Directed by Gary
Trousdale & Kirk Wise (2001, Walt Disney Pictures)
Featuring voices by Michael J. Fox, James Garner, Cree Summer, and
A scholar leads an expedition to find the lost empire, and keep it
out of nefarious hands.
August 26th, 2001 in the Theatre
What a derivative mess! The movie didn't know what it wanted to do. The art was substandard, though there were a few impressive moments, the characters spoke way too fast
and with thick accents, and since when does a Disney movie feature machine guns blazing for long seconds at a time?
The only thing that I really liked about this movie was the music. Once again (as with
Dinosaur), the movie did not feature songs with vocals. That was fine by me, because it suited the film. But when the submarine is diving into the depths, and when they are exploring new frontiers, the music that accompanied them was amazing. It seemed new and fresh, and so did much of the rest of the music throughout the film.
Like Dinosaur, there was also no real comedy figure in this film, though I think "Mole" was supposed to make us laugh. I think we could have used more comedy, if only to take out minds off the rest of the film, which was really sloppy.
Let's start by listing problems, especially from a child's point of view (or a parent's). In the very first minute, we are subjected to subtitles! This to a target audience that
may have trouble reading very simple sentences! Okay, so maybe the film is targeted to an older audience. Then don't put the subtitles in white on a light blue background.
I had trouble reading them often. Never mind kids! Next, our main characters have thick accents. I am all for giving the film a sign of cultural diversity, but let's understand them. Even the characters with "American" accents speak too fast to catch everything that is being said. The one exception was Michael J. Fox, who did a terrific voice job. But if we are going to pose in a historical setting anyway, what are the chances of having a black man as a doctor and a
Hispanic teenager as a chief engineer at the beginning of the First World War?
I liked having the setting in 1914, before the US joins World War I. If the kids catch any references to the war (which were sparse), then they might be inclined to look up who "the Kaiser" was, and the events that led up to that war. Check out the
Young Indiana Jones Chronicles for more World War I information.
But this movie already had moments of that series built into it. And it borrowed heavily from other movies, as well. First, we have the obsessed man who is humiliated and gives unwanted lectures at the Museum, who is then given an artifact by a wealthy benefactor that shows he was right about the subject. Didn't we see that exact plot in
Stargate? They follow the journal through all sorts of dangers, foiling many traps, to get where we want to go. There was a recent episode of Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda ("It Makes a Lovely Light") where they did this. Or how about Young Indy's
Treasure of the Peacock's Eye? A page is missing from the journal? Older Indiana Jones did that in
The Last Crusade. And so on... Where did the journal come from? Did some sailor arrive in Atlantis, as the crazy Perseid did in Andromeda, and trace the route back? That seems likely, except that the
Atlanteans never mention him.
So the rich benefactor has assembled a crew of hundreds of people to search for Atlantis. After the submarine is launched, it is attacked by a giant sea monster
(The Phantom Menace, anybody?) and destroyed. The monster appears to be metal, but that is never followed up on. They travel through what seems like endless tunnels, defacing (in what is supposed to be funny) ancient statues and bridges that have stood for
millennia, until they reach Atlantis.
The city of Atlantis is led by a dying old man, and his beautiful daughter. They happen to be almost 10000 years old, because a magic crystal, which also powers the city, gives them very long life. Does this mean that each generation lasted half a million years even before Atlantis sank? It doesn't make sense. The king of Atlantis had built a giant battle fleet, challenged the gods, until they sent the great wave (which was impressive in the first moments of the film) to sink the land. The crystal absorbed Princess Kida's mother, for it needs a body to keep it safe in times of crisis. Now, power is leaving the city. Food is becoming scarce, and Kida worries about her people. But although she finds the crystal, and is absorbed by it, it is never explained how this could revive the land. In fact, the power loss is never mentioned again.
