Monday, September 12, 2011

MAN FROM ATLANTIS - THE COMPLETE TELEVISION SERIES

In 1977, NBC followed-up four TV movies about the water-breathing superhero known as "Mark Harris" with a single-season, hour-long weekly television series of 13 episodes. Now, Warner Archive has brought that series to Manufacture-On-Demand DVD with the 4-disc, MAN FROM ATLANTIS - THE COMPLETE TELEVISION SERIES set.

As the series begins, there have been some changes made in the format used in the TV movies (reviewed HERE). Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy, DALLAS) has become more acclimated to the surface world and has taken on a more active role with the government-allied Foundation For Oceanic Research. No longer just a test subject for scientist Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (the lovely Belinda J. Montgomery, DOOGIE HOWSER, M.D.), he now command's the Foundation's deep-sea submersible, The Cetacean, and carries out missions at the behest of Foundation Director C.W. Crawford (Alan Fudge). Many of these missions consist of foiling the evil plans of capricious capitalist Mr. Schubert (Victor Buono) to accumulate wealth and power from the sea.

With the Cetacean's newly-redesigned command deck and presence of a regular bridge crew, the weekly MAN FROM ATLANTIS somewhat resembles an underwater STAR TREK (the show's creators had strong ties to that seminal sci-fi series), but the overall tone of the show was much lighter than either its interstellar inspiration or the preceding ATLANTIS teleflicks. In fact, while the show looks great - with consistently nice photography, great sets (the interior of the Cetacean submersible and the Foundation's underground headquarters are both really slick, by 70s TV standards), and marvelous, Old School miniature effects - the stories are no longer science fiction, and tend instead toward aggressively non-violent, kid-friendly fantasy.

With stories featuring mischievous imps, friendly (and unconvincing) sea beasts, misunderstood giants, and magical time-travel, as well as far too much Mister Schubert (who figures in 5 of the first 7 episodes) - a character that had been slightly menacing in the first TV movie, but was too genial, comic and physically unimposing to present much of a threat on the series - the weekly MAN FROM ATLANTIS lacks any semblance of dramatic weight or real sense of adventure. The cast remains appealing, and the character of aqua-man Harris is very likable, but the weekly show is a definite step down from the four TV movies that preceded it, and just reeks of network interference based on timidity and/or condescension.

Guest stars in this single season include Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Dee Wallace, Pat Morita, Ted Cassidy, Dick Gautier, Pernell Roberts, Rene Auberjonois, John Shea and Billy Barty, among other familiar faces.

Warner Archive's presentation is remarkably nice. I don't know how much actual remastering was done on these episodes, but the 1.33:1, "full frame" transfers are surprisingly bright and clean, with only minimal occurrences of visible speckling or other detritus. The episodes are complete and uncut, and spread across four discs. The Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono audio is clear and free of distortion or distracting hiss.

If you grew up with MAN FROM ATLANTIS and have the same sort of nostalgia for it that I do, the technical quality of these Warner Archive MOD discs is very nice, and definitely worth the somewhat higher price. But if you've never seen the show, or memories of it are somewhat vague, I'm not sure how well it will hold up. It is very much a 70s genre show aimed at a young audience, and while it's kinda fun and definitely charming, it's not really good science fiction. I enjoyed revisiting it and am pleased to have it in my collection; your mileage may vary (as they say).

BUYMan From Atlantis:  Complete Television Series  (Remastered, 4 Disc)