The Search for Buried Treasure
A band of adventurers on the search for a reported fortune in buried treasure investigate many islands to the south of the Philippines and discover an unknown civilization that may be descendants of the lost continent of Atlantis. These half human, half fish creatures, have pearlized eyes and can stay underwater for great lengths of time. This is important because all of their important rituals, including love-making, take place on the sea bed. But this lost tribe needs outsiders for mating and when they capture the greedy band of fortune hunters, the adventure becomes a fight for treasure.
The heart of “Beyond Atlantis” is that of a typical Amazon exploitation movie from the 1950s. There are many elements here that will be familiar to even viewers with a casual knowledge of this genre; shifty members of the expedition, hidden treasure, and intersociety romance are just some of the things here that will have you nodding in a familiar way.
The film was made around the time the Hollywood production code completely collapsed, and moviemakers had the chance to add fun stuff to their movies like explicit sex, nudity, and gory violence.. It was around the 70s when a sudden burst of new Amazon movies – seemingly all with some level of foreign participation – suddenly hit theaters. This film is significantly different from the other typical Amazon movies that got made during the revival. For one thing, it’s a rare Asian and not European (or American) take on the formula. Despite the fact the filmmakers made this during an era where they had more freedom than ever before, and that previous and later Filipino/American productions were full of sex, nudity, and violence, the results here are almost shockingly tame.
And that is one of the biggest problems with this movie. Somewhere in the Philippines, times are tough for prominent gangster East Eddie (Sid Haig); not only must he find income by goading on his two prostitutes by telling them, “You go pop for poppa!”, he recently has had to kill a rival gangster and take over his operation. But it isn’t very long until his fortune changes; a stranger (Vic Diaz) from a distant village comes to the city, and upon approaching Eddie sells him some valuable pearls. Having learned that this man gets pearls from a mysterious woman on a regular basis in return for supplies, Eddie quickly comes up with a scheme; eliminate the middle man by forming an expedition to find the island this mysterious woman lives on and get every pearl he can get his hands on. After making a partnership with his greedy and desperate friend Logan (John Ashley), all they then need is a sailor with extensive knowledge of the area, fulfilled when they find Vic Mathias (Patrick Wayne).
Just before the expedition takes off to waters unknown, the three men are blackmailed with the threat of publicity by a nosey female anthropologist (Lenore Stevens), who wishes to join them in order to investigate evidence of a lost tribe in the area. As it eventually turns out, her suspicions prove correct; when the foursome get to the island of pearls, they find it inhabited by a tribe of people that are revealed to be the descendants of the lost civilization of Atlantis. It’s never explained how this low-tech society ended up several thousand miles from their lost Mediterranean homeland, nor how the typical citizen looks remarkably like your typical Filipino, save for a pair of bug-eyes. It is also explained why the king of this society (played by the late George Nader) is remarkably Caucasian and normal-eyed in appearance, exactly like his sexy fur bikini-wearing daughter Syrene (Leigh Christian). Anyway, while the three men search for pearls, the king not only keeps pushing Syrene to mate with one of the men to bring in fresh blood to the society, but to do so while underwater.
Sounds agreeably sleazy, doesn’t it? And with the setting being underwater, there is also the promise of there being some genuine eroticism to be found during this but instead we have to rely on the power of suggestion and our own dirty minds. There isn’t just a distinct lack of honest-to-goodness sex but also a remarkable lack of nudity. You would think that this tribe, which possesses the ability to breathe underwater, would choose to make their traveling in this environment faster and more maneuverable by foregoing their clothing (unless the males had problems moving about due to their “rudders”.) But while the tribe may be advanced physically, they apparently aren’t mentally, since neither Syrene nor any of the bug-eyed natives ever take off their togs. As for action, until the climax, there is just about nothing that could be considered genuine “action”, and what does happen here is pretty unremarkable and unexciting.
So if this film is just as free of sex, nudity, and violence as those 1950s Amazon movies, it bothered me that I could accept that innocent attitude those previous times because they were made in more innocent times. This was made in a more permissive era with an attitude much closer to our present-day one than in the ’50s, or even the ’60s. You therefore can’t help but expect the movie to have a more “adult” approach, and its more simple-minded approach just doesn’t work.
Bonus features include: Original Theatrical Trailer, Video Interviews with John Ashley, Leigh Christian and Sid Haig, Full commentary track by filmmaker, Howard S. Berger and filmmaker Pinoy film historian, Andrew Leavold , Original 30 & 60 second TV Spots.