At­lantis sinks, har­pooned by its own lack of am­bi­tion

SFX - - View Screen - Dave Golder

There used to be a run­ning joke on SFX when­ever a new Harry Pot­ter film was re­leased. Each time the cast and crew would prom­ise that the lat­est film was “darker” than the last one. In which case, we mused, the fi­nal film would have to be a black screen for two hours. The pro­duc­ers of At­lantis clearly don’t think it was a jok­ing mat­ter. We as­sumed when they claimed that se­ries two was go­ing to be darker, they were talk­ing the­mat­i­cally. But af­ter six episodes of squint­ing at gloomy fights in badly shot forests and barely lit caves it was clear they lit­er­ally meant: “darker”. At times, with all that grunt­ing and brief murky snatches of bare flesh in the gloom it was like watch­ing fly- on- the- wall live dog­ging.

To be fair, that’s hardly the main rea­son the show was haem­or­rhag­ing view­ers, but it can’t have helped. Any prob­lems with se­ries one of At­lantis weren’t go­ing to be solved by dark­en­ing it up with a few more deaths, the cast look­ing per­ma­nently glum and the light­ing direc­tor be­ing sacked. What At­lantis needed, sim­ply, was clev­erer, slicker, more sur­pris­ing scripts. In­stead se­ries two stuck so rigidly to for­mu­laic ac­tion/ adventure sto­ry­telling that it of­ten looked like some­one had Pho­to­shopped some to­gas onto an episode of Mer­lin.

Too many episodes fea­tured Pythago­ras and Her­cules as­sist­ing a wounded Ja­son through forests or across deserts. Prob­lems in­evitably re­quired a quest which in­vari­ably re­sulted in Ja­son be­ing yet an­other rid­dle, wrapped up in a mys­tery, in­side some clunky at­tempt at fore­shad­ow­ing. Pasiphae rode around on a horse glow­er­ing like she had a sad­dle sore and send­ing var­i­ous hench­peo­ple off to be use­less. It was all so dispir­it­ingly pre­dictable, es­pe­cially if you were en­joy­ing the cen­tral bro­mance, the oc­ca­sional im­pres­sive ac­tion set­piece and the sump­tu­ous lo­ca­tion photography.

The se­ries also failed to pay off on ba­sic au­di­ence ex­pec­ta­tions. With some­thing called At­lantis you ex­pect some kind of wa­tery theme, but the show was in­creas­ingly land­locked. The city it­self – which as the “star” of the show should have been a place full of won­der – looked like any old dusty stop- off point on a pack­age tour round the Mediter­ranean. The show was based on Greek mythol­ogy, but mon­sters, gods and magic were thin on the ground.

All th­ese blighted se­ries one. All were, in­cred­i­bly, ex­ac­er­bated in the first half of se­ries two. Worse still, there’s no longer even any lip ser­vice paid to the fact that Ja­son is from our time. What was the point?

Few will mourn the pass­ing of At­lantis but so soon on the back of the an­nounce­ment that the BBC has also axed In The Flesh, it also makes you se­ri­ously won­der if Aun­tie feels any com­mit­ment to re­plac­ing it with some­thing sim­i­lar. Out­side of Doc­tor Who, CBBC and new BBC Three se­ries Tatau, the only other Bri­tish tele­fan­tasy in the pipe­line are minis­eries like Jonathan Strange & Mr Nor­rell, Franken­stein and

Be­owulf. It’s not a healthy state of af­fairs, es­pe­cially when US TV is churn­ing out great SF and fan­tasy.

That’s not to say the BBC should con­tinue se­ries that are not prov­ing popular just for the sake of keep­ing tele­fan­tasy on air. But there is a clear hunger for de­cent small- screen sci- fi and fan­tasy, and the BBC char­ter means that the cor­po­ra­tion shouldn’t be driven by au­di­ence chas­ing, so let’s hope when they say “we have to make dif­fi­cult de­ci­sions to bring new shows through”, some of those new shows have us in mind, and not the Down­ton watch­ers.

Still re­mem­ber that this is a time travel se­ries?

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