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Man From Atlantis season one episode reviews

PhotobucketDownload the theme music.

Episode 1. "Man From Atlantis" A very enjoyable pilot which can be divided, very easily, into three sections/chapters. Chapter 1 tells of the discovery of water-breathing amnesiac Mark Harris and the attempts of Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (the utterly gorgeous Belinda J. Montgomery) to understand his powers and help him recover his memory. All of this is fascinating to watch. Harris washes ashore during a storm and Merrill's surgeon boyfriend is called away from a dinner party. Merrill tags along and - given her background - quickly figures out that Harris breathes water and need to be returned there. There's a great urgency and excitement to all of these scenes.

Chapter 2 brings the military into the equation as they attempt to bully Harris into doing their bidding. These scenes are hampered by a weak actor, but they work well enough. Harris still hasn't spoken to anyone, and the audience genuinely feels for the guy. And for Dr. Merrill who only wants the best for her patient/subject. In once scene, Harris fights off a large number of military personnel trying to stup him re-entering the sea. At first he flings them off in twos and threes, but - eventually - the sheer number of them brings him down. And it is a very distressing scene to watch.

Chapter 3, the final hour of the pilot, is where things finally come to life in a major way. Harris undertakes his first mission and comes face to face with the nemesis that will dog him for the remainder of the series: Mr. Shubert. Victor Buono is simply superb as the bad guy. He is over the top, larger than life, and a total joy to watch. Patrick Duffy is a superb lead actor, and a great super-hero as Mark Harris. That said, his Mark Harris is a glum individual. He doesn't speak much (when he eventually starts to talk) and he doesn't have a sense of humour or much in the way of charisma or personality. Most of the last hour of the show pairs him with the egomanicial Mr. Shubert. And it's a great double act.

Other than that, there's little to say. The pilot fairly zips along. The score is sumptuous. The production values are high (witness the FX, or the destruction of the undersea complex) and while the show is very much "comic book" in content, it is "Drama Series" in tone. I last saw this pilot 13 years ago. It wowed me as a kid, it wowed me 13 years ago, and it wowed me tonight. It's great fun from start to finish.

And, strangely, I'm just as smitten with Dr. Merrill as I was when I was 8. Seems like my tastes haven't changed since I was 8.


Episode 2. "The Death Scouts" is a curious mixture of things that work very well, and things that really don't work at all. It's a fast-moving plot-driven sci-fi adventure, but it sacrifices characterisation, clarity and (in the final scene) logic. While the opener was slow and thoughtful at first, gradually building momentum as time went on, the second two-hour movie hits the ground running and never lets up. Three holiday-makers are killed in a genuinely shocking opening scene, we learn that Dr. Merill has left the Navy and taken Mark Harris with her to a government-funded Foundation for Oceanic Research, but when word reaches her of the peculiarities surrounding the three deaths, she grabs Mark and they head out to investigate. Back at the Foundation, Merrill's co-worker unearths a strange rock from the sea-floor and, out in the nearby communtity, two unearthly people have come ashore and are having strange encounters with the locals. While at the morgue, Dr. Merrill and Mark hear of the strange twosome and spearhead a search. Before long, Mark has found them, battled them and found them to be just like him in a number of ways. Could this be the answer to his questions about himself?

Whew! And that's just the first third! It goes on like that, zipping along and being very enjoyable. Unfortunately, the character-work on the mysterious amnesiac Mark Harris, which was done in the pilot, has been abandoned and now he's just a strong silent hero. As such, it must be said, he gets some cool scenes. His second battle with the aliens takes place underwater and shows him to be a truly formidable opponent. Later on, when they have taken control of the Foundation's submarine, Mark calmly steps up and disarms them. Using brain, as well as brawn, in a truly awesome moment of super-hero coolness.

The aliens themselves are interesting and well cast (Tiffany Bolling and Burr DeBenning who I've alway liked), but it's not exactly clear what their plans are. They come ashore, wander aimlessly, complain a lot about being hungry, talk about things they intend to do but, after a few encounters with Mark, they basically give up on all of that and push the self-destruct button on their ship (I think). It doesn't help that one of them tells Mark a lot of lies to enlist his aid. Was it all lies? Was some of it true? Which parts? How are we to know?

