The Melt Down (1977)

The Man from Atlantis was a TV series that cashed in on the popularity of underwater films in the 1960s and 1970s. Even though the series didn’t run for long, it was impressive enough to birth multiple adaptations as comic books and novels. From today’s perspective the whole project seems a bit silly with questionable character drawing and superficial visual attractions. I was however impressed by the great emphasis on scientific details in the story lines. The episodes are also a bit like disguised lessons in popular ocean science.

The episode “Melt Down” written by Tom Greene deals with a sudden global sea level rise caused by melting of the polar ice, intentionally induced by the series’ super-villain Mister Schubert. You could call it prophetic, but then of course, the reason for the meltdown here is not collective political failure but individual roguery. The depiction of the effects of sea level rise are spooky nevertheless. Looking at it today, 50 years later, this little dialog seems to recapitulate perfectly the absurdity of the current situation along the coasts of the USA. “Hey, aren’t you from that Ocean Institute? You know what’s causing all of this?”

It’s quite funny – if only it wasn’t quite as sad…

Thanks to my comic dealer at the fantastic Fantastic Store for the lead!

Put your money on Atlantis

In times like these, what the world needs is good humor and good counseling. And this company apparently offers both. Because if you name your business consulting company after a city that spectacularly sank into the sea as a punishment for the hubris of it’s citizens, you have to have a really keen sense of humor. And these guys have been at it for 30 years! So they must be doing something right after all.
And yes indeed, they are:
For this Greek company, Atlantis is not only a quirky choice of a name, but also a commitment to cultural heritage on the one hand and to the ocean on the other. In their own words: “ATLANTIS Consulting implements projects aiming at the promotion of culture, “blue” technologies and the exploitation of the underwater wealth (cultural and natural) for the benefit of the European economy. ATLANTIS is pioneering internationally on the issue of the protection and sustainable exploitation of the cultural heritage.”

So if I ever happen to amass enough finance to seek the services of a finance consulting company, they will of course be my first choice. And until them, I’ll keep researching the odd paths of cultural heritage of sunken cities and of Atlantis in particular. (Note: Atlantis is actually not an uncommon name for finance enterprises. I guess the lure of untold riches is a stronger allegory than a notorious demise.)

Cancho Roano – a city to mourn lost home

Cancho Roano is a Spanish archaeological site located in the Extremadura, about 150 kilometers north-west of Cordoba. The architectural structure dates from 550 BC and appears to be some kind of extended ceremonial site, but it’s function and purpose remain unclear. The late archeologist Richard Freund from Hartford University in Connecticut according to Wikipedia “theorizes that Cancho Roano was a ‘memorial city’ designed to serve as a ceremonial representation of the lost city of Tartessos, which, in Freund’s theory, was also Atlantis. Freund argued that a stele found at Cancho Roano displayed an image with concentric circles that matches Plato’s description of Atlantis.”

In the documentary “Finding Atlantis” (2011) Freund explains that the Atlantian refugees essentially built a miniature version of their home city to mourn it’s loss. If Freund was right, the site would be an ancient example of a rather unusual architectural memorial, a memorial for a city lost. I don’t know of any other historic example of a ritual site to mourn a lost city. It would also imply that the community stayed together after the destruction of Atlantis and resettled, something very uncommon at least in Greek antiquity according to historian Holger Sonnabend. In the documentary, Freund is also quoted saying, that there were several similar structures in the Extremadura, all commemorating either the same or several lost cities.

No matter the scientific plausibility, it’s an inspiring thought, that an exiled urban community would build a ceremonial model of their former home in their new settlement.

Atlantis: The Lost Continent (1961)

This movie is certainly not of the greatest to have come out of Hollywood. But made in 1961 it is one of the first movies about Atlantis and has been influential in popularizing the myth in the 20. Century. Made with a lot of stock footage from the movie company MGM, particularly from “Quo vadis” filmed ten years prior, the movie is not concerned with Atlantis as a sunken or submarine civilization, but with the downfall of a civilization and an oppressive political system and class. Really, the so called Lost Continent the story is set on could be any ancient empire or city.

