I like this one.
Okay, it’s got all the problems you can expect from a cheap Italian SF film. And all the problems you expect from a cheap Italian Sword and Sandal epic. A big strong guy fights everyone in sight. It’s badly dubbed. It’s a tad bit slow. And pretentious.
But there’s just something about it that makes up for all that.
For starters, there is the incredible look of the film. This is supposed to be 20,000 years ago, in a lost Atlantean city, so naturally, it looks like the city in Things to Come, complete with giant telescope. Only, as it was all designed by Mario Bava’s protégé, Giorgio Giovannini, it doesn’t come in pure white. Instead there is a riot of color about the place — particularly if you can find one of the Italian language prints of the film, which aren’t as badly faded. With all that color, it’s no great surprise to find a connection to Mario Bava, even if they didn’t use Mario’s signature colorful lighting.
Then there are the wild costumes, with their hints of something perhaps Egyptian, but which, at the same time, could have come just as easily from Flash Gordon’s closet. It all has a distinctly Thirties-modern vibe to it all, and leaves one thinking about some of the classic movie serials of the era, like The Phantom Empire or Undersea Kingdom.
Their armorer obviously worked overtime on this one as well, creating all sorts of bizarre weapons, most of which are ornate and decidedly eccentric, like the metal featherduster thing the hero uses in his duel with the evil Yotar.
And of course, it wouldn’t be an Italian film of the Sixties without some incredibly beautiful women, massive sets, and some totally bonkers sequences (like the unutterably strange ritual dance and mass wedding that takes place about halfway through!). However, as hard as this may be to believe “Gordon Mitchell” is not some Italian actor working under a phony Anglicized name, but was born in Denver, Colorado and starred in a lot of Peplum films. Well, he certainly had the muscles for it. Whether he could act or not probably wasn’t that important.
Plotwise, this one is also appropriately strange, with Yotar trying to create an immortal man out of his son, and who has turned all the common people into mind-numbed robots. All the science gets mixed up with the strange and supernatural language they use for it. Favorite pseudo-scientific ideas, like the Earth shifting on its axis and causing a worldwide calamity (and flood) show up, along with Velikovskian colliding worlds and strange rays capable of doing almost anything you need (except maybe sweep the room. But they’re working on it). The hero, Obro, shows up to to give them a stern talking-to about their misuse of science, although, judging by the catastrophic ending, too late for them to do anything about it. But then, we already knew Atlantis would sink into the sea, so it really isn’t much of a surprise.
While the score starts out blaring away as is expected of a Peplum film, for much of the superscience scenes, it manages to sound very much like the “electronic tonalities” of Forbidden Planet and other films of the age, although, if you listen closely, they achieve this with percussion instruments.
In fact, the only thing that seems to be missing is that giant. True, Obro fights a really big guy (with heavily built up shoes or stilts, if you look closely) and he hides out in the “Giant’s Cave”. But the giant is there all right: when he leaves the cave at night, he uses a door hidden by one of the giant toes of a statue in the main square. It appears to be a statue of Atlas, holding the world — except that it only has one eye (and what are apparently Minion glasses). Or in other words, the giant is just too big for most viewers to see.
You don’t watch this sort of film for great drama, masterful acting or the elegance of its script. You watch it for a few, brief moments of fun, along with some popcorn and maybe a few friends. It’s totally absurd, but that’s what’s best about it.
So just shut your brain off and enjoy.
And watch out for that featherduster!