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By Joe Brown
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1994


Luc Besson
Not rated

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An undersea "Fantasia," starring otherworldly marine creatures in rapturous, radiant ballet sequences, "Atlantis" is, um, an aquatic dream. French director Luc Besson, who took his first plunge into the deep in 1988 with the briny adventure "The Big Blue," spent two years and hundreds of dives in the Bahamas, the Galapagos Islands, even the North Pole, to assemble this unparalleled underwater footage.

Like last year's exotic "Baraka," the wordless, 75-minute "Atlantis" offers ecstatic views of previously hidden territory set to eclectic world music. The overall effect is tranquil and soothing. "Atlantis" is a cinematic Lava Lamp, the movie equivalent of an Enya album.

In the first sequence, titled "light," Besson's cameras float just below the surface of waves, gazing up at a liquid sky. Sparkling schools of tiny fish pulse and turn in unison, a silvery corps de ballet. The camerawork is so fluid, the water so utterly clear, the perspective so privileged and patient, the viewer occasionally feels weightless and liberated, as if swimming with the dolphins.

In this crystalline atmosphere, the "striped-sweater" sea snake undulates hypnotically to Middle Eastern rhythms, a crowd of sea lions party to a calypso beat on the ocean floor, huge, ghostly manta rays hover with eerie grace as Maria Callas sings "La Somnambula."

Besson avoids the pitfalls of most "nature films." Although many of these creatures are endangered, Besson never wags his finger at us; neither is he striving to show how much "like us" these creatures are. He simply revels in their awesome beauty, strangeness and grace.

One quibble: Besson titles one segment "hate" and naturally it features footage of menacing, metallic gray reef sharks and great white sharkswith fearsome jaws agape. It's an anthropomorphic cheap shot to assign that emotion to these creatures.

Be sure to catch the credits, in which the film's "stars" take their bows. Until then, the ghostly giant octopus of Vancouver, the gentle Florida manatees, the marine iguanas of Galapagos are unidentified, and it is somehow exhilarating to appreciate them without names.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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