The only remarkable feature of the movie I found to be the destruction sequence towards it’s very end. It’s filmed and edited in a very classic structure giving a good example of the Hollywood aesthetics of destruction. In a shot-and-reverse-shot-sequence the viewer is put in the position of the refugees in three boats and a safe distance from the desaster site. Here are the last 3 minutes of the movie (without sound):

And here is what director John Landis has to say about the movie:

Fear of Drowning – Aquaman and the Fate of Atlantis

Last year author Ram V and artist Christian Ward published a new three piece comic book on the DC-superhero Aquaman. (I have commented on the Aquaman movie from the same year here and here.) The story is not really about Atlantis, acording to the DC universe the sunken kingdom of Aquaman’s mother. But in it Aquaman tells the story of the kingdom, as he says it was told to him by his father once. What makes this, one of countless variations of the myth, interesting to us today, is the role that the (suppressed) fear of submergence plays in it.

According to the tale, Atlantis was a swimmin city and the Atlantan people were blessed with a magic that helped them create their city and become powerful. This secret power could be accessed by magicians and kings but the power also accessed and read the minds of these rulers and eventually threatened to manifest their suppressed fears as well as their desires. “And which was the one fear that haunted every man, every woman and every child in Atlantis every day,” the text reads. “What if Atlantis were to drown?” (my translations from the German print version)

And of course this is what happens: Atlantis sinks beneath the sea level. It’s rulers manage to create an underwater habitat and thereby safe the population while also sending the magic power source, called “Dark World”, away into outer-space. The text concludes: “The mystery in Atlantis’ heart was both its creative force and its downfall.”

While the fall of Atlantis is usually used as a moral metaphor for blind greed and hubris, the Atlantan society created by comic author Ram V seems controlled and maybe obsessed by their ever present fear of the ocean. This is the portrait of a fragile society, one that despite all the powers and wonders it achieved lives a most perilous life, only waiting for the imminent disaster.

Life in Atlantis is essentially what Geologist Peter Haff termed live in the “technosphere” – an existence that is wholly dependent on technological solutions and utterly lost should these ever fail.

Dipesh Chakrabaty, who quotes Peter Haff in his book “The Climate of History in a Planetary Age” compares Haff’s “technosphere” to a much older text from 1955 by Carl Schmitt. Schmitt there distinguishes between a “terran” and a “maritime” existence, the latter being life onboard of a ship. Chakrabaty concludes: “If Haff’s argument is correct, that the technosphere has become a basic condition for the survival of seven (soon to be nine) billion people today, one could say that we have already made Earth into something like Schmitt’s ship.” (my translations)

Or Ram V’s Atlantis, I would add.

Chakrabaty’s conclusion is even more true for coastal communities. The existence of many of these communities rely on sea walls, dikes, pumps and other technical and architectural structures. It is intriguing to take Ram V’s tale of suppressed fears that become manifest and adapt it to the sensibilities and culture of coastal communities today. One is tempted to ask: How much Atlantis is in cities like New York, Bangkok or Jakarta?

Atlantis in “20.000 Leagues under the Seas”

There is a beautifully written passage on the submerged continent and city Atlantis to be found in Jules Verne’s famous novel published in French in 1869/1870. The English translation of the chapter is available online. For simplicity reasons I simply copy the link to the chapter here.

A very big shark and an underwater habitat for the rich

The action movie Meg was released in 2018 and did surprisingly well at the box offices, considering that the shark-vs-man plot seems so outdated and overdone. Apparently it was two decades in the making and it feels a bit like it too watching it. Nevertheless, there is a sequel already in cinemas now testifying to it’s apparent appeal.

The first half of the film is essentially an underwater movie and thus I found it worth analyzing for this blog. The most striking aspect of this underwater scenario seemed to me the interior design of the habitat. As opposed to the usual submarine research base, this submarine station looks a lot more like the rescue bunkers currently advertised for billionaires across the globe or the luxury ocean resorts by South-African hotel mogul Sol Kerzner. Compare this image from the movie and the one from an ad for “Atlantis Hotel” in Sanya Bay, China, below:

This is clearly not coincidental: The second half of the movie plot is prominently set in this very Sanya Bay, currently a prime Chinese tourist destination. The movie is a US-American-Chinese co-production and there are clearly visible marketing intentions at play here. (I have written about the Atlantis hotel group elsewhere in this blog.)

There is also a scene in the movie indicating quite directly the connection between the taste of the mega-rich and this kind of submarine design: Towards the beginning of the movie the US-American Billionaire who finances the research station comes to visit. Entering a freight elevator to go down to the station, he expresses his disdain with the raggedy look of the elevator’s inside, calling it inappropriate for such an expensive research project. He is than relieved to find that the station itself looks much more to his taste.

