Man from Atlantis
Aquaman was a joke of a character for ages. Saturday Night Live, Family Guy, South Park, and even SpongeBob SquarePants has taken a jab at the character. Why not? He could breathe underwater and talk to the fish. Talking to fish ranks pretty low on the check list of wanted, or useful, superpowers. The jokes ended when Jason Momoa took on the role of Aquaman. The movie went on to make a billion dollars at the box office alone.
Zack Snyder’s Aquaman wasn’t the first attempt to make the character something more than a joke. In the late Seventies several comic book properties, both DC and Marvel Comics, made their way to the small screen. Spider-Man, Wonder Woman, Captain America, the Incredible Hulk, and Dr. Strange were all represented. One character missing from the cavalcade of heroes was Aquaman.
Maybe the character was absent because the technology wasn’t there to create an underwater character. Lack of technology didn’t stop Spider-Man from appearing on the small screen. Spider-Man was often shown bigger than the buildings he was climbing.
The reason Aquaman didn’t appear on television probably had more to do with the popularity of the character than technological reasons. However, the character did indeed make it to the small screen, but under another name. Arthur Curry was replaced by Mark Harris. Aquaman was replaced with the Man from Atlantis.
Harris, played by a pre-Dallas Patrick Duffy, is found washed up on a beach after a severe storm. He’s found by a father and son walking the beach and brought to a hospital. Of course the doctors don’t know what’s wrong with Harris. It isn’t until Dr. Elizabeth Merrill arrives on the scene that his condition is discovered.
Like a lot of comic book movies or television shows made back then, and even today, the pilot is short on explanations There’s no explanation as to how Dr. Merrill knew he was a water breather she just knew. It was enough to move Mark, during a commercial break, to the Naval Undersea Center where she could study him.
This being an otherwise comic book series the Naval Undersea Center is a military research facility. Of course the Navy wants to use Harris for military purposes. Harris refuses to go along with the military for as long as the next commercial break. A missing submarine paves the way for Harris to help the Navy and wow a Seventies audience with some special effects.
At the bottom of the Marianas Trench Harris finds, wait for it, a secret base. Inside the base is the evil genius of the series, Mr. Schubert. Schubert’s evil scheme is to take control of the world’s at sea nuclear missiles. The goal is to wipe out humanity leaving only himself and his chosen few to wait things out. When the nuclear smoke clears Schubert and his mind controlled minions will rule the world.
By the end of the pilot Harris has foiled his plans, destroyed the secret base, and returned to the Naval Undersea Center. Schubert would plague Harris again in the Man from Atlantis series with diabolical schemes involving melting the polar ice caps and giant jelly fish.
Man from Atlantis feels and looks dated and the story, although not far removed from your typical comic book story found on shelves today, is a bit trite director Lee H. Katzin does the most of what he can with the screenplay. Man from Atlantis is a fish out of the water story. Duffy as the amnesiac lost son of Atlantis does a convincing enough job. His performance is neither cardboard or typical.
Man from Atlantis won’t turn anyone away from watching a buff Jason Momoa save the Seven Seas. However, the nostalgia alone is worth the watching the pilot. If you weren’t around when the pilot aired it’s a peek into the Seventies. You may even learn what a real phone booth looked like back in the day.
Right now you can check out Warner Archive’s Blu-ray of the pilot episode. The picture quality is actually surprisingly good which makes watching bell bottoms rather enjoyable.