B-Movie Inspirations: Warlords of Atlantis (1978)
Warlords of Atlantis
Actor Doug McClure and director Kevin Connor worked together in the 70s for some of my favorite B-Movies as a kid – The Land That Time Forgot (1974), At the Earth’s Core (1976), and The People That Time Forgot (1977). I come to find out – there was one I missed! Warlords of Atlantis. You have to love Tubi for supplying me the opportunity to watch this gem.
The whole series of films have a very similar tone and story, all set in the early to mid 1900s or late 1800s, a crew stumbles across a lost work or continent with giant prehistoric monsters, done with very cheesy special effects and camera tricks. But it was the kind of movies I lived for when I was a kid. This one had a almost controversial undertone to it that I really thought was brilliant and thought it would be great for an RPG adventure or campaign. It also had some great world building that they never explored that I thought could create a great campaign world.
In Warlords of Atlantis (which went through several name changes including Warlods of the Deep), it opens in an unspecified era that one has to assume is roughly early 20th century (although the diving bell has the date 1896 on it’s external plaque), out in the middle of the ocean in an unspecified location. You are introduced to British archaeologist Professor Aitken and his son, scientist Charles, as well as Captain Daniels and his ship, the Texas Rose, who were hired to take the scientists out to sea. Along with them is engineer Greg Collinson (McClure), designer of a diving bell to do some deep sea exploring. The scientists work hard to keep the true nature of the exploration a secret, however. They are seeking signs of the lost city of Atlantis.
The Texas Rose‘s crew includes Fenn (Cliff from Cheers, not long before his appearance in The Empire Strikes Back) the wise-cracking Irishman, Jacko the timid scared-of-everything deck hand, Sandy the cabin boy, and Mr. Grogan the tough guy with very little smarts. There is also the captain’s cat.
On the day of the scientific dive (what? no test dive or anything), Charles and Greg the engineer go down nearly 35 fathoms (which sounds like a lot but it’s not really) to be attacked by a reptilian sea monster. They fend it off finally and dive further. of all the creatures, this is perhaps the cheesiest not only because of the depth they found it but just the look. If I were to stat this out for an RPG, it would just be a typical prehistoric sea monster – like a elasmosaurus or other plesiosaur type creature. The best thing about this is that they wasted no time jumping right into the monsters, bringing out the 11 year old in me.
Diving deeper, the two adventurers discover a statue that appears to be made of solid gold – the proof of Atlantis the scientists were looking for. Of course this comes to a surprise to Greg the engineer, who begins to question what they were planning to do down there.
They somehow hoist the statue to the boat (keep in mind they had no diving suits in the bell) and immediately greed sets in with the crew of the ship. Deckhands Grogan, Fenn and Jacko begin to plan a mutiny to take the gold. Meanwhile, the Captain is appealing to the older Professor to end the silly expedition, cut their losses after the sea monster attack (not entirely sure why it did not attack the boat) and take the gold for everyone’s profit. Of course, the old man is only concerned about finding Atlantis. The deckhands revolt, and cut the line to the diving bell, sending the diving bell tumbling to the bottom of the sea.
Enter new sea monster number 2: a gigantic octopus attacks. But this is no ordinary attack. With it’s multiple tenacles, it grabs four of the crewman – leaving the professor who was wounded in the mutiny and Sandy the cabin boy – pulling them under the sea. You find out later they survive this trip underwater but not sure how. It also grabs the diving bell along the way (conveniently) containing the trapped Greg and Charles and drags them all into a huge underwater cavern beneath the ocean floor. I got the feeling that this creature was sent by someone (the Atlanteans, of course) but I read somewhere that it actually had a name – Sentinel. I missed that in the movie but thought it worth mentioning. Of course, Sentinel is simply a giant octopus, something found in just about any RPG. It is controlled somehow by the Atlanteans (telepathy?).
Underground, they wash up on some beach to a bright sun-like light in the sky which is never explained (pet-peeve) and a representative from the Atlantean ruling class – Atmir – and nis guard. One of the coolest designs in this movie are the guards. It is exactly how I would have imagined Atlantean guards would be. They are simple but I love the esthetic.
Atmir offer to take them to safety, a journey which seems to take an unnecessarily long time. At one point along the journey to Troy the Third City, we are told that Atlantis had seven different cities. Two of them were lost, sinking to the bottom of the ocean. The explanation of this from Atmir came out a little strange, perhaps a little part of the story left open or lost on the cutting room floor. Once the pieces to the puzzle were laid out later, the two lost cities made more sense. I’ll explain at least my interpretation of that later. This was just one part of the inspiring world building in this movie.
