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September 28, 1997|MICHAEL P. LUCAS

It takes but eight minutes and $18 million worth of special effects to lay waste to a civilization in the new Las Vegas extravaganza "Atlantis," presented hourly in the ritzy Forum Shops mall at Caesars Palace. Amid the thunder, crashing waves and billowing flames of an Olympian morality play gone berserk, an animatronic Atlas seeks in vain to allay the destructive quarreling of his prideful children: hunky fire god Gadrius and warrior water goddess Alia--who was instantly dubbed "Xena" by mall employees.

"We gave her a cool '90s look," said show co-director Shelley Warner of Last Design Co. of Santa Monica. It all impresses Shauna Stein of Beverly Hills, whose high-end European fashion salon faces the ill-fated island: "You can see something this spectacular, with this kind of money involved, only in Vegas."

But what of the symbolic mocking of a cataclysm? Will this tempt the fates to revisit epic destruction upon a new civilization? "That's the kind of thing they were saying about my earthquake ride," scoffs technical director Lawrence H. Lester, the same mechanical wizard who animated Earthquake--The Big One at Universal Studios.

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