Aquaman “Pilot” (part 3 of 11)

Cut to a seaplane roaring through the sky, with the ominous caption “The Bermuda Triangle — 10 years ago.” A smiling boy with shaggy blond Cousin Oliver bowl-cut hair appears in one of the windows, ogling dolphins that just happen to be frolicking below the plane.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Look, Mom, we’re passing right over Gilligan’s Island!”

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A beautiful blonde woman, presumably the flesh and blood Atlanna, is at the controls. Over the radio, a man’s voice calls for “Turtle One”. Cut to a shot of a guy in a Coast Guard uniform, and the shot starts on his butt and slowly tracks up around him so that we can get a reveal on his face. Wow, he must be a pretty big star to get such a dramatic introduction. Hey look, it’s Ritchie Valens himself, Lou Diamond Phillips! So, I guess yo soy marinero.

Now, I’ve seen Phillips in a lot of stuff, including the lead role in The King and I on Broadway, and I know he can act. But as they say in courtroom dramas, prior cases are inadmissible, and the evidence at hand is pretty damning.

The only consistency to Phillips’ performance in Aquaman is his unswerving dedication to withholding any and all clues as to what his character is about. Literally, all we can say about this man at the end of the day is that he looks like Lou Diamond Phillips and dresses like Merrill Stubing. Though, to be fair, it isn’t much of a crime to not have a handle on your character if the show’s creators don’t, either.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Atlanna, you’re in for some sweet Missionary Position lovin’.”

Atlanna responds and they chat. She says the “hatcheries were undisturbed,” which is a relief. She asks if he missed her, and Lou says, “More than I can say over an open frequency.” What does that mean? You’re not allowed to say “yes” or “a lot” over Coast Guard radio channels? Unless he means he’s boning for her. In which case, yeah, it’s probably not a good idea to talk about that over the radio.

Lou asks about her new “research assistant”, who turns out to be Cousin Oliver (later revealed to be named Arthur). She hands the kid the radio handset and he starts babbling excitedly about how Mom let him tag a giant sea-turtle. “And Dad! I held my breath under water for almost five minutes!” But then Mom remembered she left me handcuffed to that coral reef!

Now, given her watery heritage, I’m not surprised that Atlanna let her son try drowning himself just to see if he could do it. But still, this doesn’t seem like responsible parenting to me. If I were Dad, I’d be a little upset that Mom was allowing Our Son to figure out exactly the point at which he’ll asphyxiate. The whole “superchildren exploring their powers” thing really should be approached with more circumspection. Consider Lois’s son in Superman Returns. Should she smack him in the skull real hard with a hammer just to see if he’s invulnerable?

Dad, however, just says this is “incredible” and adds, “I swear you must be part fish.” Well, you haven’t actually met the in-laws, so you might want to withhold judgment.

Atlanna is suggesting pizza on their return, a line so banal that disaster must be imminent. Sure enough, the radio cuts out and the needles on the control gauges start dancing wildly. Atlanna’s necklace pendant, a large golden seahorse, is suddenly glowing ominously, though Atlanna herself doesn’t seem to notice. (Guess they forgot to add a reaction shot in post.) Meanwhile, straight ahead, a big, round patch of ocean has started boiling. Mmmmmm… seafood gumbo.

Dad just stands there grinning and calling over the radio, “Atlanna?” like he has no idea something terrible is about to happen. Further proof that Lou Diamond Phillips didn’t read the script before taking this job.

Suddenly, a massive surge of white-hot energy shoots straight up out of the gumbo pot, leaving a residual column of water and steam that Atlanna flies straight into. She tells Arthur to buckle up as she dodges more energy bolts shooting up out of the ocean.

Meanwhile, Dad finally gets concerned about the loss of contact, and asks the radar guy if there’s a storm. Nope, clear skies for hundreds of miles. Which makes me wonder: wouldn’t huge bolts of energy bursting up out of the ocean show up on something? Radar, sonar, satellite, anything? This doesn’t look like much of a secret weapon to me. And considering that whoever’s controlling this weapon doesn’t seem to be a very good shot, you’d think Bermuda Triangle survivor tales would be full of easily avoidable vertical energy discharges the size of the Washington Monument.