Here are two more images, with the first one being clearly reminiscent of hotel resorts (with a little girl frolicking along) and the second of the type of sleek office design favored by global market players:

The interior design tells us that this project is actually catering to the taste and needs of the wealthy class more than to science. The topic of submarine refuge is never touched upon verbally in the movie but the images speak quite loudly too, I think. One can’t help notice the stark difference to earlier movies about (and the reality of) submarine research and thus the attractiveness of these fictional rooms.

As billionaires in the real world continue to publicly participate in person in all kinds of enterprises that were once reserved for scientists only, the work environments change accordingly. This of course makes the whole enterprise highly questionable in scientific terms. And I am afraid we are going to see more of this in the future – in film and real life. (See also my post on rich men’s rescue schemes here.)

The Fall of Numenor

This is the cover of the 2022 edition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s stories about the sunken island kingdom Numenor, with an illustration by Alan Lee. In Tolkien’s oeuvre Numenor is geographically situated west of Middle-Earth and shows strong similarities to Plato’s Atlantis.

Its major cities are located along the coast and the inhabitants are a sea-faring, maritime society, refered to by the people of Middle-Earth as “Sea-Kings”.

I am no expert on the oeuvre of J.R.R. Tolkien. My knowledge is from vague memories of reading some books as a teenage so I rely here solely on source from the internet that are manifold and sometimes contracitory. As I understand, Numenor is not the only flooded land in the Tolkien Universe.

Among the texts I have read, the most astonishing invention by Tolkien to me is the idea of the bending of the earth which leads to the destruction of the island. Here is a quote from Wikipedia: “Eru Il√ļvatar, the One God,¬†caused the Changing of the World: the hitherto¬†flat Earth¬†was transformed into a globe, N√ļmenor sank beneath the ocean. The whole population on the island was drowned.” (quote from wikipedia) This flood story is told in a short story entitled “Akallab√™th“. The full text can be found here.

Tolkien was apparently influences by the story of “Lyonesse“, a faraway land that sank into the sea in the¬†Middle English¬†romance¬†King Horn.

Thanks to Manuel Rivera for the lead!

Blake and Mortimer: The Atlantis Mystery

In the Belgian classic comic series Blake and Mortimer there appeared in 1955 an adventure set in the mythical city Atlantis. It’s the seventh story in the series which started in 1950.

What I find noteworthy is that the city Atlantis here undergoes several metamorphosis: It was once a city (and state) on land. It then got submerged due to seismic events. The citizens however survived and formed a new community in a subterranean system of caves. In the story this “new” Atlantis gets flooded and destroyed once again and the citizens evacuate once more, this time into space.

Since the plot is quite complicated, I mostly quote here from the respective wikipedia entry.

Professor Philip Mortimer takes his vacation to S√£o Miguel, an island of the Azores. In a cave in the extinct volcanoe Sete Cidades he finds a radioactive rock and cannot help making a rapprochement with the orichalcum mentioned by Plato, the mysterious metal of Atlantis.

The comic then tells the following version of the myth:

12,000 years ago, Atlantis ruled the world from an island in the middle of the Atlantic (an island of the Azores) . But the collision between Earth and a huge celestial body caused the submergence of the continental coasts and island. The few survivors of the Atlantean civilization then decided to build a new and secret Atlantis in the bowels of the Earth. The Atlanteans are watching the surface of the Earth thanks to what earthlings call flying saucers.

Blake and Mortimer climb down into a labyrinth of caves and eventually arrive in Poseidopolis, the capital of subterranean Atlantis. Here they get caught in a political uprising to overthrow the royal reign of the state. The uprising results in disaster: Atlantis is flooded a second time, when the flood gates that hold back the ocean are accidentlay opened. The monarchy then orders the evacuation that had been planned for a long time: the departure of the Atlanteans to another planet with an armada of spaceships. While the Atlanteans prepare to join other skies, the other ethnos of this subterranean world, the so called barbarians, are facing extinction in the rising waters. Blake and Mortimer are released and evacuated by a submarine. Back on land, on the shores of the caldera of Sete Cidades, they attend the majestic departure of Atlantean ships into the sky.

The connection between the ocean and outerspace was not an uncommon one in the 1950s as Helen M. Rozwadowski explains in her essay on submarine utopias in the 20. Century. Both – the deep sea and outerspace – held promises of alternate existences for an otherwise doomed human civilization. This also becomes evident in the oeuvre of one of sci-fi’s most important authors, Arthur C. Clarke, who wrote three volumes of non fiction books about the Great Barrier Reef. See my post on Rozwadowski’s essay here.

Original version of the comic book in french language here.

Atlantis by Donovan