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By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
May 20, 1994


Luc Besson
Not rated

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There may be nothing more comically majestic than a manatee -- a lead-weighted, cigar-shaped sea cow that free-floats through the bluish shallows of Florida. The balletically ungainly mammal is but one member of the undersea cast of "Atlantis," Luc Besson's dreamy paean to the water-bound.

There are no dramatic complications in this 75-minute film, no inciting incidents or plot twists. Instead, "Atlantis" is arranged in thematic movements. In "Rhythm," for instance, a striped sea snake undulates to music reminiscent of snake charmers and Ali Baba. "Mind" follows spotted dolphins in the Bahamas, as they squeak up an endearing chorus.

In "Soul," a manta ray glides through the deep as an off-screen Maria Callas serenades this stealth fish with "La Sonnambula." And in the melodramatically monikered "Hate," throngs of sharks -- those skinheads of the sea -- do their provocative thing to a Brian Eno-type synthetic score.

Basically, this is a thinking person's "Fantasia," an arty, aquatic spectacle in which nature "dances" for our delectation. Captured beautifully by Christian Petron and his camera team, these sea creatures and seascapes lend themselves memorably to cinematic anthropomorphism. Images of giant octopuses, marine iguanas or just plain sea kelp being themselves in the Galapagos, the Seychelles and Tahiti defy appreciative description. "Atlantis" is a sit-back-and-gape experience, a chance to enjoy these worlds in all their Cinemascope blueness.

Unfortunately, the beginning of the movie is briefly marred by ponderous narration. "Welcome to the world of Atlantis," intones a French-accented voice. "The original world. Here man was born. Here man matured. ... Forget everything that you know and dive deeper and deeper."

But as "Atlantis" ably demonstrates, a picture is worth a thousand voice-overs.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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