The movie’s ten years old, but in case you haven’t seen it and think you might some day: SPOILERS BELOW.
Atlantis: The Lost Empire is an almost perfect film.Typically when I’m watching an adventure movie I spend a lot of time thinking about how I’d improve it. Even if it’s one I really like. Especially if it’s one I really like. “Oh, that’s so good, but if he did this…” Or, “That was awesome except for the ending. What if this happened instead.” Since those thoughts often turn into actual stories, I find that flawed movies are even more inspirational to me than perfect ones.
Take Atlantis, for instance. When I watch it, I enjoy it so much on almost every level: the steampunk setting, Mike Mignola’s production designs, the quest for Atlantis, the eclectic team of diverse characters who are searching for it, the fantastic voice cast, the humor in the script and animation, the plot twists and how they’re resolved, the giant robots… There’s little that I want to change. If anything, the film kills my interest in writing a story even vaguely similar to it, because it’s already been done and done so well.
If there’s anything I’d want to change, it’s Atlantis’ being powered by a sentient crystal that protects itself in times of danger by merging with a member of the royal family. Mostly that’s because sentient crystals go into the red section of my New Age Tolerance gauge. I understand that the idea of Atlantis is pretty New Agey to begin with, but it doesn’t have to be and the film was doing so well when it was just focused on the conflict between questing for knowledge and searching for good, old-fashioned, non-mystical, material gain.
But while the crystal bothers me, it’s wrapped into the plot so well that you really can’t pull it out without unraveling a bunch of other stuff. It’s a great object for the movie’s villains to desire because – unlike gold and jewels – it represents Atlantis itself. The city can’t survive without it. That means that the good guys and bad guys can all fight over it and that the victorious good guys can still go home with unbelievable wealth bestowed on them by a grateful city. Which is something I really like: the good guys being rewarded for their trouble. I don’t want to pull at the loose thread of the crystal and risk unraveling the whole sweater. It’s a really excellent sweater.
There is one other thing that I’d change if I could do it without ruining everything else: Helga’s death. Or, no…what it really is is her playing sidekick to Rourke. Her death is just the natural consequence of that. When we meet Helga – all husky voice and legs in the shadows – she’s in charge. And she stays in charge up to the point that Rourke appears. Even though she works for Whitmore, she’s more than his right-hand, she’s his field agent; his eyes, ears, mouth, hands, feet, and weapon outside the sanctuary of his large, spooky house. Once Rourke shows up, she’s nothing more than a goon. Such a waste of potential.
I take back what I said about not being inspired by Atlantis: The Lost Empire. I want some stories about a tough femme fatale who works for an eccentric, rich dude who wants to go on collecting knowledge and artifacts, but is too old to leave his creepy, old mansion to go on his own adventures anymore. That’s the sequel to Atlantis that I’ll never get unless I end up writing it for myself.
(Speaking of sequels, by the way, have any of you seen Atlantis: Milo’s Return? Is it as heart-breakingly mundane as it looks?)