Back in the summer of 1977 if you went to the public pool that I frequented, you'd see a lot of young boys (especially yours truly) diving underwater and moving around like they were having an epileptic seizure. We weren't having fits, we were trying to swim link Mark Harris, the Man from Atlantis. The series started off with not one, not two, but four made-for-TV movies that were rated highly enough to earn the concept a weekly TV series. After that lengthy trial, you'd assume that the show would get solid ratings. That wasn't the case. A lower budget, silly scripts and a villain who was featured way to often doomed the show to only 13 episodes.
Still fondly remembered (and featuring
Man from Atlantis (aired 3/4/1977): After a violent storm at sea a man (Patrick Duffy) washes up on shore, unconscious. When discovered, he's whisked to a hospital where they have trouble reviving him. He's on pure oxygen, but he is still having trouble breathing. He's turning blue and the doctor's are surprised at his webbed fingers. They call in a specialist who happens to be attending a party with a female oceanographer in the Navy, Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda Montgomery).
The doctor is just as perplexed as everyone else, but Dr. Merrill has a strange theory. After taking a look at his lungs, she convinces the hospital to take the man back to the ocean. There she pushes him under the water and he revives.
Taking him back to a Navy base,
Dr. Merrill's commander wants to use the man, given the name Mark Harris, as a military asset, while
They take him to a deep part of the ocean and Mark dives down to search for the missing research vessel. What he discovers is an undersea lab. It's run by Mr. Schubert (Victor Buono) who tricks some of the world's top scientists to come and work for him. Once they've arrived the scientists are given bracelets that brainwash them into being docile workers. Schubert's plan, and it's almost complete, is to hack into every nuclear missile system in the world simultaneously and have the rockets launch. This will eradicate the humans on land, who have shown that they are capable of taking care of the planet, and leave Schubert and his scientists to create a utopia under the sea. Luckily the bracelets don't work on Mark, but how can one man stop this entire mad operation.
This is a fun, light, 70's SF TV movie. It's not ground breaking in the plot or SF elements, but it's enjoyable none the less. While Mark doesn't have much of a personality in this first outing, it's fun to watch him wiggle his way through the water in his unique swimming style. A lot of the appeal of the show is that the viewers know Mark is special, but other people don't. When he takes off his scuba gear before diving to search for the missing sub, everyone knows the diver with him will freak out, and it's fun when he does. Likewise when Shubert tries to kill Mark by locking him into a metal cage and lowering him under the water, viewers know it'll never work, and that's the fun of the film.
The Death Scouts (aired 4/22/1977): As this movie opens Dr. Elizabeth Merrill has left the Navy and taken Mark with her. She's now a part of The Foundation for Ocean Research (FOR), along with fellow scientist Dr. Miller Simon (Kenneth Tigar) and chief administrator C.W. Crawford (Alan Fudge). The foundation has a sub (that is identical to Mr. Shubert's. I guess it was given to the FOR by the Navy, which was nice of them) the Cetacean, with which they conduct their research.
This adventure begins when three boaters and pulled into the water by some mysterious entity. The water around their boat is acidic and the Coast Guard has no idea what happened. They call in the FOR who gladly investigates. At the scene Mark finds a trail of strange rocks. Eventually he follows them and they lead to a space ship. Inside is the same logo that Mark has on his swim trunks, the only clue he has as to where he comes from. Could he be an extraterrestrial?
Meanwhile one of the boaters washes up on shore, dead as a doornail but the other two walk out of the surf with webbed hands, just like Mark. Everything is foreign to them and when they get nervous, the pair join hands and are able to generate an electrical shock which can knock anyone on their butts. Mark encounters them in the town and is sure they know where he comes from, but they shock him and run off. Are they friendly, confused aliens or an advance invasion force?
Like the first movie, this one has a lot of 70's charm. No, it's not great and some of the explanations will cause viewers to roll their eyes, but hey, it's still a lot of fun. The SF aspects come to the forefront in this story and they work even though the budget is really low. The spaceship is basically one small room with color plastic shapes on the walls and the alien's only visible weapon is baby powder but it's still has a sense of safe family fun.
