former James Bond director Terence Young. Even the Filipinos got into the trend at least once with Beyond Atlantis, the movie being reviewed this week, though this particular entry is significantly different from the other typical Amazon movies that got made during the revival, not just by the previously mentioned fact that this particular tribe is not an Amazon one. For one thing, it's a rare Asian and not European (or American) take on the formula. The other surprise is that despite the fact the filmmakers made this during an era where they had more freedom than ever before, and that previous and later Filipino/American productions were full of sex, nudity, and violence, the results here are almost shockingly tame.

And there lies one of the biggest problems I had with Beyond Atlantis. Sure, there have been plenty of older Amazon-themed movies without this sex, nudity, and violence factor that I've enjoyed. So why didn't it work this time? Well, before getting into that or critiquing anything else in the movie, a look at the plot. Somewhere in the Philippines, times are tough for prominent gangster East Eddie (the one and only Haig); not only must he find income by goading on his two prostitutes by telling them, "You go pop for poppa!", he recently has had to kill a rival gangster and take over his operation. But it isn't very long until his fortune changes; a stranger (Filipino B movie veteran Vic Diaz) from a distant village comes to the city, and upon approaching Eddie sells him some valuable pearls. Having learned that this man gets pearls from a mysterious woman on a regular basis in return for supplies, Eddie quickly comes up with a scheme; eliminate the middle man by forming an expedition to find the island this mysterious woman lives on, and get every pearl he can get his hands on. After making a partnership with his greedy and desperate friend Logan (another Filipino B movie veteran, John Ashley), all they then need is a sailor with extensive knowledge of the area, fulfilled when they find Vic Mathias (Wayne, Rustlers' Rhapsody).

Just before the expedition takes off to waters unknown, the three men are blackmailed with the threat of publicity by a nosey female anthropologist (Lenore "Sorry guys... but the 'wet' look suits me more than you"Stevens, Bonnie's Kids), who wishes to join them in order to investigate evidence of a lost tribe in the area. As it eventually turns out, her suspicions prove correct; when the foursome get to the island of pearls, they find it inhabited by a tribe of people that are revealed to be the descendents of the lost civilization of Atlantis. It's never explained how this low-tech society ended up several thousand miles from their lost Mediterranean homeland, nor how the typical citizen looks remarkably like your typical Filipino, save for a pair of bug-eyes similar to the ones sported by the alien creatures in Killers From Space. Nor is it explained why the king of this society (played by the late George Nader) is remarkably Caucasian and normal-eyed in appearance, exactly like his sexy fur bikini-wearing daughter Syrene (Christian). Anyway, while the three men search for pearls, the king not only keeps pushing Syrene to mate with one of the men to bring in fresh blood to the society, but to do so while underwater.

Sounds agreeably sleazy, doesn't it? And with the setting being underwater, there is also the promise of there being some genuine eroticism to be found during this, uh, docking. Well, hold back your wet dreams, unless you want to be severely disappointed. You see, when the big scene finally happens, Syrene and the man she has chosen (not Haig, thank goodness) don't even get to first base before the scene fades out and subsequently there is a fade in to the subsequent scene where the guy is found lying unconscious on the beach - proof that in cinema, the power of suggestion isn't always stronger than seeing the real deal. Maybe, just maybe, there are people that have a fetish for seeing people swimming around each other, but count me out. But there isn't just a distinct lack of honest-to-goodness sex in Beyond Atlantis, but a remarkable lack of nudity. You would think that this tribe, which possesses the ability to breathe underwater, would choose to make their traveling in this environment faster and more maneuverable by foregoing their clothing (unless the males had problems moving about due to their "rudders".) But while the tribe may be advanced physically, they apparently aren't mentally, since neither Syrene nor any of the bug-eyed natives ever doff off their togs. As for action, forget it. Until the climax, there is just about nothing that could be considered genuine "action", and what does happen here is pretty unremarkable and unexciting. There is some blood, but it's of that red-paint, phony and unconvincing variety that plagued movies well into the '70s. (Incidentally, why did it take effects artists so long to come up with the simple recipe for convincing stage blood?)

