Atlantis 1.01 “The Earth Bull” TV REVIEW
Writer: Justin Molotnikov
Director: Howard Overman
THE ONE WHERE Jason, a contemporary guy in search of his long-lost father, is drawn through a mystical seabed “gateway” to the ancient Greek city of Atlantis, where he defeats the minotaur and meets some new mates.
VERDICT Quite why Merlin co-creators and showrunners Johnny Capps and Julian Murphy decided to call it day on Merlin , if all they were going to do was replace it with Merlin Mark 2 is mystifying. Because Atlantis doesn’t so much stick to a formula, as Xerox it. And as with all the copies, there is some degradation in quality…
So we have a central bromance, a hero with a “destiny” and mysterious parentage, a dodgy King (played by someone with sci-fi credentials), a mentor, a mythical city (just a step up from a citadel), swashbuckling action, a few gags, some magic and CG monsters. The problem with Atlantis sticking so close to Merlin in format is that it almost demands comparisons, and that’s unfair on the new show; Merlin had five years to hone itself into a great little show, while Atlantis is back at square one trying to find its feet. It would be more generous to compare Atlantis ’s pilot to Merlin ’s pilot, but that’s not what general audiences are going to do.
It’s a shame, because Atlantis is a solid pilot, not without it problems, but fun, action packed and full of promise, especially as regards the chemistry between the lead characters (as with Merlin , Capps and Murphy have cast well). The FX are accomplished, the stunts are (mostly) great, the monsters are excellent (please let the two-headed lizard be a semi-regular character!) and it’s good, old-fashioned, slightly cheesy family fantasy fare.
But the oddest thing is that the one element of the show that would clearly set it apart from Merlin – the fact that Jason is from our time – is pretty much ignored for most of the episode. Sure, we have constant mentions that he’s an outsider, but for the most part he could be an outsider from another country, not another time. Jason could be making cultural references, like a time-dislodged John Crichton, but instead he mostly just raises an eyebrow when he recognises a famous name and doesn’t bat an eyelid when Ariadne tells him what he needs to do with the thread in the maze.
There are hints by the end of the episode that the week-by-week format might be some kind of ancient Greek A-team (Hercules, Jason and Pythagoras – heroes for hire!) which may help give the show its own identity, and certainly they’re an entertaining trio. Jason is at his best when bantering with his new housemates, though lapses into blandness in most other scenes. Mark Addy’s reinvention of Hercules as a self-promoting slacker is highly amusing, and Pythagoras has his fair share of great lines too and an in-built feckless geek charm.
The women are all a bit beige at the moment, given one main expression each to give a good work out (Ariadne = alluring, the Oracle = harried, Pasiphae = irritable). They also get all the clunkiest, expository, cod-classical dialogue. Let’s hope the scripts are kinder to them in future.
Another slight disappointment, though, is more troubling. The show is called Atlantis , and so Atlantis should be a star of the show in itself. Instead, it’s a rather generic ancient Greek city. Where it should be filled with wonder, it’s instead filled with fruit stalls. Last year’s Sinbad opened with an awesome shot of Basra that wasn’t just the FX team showing it; it set a tone for the show and a certain sense of wonder (which sadly it largely failed to deliver on). Our first sighting of Atlantis is a hazy smudge in the distance, and even when we get closer, it’s not exactly bursting with “Wow!” factor. It wonderfully achieved, sure, and some of the impeccable green screen interiors have a sense of scale, but for the moment, Atlantis the city lacks visual impact. Maybe we’ve been spoiled by the glorious city and castle designs on Game Of Thrones .
But hey, the Merlin pilot was far from perfect too. Let’s hope Atlantis improves as much as that show did, though it may have to prove itself a lot more rapidly.
FRUITY What’s with all the lovingly-photographed fresh produce? Was the show sponsored by the Melon Marketing Board?
STUNTED STUNT While the daylight chase towards the start of the episode was full of spectacular action, the later encounter with the guard lions falls spectacularly flat, especially Jason’s “amazing” leap – in the scripts it was presumably supposed to be a wow moment, but it was so badly edited, it was just a bit naff – the kind of corner cutting you’d expect later in the series when the money’s running out.
THE NAKED TRUTH So why, exactly, did Jason wash up on the beach completely naked? The inference is that the Oracle had some hand in those other, handily clothes being left for him; maybe she mind controlled some fish to nibble his clothes off so that he didn’t arrive in Atlantis with attention-attracting clobber on? (Hint – we’re not being serious: we know it was just a contrived excuse for some eye-candy.)
LIFE ON MARS? So, is he mad, in a coma, or back in time? Ostensibly, it looks like Jason has traveled back in time, but the Oracle says, “This world and the world you journeyed from are just two worlds among many.” So, is he actually in a parallel universe? Or was the Oracle just using flowery language. It’d be fun if Jason has stumbled on some kind of multiverse.
DANGLING PLOT THREADS Was there a sudden change of heart by the production team? When Ariadne gives Jason the thread, she pointedly says that it will not tangle or break. Later, when Jason returns the thread to her, he says, “It was of greater use than you can probably imagine.” Really? Was it? There wasn’t much evidence of that on screen. It looked like the thread was being set up as the weapon to kill the Minotaur, by strangling him, which would have been far more dramatically satisfying than the rather anticlimactic way he was killed off (no-one’s thought of that before?). Similarly, when Jason tells the Oracle, “How can I have memories of a place I have never been?” this announcement seems to come from nowhere. Until that point, the audience had no idea Jason found the place familiar. Were some last minute cuts/alterations made for taste/timing reasons?
THE MAZE OR THE CAROUSEL? Was it just us, or did anybody else think there was a bit a Logan’s Run vibe going on at this point?
Jason: “Pythagoras, your theories and your triangles are destined to bore millions of children throughout history. That’s your fate. This is mine.”
• Atlantis is currently airing in the UK on BBC One on Saturday evenings