Caption contributed by Mark

Could be a sun flare. Or possibly light reflected off a particularly shiny manatee.

Atlanna manages to dodge a half-dozen attacks, most of them way off, before whoever it is finally tags the plane. They crash, and Atlanna struggles to get out of her harness while the interior fills rapidly with water. The kid is screaming, “Mommy, help me, I’m stuck!” And his position is now different from where he was before the plane hit. My guess is they had one set for the plane interior in flight, and another on the wet set for submersion.

A brief shot of the exterior shows the plane sinking like a dropped anvil. Something that looks like a mermaid’s tail flicks past, accompanied by a harsh crash of music on the soundtrack. Inside, Atlanna gets free and swims to help Arthur, just as the water reaches his neck. She undoes his straps and says, “They’re coming for you. You have to get to the surface.”

“Do good with your life,” she adds, placing the seahorse pendant around his neck. Wow, so at least she read the script, even if Dad didn’t. She’s so certain she’s going to get creamed that she just writes herself off and tells her son goodbye forever.

She’s rushing, because the water is rising high enough to cut off dialogue any second now. “I will find you again, I promise,” she says. So even she knows that the bad guys are only going to kidnap her, not kill her. But does she know that her son is going to grow up to be a moron?

Her last line is, “I love you, Orin.” Since she’s been calling him Arthur, this, along with the “they’re coming to get you” stuff earlier, should convince Arthur that his mom has suddenly gone completely bonkers. As it is, he just looks confused and whiny.

Caption contributed by Mark

“Promise me you’ll make your father’s life a living hell for the next ten years, okay?”

The cabin interior is now filled with water. Atlanna glances out the window to see something dart by very fast. Evidently, she decides she has no more time, so she yanks the rest of Arthur’s harness off with (presumably) super strength, eliciting an amazed reaction from the kid. She kicks out the emergency exit door, which probably saved two seconds over just turning the damn handle, and pushes Arthur out.

The kid starts receding into the murk like Frank Poole in 2001. We see a mottled gray arm reach out and grab Atlanna by the neck, and then the plane spins (a little too rapidly) out of sight.

A surface shot of the sunset melts into a nighttime shot of a crescent moon. Arthur is still underwater, floating unconscious with his head and arms hanging down. Before, he could only hold his breath for five minutes, but now he’s been underwater for hours and he’s fine. Maybe Aquaman’s powers are stronger when he’s unconscious? Whoever’s in charge of doling out superpowers must have a twisted sense of humor.

Anyway, some whales come along and raise him gently up to the surface. Arthur immediately comes to, lifting his head to say, “Mommy?” No, kid, the whale is not your mommy.

The kid stands up on the whale’s back and sees that he’s in the middle of the ocean. The whale he’s aboard is part of a herd, which all surfaces at once to give Arthur a good look at the laborious CGI work. The kid doesn’t seem all that impressed, though. He just stands there staring back into the empty ocean, and calling out for his mommy, like they got separated at the mall.

Fade to black as a portentous gong [?] shudders into silence. It’s over? Well, that was kinda—oh. Never mind, it was just the prologue. The real horror has not yet begun.

Mark "Scooter" Wilson

Mark is a history guy, a graphics guy, a guy for whom wryly cynical assessments of popular culture are the scallion cream cheese on the toasted everything bagel of life. He spends his time teaching modern history at Brooklyn College, pondering the ancient Romans at the CUNY Graduate Center, and conjuring maps and illustrations for ungrateful bankers at various Manhattan monoliths. Readers are welcome to guess at reasons why he's nicknamed Scooter, with the proviso that all such submissions are guaranteed to be rather more interesting than the truth. Mark lives in the Midwood section of Brooklyn with a happy-go-lucky, flop-eared dog named Chiyo who is probably, at this very moment, waiting patiently for her walkies.

Multi-Part Article: Aquaman "Pilot"

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