Sunday, August 8, 2010

Beyond Atlantis (1973)

The Philippines. A fisher with the excellent name of Manuel the Barracuda (Vic Diaz) sells some extremely valuable pearls to pimp and all-around tough guy East Eddie (Sid Haig). Eddie isn't stupid, and soon mounts an expedition to find out where exactly Manuel gets his pearls from and then grab them for himself.

Apart from bringing some well-armed goons, Eddie partners up with the shady gambler Logan (John Ashley) and the expert diver Vic Mathias (Patrick Wayne, lesser known brother of Bruce), the latter our supposed hero of the evening. "Scientist" Katherine Vernon (Lenore Stevens) overhears some of the negotiations between Logan and Vic and talks her way onto the expedition to find out what she can about a mysterious tribe spurious ideas lead her to conclude is connected with the pearls.

After smacking poor Manuel around, our "heroes" learn that he acquires his pearls from a mysterious woman - later named Syrene - (Leigh Christian) as payment for using his boat as a taxi between the hidden island she's living on and the nearest supermarket.

So off to her island the expedition goes. There, they soon meet up with the very Caucasian looking Syrene and her mysterious tribe. Except for her and her pompous father Nereus (George Nader), every member of the tribe suffers from a bad case of Ping Pong Ball Eye Syndrome (and is decidedly non-Caucasian, but there will be an implied explanation for that difference later on). To make up for their eye problems, they can breathe underwater.

Katherine theorizes that these are descendents of the inhabitants of Atlantis, but this part of the story never goes anywhere. Instead, there's a lot of diving and two mysterious accidents to witness. Oh, and Nereus wants his daughter to "mate" with Vic to improve the island's gene pool. That poor girl!

This is one of the billion of movies Eddie Romero produced in his native Philippines mostly for the US market, and like a lot of them, Beyond Atlantis is first and foremost intensely boring. It's an adventure movie without all that much adventure (unless Sid Haig falling into a pit full of crabs counts as "adventure") and many long and tiresome diving sequences that don't make up for that lack.

It's too bad, really, because the movie starts out promising enough, with quite a bit of sharp yet silly dialogue, some choice scenery chewing by a very enthusiastic Sid Haig and a character set-up that hints at a Treasure of the Sierra Madre-like plot full of cynical people betraying each other.

Alas, that promised film never manages to materialize. Worse, once the expedition has reached the island of the Atlantides, the plot more or less stops dead in its tracks, and the film develops into a sleep-inducing series of diving sequences, followed by Lenore Stevens walking around with a frowny-face (I suppose that means she's thinking?) until someone tells her she's not allowed to be where she's going, followed by more diving sequences.

I'd be perfectly fine with a film about people wandering around an island (though not so much with the endless diving) if the island were filled with anything of interest, or if someone had a character arc, or if something would happen from time to time, but Beyond Atlantis only traipses and dives from filler to filler.

It doesn't help that the film it is utterly unlike other Filipino movies for the US market made in that era in that it is nearly completely lacking in exploitational values like violence or sex and so gives off the very unpleasant whiff of a film made in 1953, not 1973. Internet rumours tell me that having nothing that could offend anyone in the film was the only way for Romero to get Patrick Wayne to play the lead; as if his role couldn't have been filled by a tree someone painted in skin-tones.

Even the underwater seduction scene between Syrene and Vic is played out fully clothed! It leaves one to wonder how a girl "mates" with a man while he's wearing a wetsuit. I suspect just swimming around him won't get anyone pregnant, but what do I know about the way strange creatures like Patrick Wayne reproduce?

It might sound cruel, but I just don't think that showing me some people with ball-bug-eyes, Sid Haig, wetsuited non-sex and one mildly exciting shoot-out in the end is enough exciting content for a ninety minute film like this. As a short film, it would probably work out, but in this form, even I can't stand the content to diving ratio.


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