Monday, August 01, 2016

Man from Atlantis II: "The Death Scouts" (May 7, 1977)

In “The Death Scouts,” a pair of vacationing scuba divers (Tiffany Bolling, Burr de Benning) are pulled down into the water by mysterious assailants.  When they re-appear on dry land, they are no longer human, but alien scouts with frightening physical powers.

Working at the Foundation for Oceanic Research, Mark Harris (Patrick Duffy) teams with Dr. Elizabeth Merrill (Belinda J. Montgomery) and Dr. Simon (Kenneth Tigar) to investigate the duo.  Mark finds a spaceship at the bottom of the sea, and finds aboard it a symbol like the one on his swim-suit, suggesting that the aliens may be of his species.

Similarly, the alien scouts have webbed-fingers, which makes Mark curious about them, even as the Federal Government wants to eliminate the threat to earth and mankind that the duo could pose.

The second TV movie in the Man from Atlantis is already a bit of a step-down from the excellent original telefilm. There’s not a whole lot of plot or character development considering the episode’s length (90 minutes), and very little about Mark Harris or his history is actually learned in the story.  

On the other hand, at least there are breadcrumbs to follow.

“The Death Scouts” (written by Robert Lewin and directed by Marc Daniels) involves Mark’s discovery of a “spaceship from a water planet” and his interactions with two alien sentinels who possess many physical similarities to him.  However, they are -- at least initially -- hostile.

The story takes a (bad) turn when a hokey romantic attraction is suggested between Tiffany Bolling’s scout and Mark Harris. We move into hoary territory as she asks Mark if he understands the word “kiss.”  This is an attempt to tell a tragic story about Mark’s first encounter with love but it doesn’t entirely fit, perhaps coming too soon in his learning curve.  

Intriguingly the last episode of the regular series, “Deadly Carnival,” retells (without apparent memory of “The Death Scouts”) Mark’s first romantic attraction…there with a carnival owner played by Sharon Farrell.

Of more genuine interest is Mark’s steadfast defense of the scouts, whom he believes hold the secret to his origins.  He has discovered the same symbol that is on his trademark yellow swimsuit in the alien control room.  

This means, of course, that the aliens have had contact with the people of Atlantis. Mark keeps defending the aliens, and he makes assumptions that aren’t true.  “They are my people. They have come for me.

Elizabeth, rightly, puts on the brakes. She helps him to understand that his “eagerness to know the truth” about himself has led him to accept lies, or assumptions.  Her point of view is ultimately vindicated, and Mark learns a lesson about trust, emotions and even prejudice.

Elements of “The Death Scouts” work very well. 

The relationship between Elizabeth and Mark is sweet, and one of mentor and student, with a hint of romance.  

I also admired the creepiness of the early scenes where something "alien" rises from the water, and pulls the scuba divers from their boat.  There's a creepy shot of a gray, indistinct hand and arm yanking one diver down.

The finale in the alien spaceship control room, with Mark deploying flares against the enemy scout while a self-destruct sequence activates, is filmed effectively and memorable.

I also like the '70s future-look of the ship. The interior would have been right at home on Space:1999.

My favorite moment, however in “The Death Scouts” is a small, but beautiful one. Mark leaves the airlock of a submarine after a long time on land, and he rolls and spins in the sea, perfectly expressing the joy of being back home.  

That’s the kind of visual unspoken character touch that keeps one watching Man from Atlantis.

Next: “Killer Spores.”

No comments:

Post a Comment