The Killer Spores (aired 5/17/1977): This is my favorite of the TV movies. When a NASA space probe is returning to Earth, it passes through a strange cloud that changes its trajectory. The probe lands in the ocean and the FOR is asked to retrieve it. The Cetacean heads out.
When they find it, Mark goes out and brings the probe back, but when he returns he's acting strangely. He will start to describe some odd things he saw on the exterior of the probe, but then stops in midsentence and not only forgets what these things looked like, but that he ever saw them at all.
It turns out that the probe brought back an alien form of life that's invisible to the human eye. These spores are not only hard to detect, but they can take over people's minds and make they do anything that they want. At first Miller and Elizabeth are skeptical, but when they're convinced that the spores exists, they want to find a way to kill them. Mark, who can communicate with the spores, wants to talk with them. But when they start making people in town run amuck, it looks like there isn't much that anyone can do to stop them.
The spores were an interesting concept, but my favorite part of this show was that the FOR wouldn't give back the space probe after they discovered it was infected. It's not played for laughs but I get a kick out of the scenes where someone will have to explain to NASA that they're not quite ready to give them their multi-million dollar probe back. I can always imagine the guy at the other end of the line freaking out when CW says he'll check on it and get back to him.
I also enjoyed the scenes where people were possessed by the spores, especially when the FOR secretary are on the phone to NASA laughing and making sexual innuendoes. I remembered that from when I originally saw the movie, back in '77.
The Disappearances (aired 6/12/1977): This is the fourth movie in the series to air in a little over three months. That's a pretty tight schedule so it's no surprise that they cut a few corners on this one. The plot is almost identical to the first movie.
When a rich man expresses an interest in donating a large ship to the FOR, everyone is excited. The man asks Dr. Merrill to inspect the ship, but when she shows up she's kidnapped and taken to a remote island. There we meet Dr. Mary Smith (Darleen Carr... I guess they even had trouble coming up with a name for the villain) a brilliant but disturbed scientist. She's decided that the human race is doomed, and is working on a plan to save herself and a selected number of her followers who will start a utopian society. They need
Meanwhile at the FOR, Mark and Dr. Simon are visited by the FBI who inform them that the guy who kidnapped Dr. Merrill is linked to over a dozen kidnappings of scientists, maybe even more. He leaves a copy of his files, which Mark and Miller got through with a fine toothed comb. Needless to say, the pair figure out just where
Mark and Miller try to sneak into the base, but are captured, brought to Dr. Smith and then dunked into the spa. Miller is instantly euphoric, but Mark, surprise, surprise, is immune to the effects of the water. But can one fish-man take on a base filled with shirtless guards and discover just what Dr. Smith's plan is?
This story was way too close to the first movie's plot. It even ends with a similar speech about the Earth being doomed because of wasteful humans. I remember being disappointed for that reason when it first aired. Not only that, but some of the incidental touches came across as irritating. All of the guards on the base (why do you need guards if everyone is docile?) are all muscle builders who go around shirtless. It came across are really silly... this is supposed to be a scientific research center after all. I guess if I was a mad scientist with a secret base I'd fill it with topless Victoria Secret models, so I can't complain too much.
All in all these four movies were a lot of fun and I was terribly excited back in '77 when it was announced that Man from Atlantis would be a weekly series. That joy was short lived.
These four films arrive on two DVD-Rs in a single width double keepcase.
The shows were originally broadcast in glorious mono, and that's what we get here. There's a spot of two with a little distortion, when something really loud occurs, but aside from that they're easy to hear without any major problems.
The unrestored full frame video was pretty good actually. The are a couple of spots here and there, and the image isn't razor sharp, but it looks fine for an almost 35 year old show.
These four fun, if slightly goofy, 70's SF telefilms certainly take me back. For fans of SF these are worth checking out as long as you go into it with your expectations at a realistic level. Recommended.