Saturday, August 14, 2010

THE LOST CONTINENT (Michael Carreras, 1968)

A tramp steamer transports a cargo of explosives, a chemical admixture secreted in the watertight hold and a group of conflicting personalities, all about to detonate. Michael Carreras directs this conglomeration of fantasy and melodrama which is barely kept afloat by the hot air of imbecilic imaginations.

Carreras’ film wastes the first half by focusing upon a group of fugitive characters, each revealing their sordid past and the reason they chose to escape from Africa on this rusting hulk: a Doctor and his nymphomaniacal daughter, an aging and once famous actress, a mysterious dark haired man, and the ubiquitous alcoholic. The Captain orders his crew full steam ahead, outrunning customs and making for the open sea even as he ignores a Hurricane warning. Carreras often films the characters in close up sheathed in sweat, creating a grimy atmosphere that distances the audience from any compassion, as if their inner guilt is painted upon faces. The fault here is that the characters remain unlikable, and we remain more concerned with getting to the fantasy elements.

Eventually the ship is plot-bound in the Sargasso Sea, the killer kelp and sentient seaweed clutching dangerously at their flesh, the seascape haunted by the ghosts of aging ships that loom like dinosaur skeletons in the ominous mist. The crew become victims of a religious war between buxom land dwellers and descendants of the Inquisition, who hold dominion over the tangled morass. They walk on inflatable boots, their shoulders tethered with balloons to keep from sinking into the living mass, but it’s all very silly: why didn’t someone just make a big balloon and float away? Though the rubber monsters are built to scale (this would have benefited from Harryhausen’s magic!) and the costumes are cheesy, there remains a certain charm to the drama, partly because the actors play their part perfectly straight, full of vigor and vinegar.

The confusing part to the entire plot is that there is no continent: Sara the busty stranger alludes to her people living on land but it is never revealed, so the film’s title becomes amusing. Well, maybe the lost continent is so lost that even the story can’t find it! THE LOST CONTINENT is narratively incontinent.

Final Grade: (C-)

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