Atlantis is a film which begs for comparison to The Big Blue. Both are Luc Besson directed depictions of sea life which are about the beautiful mystique of the deep ocean. The difference is that one is a narrative piece and the other is merely an exhibition of imagery. The Big Blue spent 167 minutes showing top-quality marine cinematography while pretending that it had some kind of story at its roots, but Atlantis doesn't even pretend to have one. Though the title suggests that it might have something to do with the legend of the underground city, in actual fact it si simply an extensive depiction of sea life in the depths of the Atlantic ocean. The short 79 minute running time of the film ensures that it doesn't drag on too much, even though the fact that the film is purely imagery and music without any intention of telling a story.
Atlantis is not a film which viewers have to lose themselves in, it is the kind of documentary that can just be playing in the background to fill the viewer with serene grace. They are able to zone in and out of watching the film as there is no story, making it the ideal film to play at museums. It is not a film which can be judged on the same level as many other nature documentaries as it is not an in-depth analysis of wildlife, but rather a depiction of the basic habitats that these animals live in. Yet it also benefits from Luc Besson's cinema du look style. Cinema du look films are built on highly energized use of colour as a means of driving their narrative, and as there is none in Atlantis the experience is entirely built around how things end up looking and feeling. Since the director is so passionate about the deep, it ends up embracing a beautifully atmospheric style. Atlantis is a film which needs to be judged strictly on the basis of its technical merits. Luckily enough, that is where all the value in the film comes from. The way that the cinematography captures the marine life from so many different angles is magnificent. Floating through the ocean with serene grace, the cinematography in Atlantis easily captures both the beautiful scale of the deep sea and all the incredibly imagery up close. Even the scenes where the film is shot upside-down seem so natural in Atlantis. The viewers get hypnotized by the inherent beauty of the entire experience and find themselves sucked into a hypnotic trance, making the experience perhaps even a little trippy. In an effort to emphasize the true beauty of the ocean, the quality of the imagery in Atlantis transcends the high standard Luc Besson captured in The Big Blue and also condenses it all into a significantly shorter running time. Though the experience doesn't require viewers to immerse themselves in the experience, the beautiful mood of the film is remarkable. Atlantis is a film which transcends its simplistic subject matter by taking a stand as a technical achievement, and perhaps the true beauty in Atlantis comes from the fact that a film so simple, composed out of strictly imagery and atmosphere, is able to emphasize such remarkable beauty throughout the depths of the sea. For one thing, never have I seen such a beautiful depiction of Manatees. Known as the sea cows, the Manatees are a species not considered to be one of the more attractive forms of marine life. But with remarkable precision for atmosphere and gently flowing cinematography, their movements become performance art. Every creature is made to look beautiful in Atlantis, but it all comes so naturally to the extensive footage that the viewer genuinely feels that they are observing something happening naturally without the interference of man. The imagery does stretch on for a while, but the film never focuses on one thing for too long because it slowly makes its way through all kinds of different images with precision editing. This ensures that the experience is all timed well enough to spread out a versatile visual experience over the course of the 79 minutes.
The cinematography and sea life move along with a slow sense of natural progression, and they manage to move at the same pace as the musical score. With a clearly poetic ear for recognizing good sound, Luc Besson brings on a large collection of musicians to speak the language of Atlantis. And though they are all different pieces, the tone is consistent throughout all of them as if every composer worked in as much harmony with each other as their music works with the footage. To compare Luc Besson's work to that of James Cameron who both maintain fascination in documenting the depth, James Cameron is determined to do it with the intention of having audiences be aware of the technological innovation while Luc Besson would rather have audiences feel that they are simply observing natural life unfold in front of them. This is the central difference between James Cameron's Hollywood production style and Luc Besson's cinema du look vision. Luc Besson's project unfolds like an extensive music video and a natural observatory piece at the same time, presenting an innovative film style which takes audiences on a magical mystery tour through the natural world. The beauty in Atlantis simply transcends the idea of reality because it is remarkable, but the fact that it is all real is a true sign that there are many mysteries in the natural world for us as humans to discover. And the fact that Luc Besson discovered this one for us and put it in a gentle cinematic experience is a truly good deed.
So Atlantis is an enticing documentary with nothing but magical imagery from the depths of the ocean and a beautifully hypnotic musical score to go with it. Nothing more and nothing less.