So if Beyond Atlantis is just as free of sex, nudity, and violence as those 1950s Amazon movies, why did it bother me this particular time? Well, I could accept that innocent attitude those previous times because "I may be a king here... but when I was with Rock, I was a queen!"they were made in, well, more innocent times. In those older Amazon movies, you'll usually find they have a simple-minded, almost childlike attitude; their filmmakers had a different viewpoint, shaped by the era of the time, that had them regarding many things differently than filmmakers (and the public) of today. As a consequence, such "adult" material that I have been mentioning would seem out of place in an "immature" environment. Compare such attitudes to the attitude found in Beyond Atlantis. It was made in a more permissive era (the '70s), an an era with an attitude much closer to our present-day one than in the '50s, or even the '60s. You therefore can't help but expect the movie to have a more "adult" approach, and its more simple-minded approach just doesn't sit will. Not just with the lack of "adult" material, but with a viewpoint of the available material that a number of times teeters towards farce. For example, Nader's king character is pretty laughable, dressed in a comical Greek-like toga, and making proclamations in a manner both goofy and pompous.

Though there is definitely a kind of unsophisticated tone that keeps coming up throughout the movie, it could have been far worse and instead run constantly in the background just like many of those older Amazon movies. However, after watching the movie for a fair amount of time, you start to notice a pattern. That is, even though there are a number of sequences in the movie that have a tone that is - well, not mature, but less immature - often than not they end up being another example of yet an additional problem the movie has. That is, upon ending you realize that the scene you just watched did nothing to really influence the situation. After the foursome get to the island, the three men spend time diving for pearls, and the female anthropologist wanders around the island occasionally making some discovery she considers important. Believe it or not, until near the end of the movie, the movie seems content to essentially repeat this over and over. It gets boring pretty quick, made even worse by the endless scenes of the divers and the islanders swimming underwater and occasionally poking around. The underwater footage is surprisingly crisp and bright, but even this natural beauty can't ease our patience much. Occasional diversions (like the mating ceremony) just lead back to the point where they took off, and the characters continue as if nothing had happened.

Even though all these events all center around a mysterious lost tribe, there is really nothing that interesting about it once it's established they can breathe underwater Ever get the feeling people are staring at you?and they have those unintentionally funny eyes. We learn virtually nothing of their past, their customs, or anything else. Though since I believe Syrene and her father were the only members of the tribe to ever speak, this lack of information shouldn't be a surprise. They live in a flimsy-hut village that's as dull and boring as they are, full of lumpy and unrecognizable coral statues that Stevens' anthropologist character has to tell us what they are suppose to represent (must also have a degree in modern art.) This seems to be Stevens' only purpose to be in this movie, apart from - yep, you guessed it, getting into a catfight with Syrene in the climactic sequence because of yet another instance of filmmakers being afraid to show a woman fighting rough with a man. It's not just Stevens who has little to do here; both Wayne and Ashley essentially spend most of their time twiddling their thumbs, though that ends up being a kind of blessing because both actors look so similar in their physical appearance that's it's extremely hard to differentiate them. As for Haig, though he doesn't get to do that much more than any of his co-stars, he does manage to be pretty memorable. Of course, his physical features (bald head and a goatee) makes his face stick out in your mind, but he also gleefully chews the scenery at several points, the funniest being when he gets a massage and he has the girl vigorously rub his hairy chest.

Haig also has the fortune to have a role that, although overall pretty flat, has been written to give him a personality somewhat different than you would expect of a shifty criminal-type in a low budget exploitation movie. Though his character is greedy and will do just about anything to get a fortune of pearls in his hands, he is not entirely evil nor one-note in his personality. He shows genuine and convincing fear when he unexpectedly finds himself trapped not long after getting on the island, and though he begrudgingly accepts having to take Stevens along, he pretty much lets her do whatever he wants, even showing some concern for her safety at one point. There are a few other little atypical touches in Beyond Atlantis with the characters and the story that, had they been expanded on, may very well have made the movie a memorable experience despite the lack of those "adult" elements. For example, it actually dares to bring up the serious subject that these people - even the anthropologist - may be doing irreparable harm to this society just by being there. But instead of further exploring this or anything else unexpected that comes up, the movie constantly chooses to almost immediately backtrack and go back to the humdrum. As a result, Beyond Atlantis is doubly frustrating - not just that it simply fails to be entertaining, but you see so much wasted potential.

UPDATE: "Joe" sent this information along:

"Just read your review of Beyond Atlantis.  I can remember reading an interview with John Ashley (I believe it was in Fangoria magazine a long time ago.) Anyway, in the article he said that the reason Beyond Atlantis was so much tamer than his other Philippines made films was because of Patrick Wayne.  Patrick was John Wayne's son and would not appear in an R rated movie.  The filmmakers were so excited about having a "big name" like Patrick in the film they toned it down for him.  Bet they regretted that later.  Always enjoy your reviews."

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See also: Dinosaur Island, Revenge Of The Teenage Vixens, Warriors Of The Apocalypse