Atlantis (1913)

Article 2632 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 6-19-2008
Posting Date: 10-27-2008
Directed by August Blom
Featuring Olaf Fonss, Ida Orlov, Ebba Thomsen
Country: Denmark

A Danish scientist, frustrated with both his personal and professional lives, finds himself attracted to a dancer who he follows to America.

For me, the most impressive thing about this one is the date; this may be the earliest full-length (i.e. longer than sixty minutes) movie I’ve seen for the series, as it beats CABIRIA by several months. And it is impressive in terms of spectacle, especially with a shipwreck sequence that looks as if a real ship was sunk for the effect. However, I’m less impressed with the story. It’s based on a novel by Gerhart Hauptmann, and it feels like one of those adaptations that manages to capture most of the events in the original novel while failing to capture that sense of unity and focus that holds it all together. In short, to me, the movie feels episodic and rambling, with a basic story that could have been compressed to twenty minutes. This, combined with the lack of a sense of humor and the fact that the story is basically about an unhappy man living an unhappy life, made the movie a rather dreary experience. I did get one laugh out of the movie, but more about that below.

Now, let’s deal with the fantastic content. I can’t blame anyone for including a movie named ATLANTIS on a list of fantastic movies for its title alone, but, despite the fact that the movie contains a plethora of potentially fantastic elements, it really remains a fairly straightforward drama. The elements?

1) Our main character is a bacteriologist whose thesis is rejected by an institute because it is too far out. Many horror movies would take that as a starting point for an elaborate revenge plot, a la THE MAD MONSTER. In this one, it’s just one more depressing thing in the scientist’s life.

2) The scientist’s wife is mad; in one of the better scenes, she sneaks up on her husband, and we don’t notice until the last moment that she’s carrying a pair of scissors. This plot element is similar to one in JANE EYRE, which, though itself not a horror movie, is closer than this one is. Sadly, she’s carted off to an asylum early in the movie, and that’s the last we see of her as an active character in the proceedings.

3) The movie features Charles Untham as an armless man, who gives a performance at one point showing how dexterous he is with his feet. This scene is truly amazing, and it brought back memories of the Lon Chaney movie THE UNKNOWN. Sadly, this character is totally unrelated to the main story.

4) And, finally, there’s Atlantis itself. In this movie, our main character dreams he is visiting Atlantis with a friend. We see him and his friend walking through a normal-looking town, and then looking out over a field. After about thirty seconds of this, he wakes up. Given the fact that the name of the movie is ATLANTIS, I can’t help but sense that this scene is essential to the story, but what it’s supposed to symbolize is lost on me. At any rate, in terms of its value as fantastic content, it’s as anti-climactic as they come.

5) There’s a couple of other dream sequences, including one in which a group of card-players vanish into mid-air.

That’s it. None of these sequences are of sufficient content for me to qualify this movie as anything but marginalia for fans of fantastic cinema.

Oh, and my laugh? It didn’t come from the movie per se, but rather, from the backstory of the movie. Apparently, a different ending was shot for the Russian market; since they like depressing endings, they shot one for that market alone. However, since the writer of the novel was keeping a close watch on the movie to make sure that it didn’t veer too far from the original story, the Russians were given instructions that the version with the alternate ending could only be shown in Siberia. I don’t know why, but I found this fact hilarious.



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