Travelling through what appears to be a prehistoric swamp, the group encounters the next strange monster – or mutants as Atmir later calls them. This swamp is inhabited by a monster called the Mogdaan – that they call a millipede but looks nothing like one. I think this is a case of a disconnect between the special effects people and the script writers. This creature looks more like a standard swamp fish-like monster than anything else.
This encounter seems a little awkward, however. Perhaps a budget limitation or just a poor choice in editing, this creature rose out of the water, roared and did nothing. The members of the party just started back at it and waited until it went away. Atmir did very little to advise the surface dwellers. This could have been handled/edited/written better. To state this bad boy out, he’s giant, amphibious and a meat eater. They don’t do much with it but based on the first encounter, I would guess it doesn’t see well.
They stop in one city called Troy which I learn later from reading a synopsis online was abandoned. This I saw was a missed opportunity for more story. they just seemed to skip over it and move on to the next city – the city of Vaar. This city is a great walled city that looks like somewhere in Malta, which I believe is where it was filmed. Charles the Scientist is deem worthy of an audience with leaders in another city – Chinqua the royal city.
While in Varr, the crew (sans Charles) meet the general population of humans including Briggs, the captain of the long missing Mary Celeste and is the unofficial leader. The humans are apparently survivors (or descendants of survivors) from various ships captured and enslaved by the Atlanteans. These captives have been augmented by their masters with gills. The air within Atlantis is apparently different enough that this is needed for humans to survive. This, in the end will doom any enslaved human to a life within Atlantis rather than returning to the oxygen-rich surface. The is captured and place in cells until their can receive their augments.
One of the key roles to the slaves is protecting Atlantis from the constant attacks of creatures that populate the region. One creature known as the Zaarg begin an attack on the walls of Vaar. This claims the life of Briggs but causes enough chaos to allow the crew to escape. A friendly local and Brigg’s daughter Delphine shows them a tunnel that will lead them into Atraxon’s palace, where they can rescue Charles.
The Zaargs are huge creatures that seems to be like a cross between a turtle and a crocodile. It movies slowly but can climb stone walls. Their heads have massive tusks along with wide mouth with many rows of fangs. They can swallow a human whole, which was the poor fate of Briggs. Their motivation appears strictly to eat as I can not see any other reason to attack the walls of the city.
Meanwhile, as a scientist, Charles is deemed intelligent enough to be granted an audience with royals of Atlantis – King Atraxon and Queen Atsil. Deeming is mind superior, the royals wish to make Charles one of them. At this point, it gets into the deep and pretty dark details of a plot that I feel is really under-rated. As they explain, Atlantis crashed on the Earth millennia ago – all seven cities contained in one asteroid (seen at the start of the movie). They came from the Mars and with their extremely strong powers of the mind, have been influencing and shaping human history. They imply that they have been trying to weed out the inferior members of the population and help the superior – like Charles – to rise up and rule.
As you can probably guess, they were the major influence in the rise of Nazi Germany and white supremacist fascism (and other events that they could not find stock footage fore), or at least so the movie implies. Of course, this is actually deeply rooted in the occult beliefs of Hitler, Himmler and the inner circle as well. Their Ayran race beliefs were loosely linked to Atlantean-type mythologies. While controversial and very dark, I found this a great aspect of the story – aliens psychically influencing human history and causing so many evils in the world.
Intrigued when they show him the utopia they aim to create on Earth, Charles basks in the psychic visions the Royals show him. The other crew find their way to him, and he resists. They basically knock-out him out and carry him away from the Royals and their psychic influence. I found this a little weak. Don’t they have guards? Can’t they use their mind powers to influence the lesser beings?
The group journey out of the city and back to the swamp, to face the Mogdaan ccreature. It kills Jacko, while the others escape, who eventually reach the diving bell. At this point, Admir and the Guardians are waiting for them and uses telekinesis to the sea water to erupt violently to prevent their escape. However, they find a way to reach the diving bell, escaping to the surface.
Returning to Texas Rose, they are met by Sandy. Holding Fenn and Grogan at gun point, Sandy tells Greg, Charles and Daniels about the mutiny and the shooting. Daniels convinces Sandy to hand over the pistols, but then turns the tables, revealing that it was he who shot the Professor, who had refused his offer to make a profit out of their discovery. Fenn and Grogan lock them up with the Professor, but as they ponder their next move, the Sentinel attacks and destroys the ship. Daniels is crushed by the statue, while everyone else escapes by life boat.
This more than just an adventure idea – it is a world building idea. The whole Atlantis is a world that could be explored in a great campaign. Between the monsters and the Atlanteans, you have a wide variety of opportunities for RPG adventure. The cities could be factions that the players could use to ally against the Royals. The lost cities could be found somewhere else. It’s a world full of potential.