The movie's final Big Scene is a supposedly emotional death scene where the female alien and Mark appear to have developed strong feelings for one another. How? When? There's even a god-awful moment where he gives her a kiss, so that she will know the sensation of one before she dies. Huh? Isn't Mark supposed to be The Innocent? How does he know these things? Hasn't he got amnesia? Wasn't the whole reason for him staying at the end of the pilot so that he could learn about the surface world? How did he learn so much so soon? (He must have had a busy couple of weeks, lucky bugger.)

In short, despite weaker elements, I liked it. Mark is an awesome hero, and when he goes into action (with that superb theme music playing in the background) it sets the pulse racing.

Episode 3. "Killer Spores" is the least enjoyable of the movies that started the series. The first third details what happens when a small space probe crashes to the sea-bed with a colony of alien spores attached. Mark Harris is sent to investigate and is soon posessed by the aliens. However, since Duffy plays Harris with emotionless monotone, it can be hard to tell when the character is possessed and when he is just being his usual boring self.

The middle third is the best part of the movie. The aliens take Mark out into the desert (for no reason explained adequately in the script). Thing is, since Mark is from the sea he needs to go back to the water every few hours or he will die. The car chase that starts this segment, the chase through the desert and the rescue by helicopter are all very exciting.

The final third, however, is awful. The alien spores escape out into the world and start 'testing' random humans so that they can 'understand' the human condiditon. Or something. What we get are lots and lots of scenes of lots and lots of extras laughing, crying, whistling, throwing stuff around and other embarrassing nonsense. Very hard to watch.

Episode 4. "The Disappearances" While this is the strongest - by far - of the sequels to Man From Atlantis, this is also the movie that drives home just how many problems the writers were apparently having with the concept of the series.

Movies 2 and 3 both feature Aliens. From outer space. Who, ah, take over the bodies of humans. The aliens in Movie 2 inhabit the bodies of guest starts, while the aliens in Movie 3 turn the regular cast into puppets. But, essentially, it is the same idea in both movies.

Movie 4 goes all the way back to Movie 1 for inspiration. Both are about megalomaniacs. Who live in vast undersea complexes. Who, ah, are kidnapping scientists from the surface world! And while Darleen Carr isn't quite as good as Victor Buono in the role, it must be said that she is superb. And it is refreshing to see a very slight, very pretty, young woman playing the mastermind behind the shenanigans. Carr is cast against type and she is wonderful. It's a pity the script is so dopey.

Regular character Dr. Merrill is kidnapped at the start of this movie and forced to help work the undersea complex. Her kidnapping makes sense, I suppose, in context of the regular kidnappings that befall scientists in the world of MFA. Once in the undersea lair, Merrill is brainwashed by a spa (!!) and cheerfully chips in.

Mark Harris, meanwhile, and the team from the Foundation for Oceanic Research (or something) search for her. At one point, they get information from an FBI agent, deduce what it means and immediately set out (unarmed) to find Dr. Merrill. It never orrurs to any of them to contact the FBI which would, of course, have prevented their own kidnappings later in the movie. Idiots.

Mark Harris comes off quite badly in this movie. Indeed, he only really came off as cool and interesting in the second movie. For most of this movie he is silent, dour and - given his background - a liability to the success of the Good Guy's mission. Since the writers have given him such a cool background, it's a pity they have no idea how to use it. On shows like Six Million Dollar Man or Incredible Hulk the viewers were always treated to cool stuff that the hero could do. No so here. Mark gets beaten up quickly (and easily) by the kidnappers of Dr. Merrill and left to die in a tool shed. "Die" because he needs to get back to the water "every four hours". This achillies heel was a large part of Movie 3 also, when the aliens took Mark to the desert. Here he faces death because he has been locked in a tool shed. Even worse, he totally fails to do anything cool to get out. He just lies there gasping for ages until he is found quite by chance. What were the writers thinking? What's cool about that?

The rest of the time it is Dr. Simon who deduces everything and leads the way towards rescue. Kenneth Tigar is excellent in this role but he was written out of the regular series.

Man From Atlantis, unlike contemporaries like Wonder Woman or Logan's Run, tends to tell it's stories in simplistic manner. Coming ashore at the exact spot where Dr. Merrill was taken (!), Mark is able to walk from the water, up the beach, into a deserted hut and - immediately - find the hidden button to the secret eleavator to the undersea complex!! Later on, when he is putting an end to the evil plot Mark is able to find exactly the right pipe to sabotage in a room of hundreds. This kind of ropey thinking in very disappointing.

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