Atlantis (1991)

A- SDG Original source: National Catholic Register

While making his 1988 aquatic feature The Big Blue, director Luc Besson (The Fifth Element) became fascinated with the sea and wanted to spend an entire film simply exploring it. He then spent two years capturing the extraordinary footage for Atlantis, a pure documentary that eschews educational Discovery Channel narration in favor of sheer wonder at the exotic, mysterious world under the sea.

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1991, Columbia (DVD). Directed by Luc Besson. Brief French narration with subtitles.

Artistic/Entertainment Value

Moral/Spiritual Value


Age Appropriateness

Kids & Up

MPAA Rating


Caveat Spectator

Documentary footage of a shark feeding frenzy and sea animals mating should not pose an obstacle to most children.

Loosely structured into thematic "chapters" such as "light," "rhythm," and "grace," accompanied by an ecclectic Eric Serra score, Atlantis is a documentary Fantasia, a poetic marriage of image and music (though the score, apart from an aria from Bellini’s La Sonnambula, lacks the pedigree of Disney’s masterpiece). Marred only by a brief opening voiceover, which muses pretentiously about man’s evolutionary origins in the ocean, Besson’s otherwise wordless film lets the beauty of the undersea world speak for itself.

No matter how many ocean documentaries you’ve seen, Besson’s film will show you things you’ve never seen before — and things well worth seeing again. The alien majesty of a giant octopus in his seaweed-forest home off the coast of Vancouver. The mist-shrouded mountain landscape and cathedral-like towers of the Great Barrier Reef. The submarine-like passing of an orca. The hypnotic undulations of the striped-sweater sea snake. The implacable, battle-scarred visage of an Australian great white. The dirigible-like bulk and mailbox-slot mouth of the whale shark. The bovine placidity of a Florida manatee, whose comically graceful bulk evokes the hippo ballerinas of Fantasia. The nautilus, which defies description or comparison. It’s all here in this unparalleled look at a fascinating world.

Note: Be sure to catch the closing credits, which put identifying captions to some of the film’s more memorable images.

Documentary, Family, Foreign Language, Nature Documentaries