So when Milo and his gang arrive, and Kida finds out that he can read
Atlantean (how did the others forget?), she not only falls in love with him, but can use him to find the crystal, also. At least I assume that's what she wanted. She takes him to read a giant underwater mural, which is never seen again, as the bad guys unload their weapons and take over the city. The
Atlanteans had energy weapons at the beginning of the film. They had flying vehicles (which nobody can remember how to start -the startup procedure is really simple, and after ten thousand years, you would think that somebody would have figured it out, even if every single person forgot how to do it).
The bad guy beats up the King, and finds and steals the crystal. The other people, who were originally in this for the money to be made from a giant diamond, and who started liking Milo, then protest taking the crystal (which would kill Atlantis, because it is the power source) by stepping off the caravan and leaving the crystal with the bad guy.
That sure did a lot. Now they will also die in Atlantis. Brilliant thinking. But they don't die, because after sulking for a while, Milo activates all the old flying devices, and they take off in chase!
The bad guy activates some hot air balloons (convenient how they were saved from the sinking sub), with the crystal-as-Kida in one, and himself and his partner in the other. The two baddies bicker, and end up throwing one of them out of the balloon. She survives to punch a hole in the other balloon with her flare gun. Milo attacks the remaining bad guy, cutting him with part of the crystal, which turns
him into crystal (huh? At least he didn't turn into a superbeing,
as in The Mummy). He shatters as the balloon
falls to the ground. Since the window to the box holding the crystal was already broken, and the crystal was in human form (Kida), wouldn't it have been easier to release her and then flee? Instead, they make heroic efforts to heave the giant steel box with the flying machines, in desperate flight from the lava of the now-erupting volcano.
Kida-as-the-crystal saves Atlantis at the last moment by activating a giant shield that gets covered by lava. As the lava suddenly (and I do mean suddenly) stops and cools, the shield breaks itself loose from the hardened magma. The city is saved. This shield is a very strange thing. At the beginning of the film, we see the shield also, but it only protects a small area of Atlantis, and Kida and her father end up on the outside (witness the people knocking at it, trying to get inside). So how did they end up alive after the wave hit? Also, the crystal didn't seem to be protected by being in human form this time, as that made it easier to steal the thing. If it stayed up at the roof of the cavern, an enormous jewel, it wouldn't have been possible to budge it with the tools they had.
As I said, this movie was a total mess. The producers obviously didn't know what they wanted to do with it. It looks as if it was put together piece by piece, with nobody communicating with the others.
I could not tell that this was a Disney movie, except by the standard slim-figured female-person of Kida. The art was not nearly as impressive as anything in the recent past, mostly being vague, even with close-ups of people. When the music told me that something spectacular was about to be shown (such as the giant sub, for the first time), I was unimpressed. The "amazing" city was anti-climactic and not all that beautiful. More non-Disney stuff included so many shotguns and machine guns. I don't think I've ever seen machine guns fired in a Disney movie. Not only were so many people killed on the submarine, but many
more were killed in the volcano by gunfire. Others were terrorized by being punched in the gut or the face. Who made this movie?
Finally, we have the cover-up. Milo stays behind (Stargate did this, too), while the others buy all sorts of stuff with the gold they take back with them, and cover up the whole thing. Fine by me. I don't think this should have seen the light of day. To be fair, the other supporting characters were quite amusing much of the time. Though I didn't like the cigarette-smoking granny telephone operator, she did have some funny lines. So did the doctor, the engineer, the French explosives expert, and mole, when I could understand him. But they weren't enough.
Such a mess. The children in the audience clapped when it was over. I wonder what they liked. Perhaps they were happy the film was over. But I doubt it. Maybe I really missed something. The characters were not well-developed, spoke too fast and with thick accents. The art was substandard, like it was half-finished. There was excessive violence, and the plot was put together with duct tape. I did like the music, but for the most part, couldn't wait for the next part of the movie, which was met with another exasperated sigh. Then I couldn't wait for the movie to be over. Not a good sign. Not a good movie.