Movie Reviews 257 – Fantastic Voyage (1966)

Fantastic Voyage

Let’s talk shrinkage!

As a young science fiction fan growing up in the 60’s and 70’s, most of the genre fare that came my way via the movies were either those set in space or those with creatures and monsters which included all the horror staples. It was rare to hear about movies that were really ‘science’ based futuristic visions. But once Hollywood outgrew and over serialized their monsters and explored the outer reaches of space as far as they could, it turned to inward looking, speculative science concepts and technologies which included computers, the atom, the mind, and finally medicine. Rarer still was a feature with a budget to match the lofty ambitions of the science being posited.Fantastic Voyage was one of those that delivered a truly science (sort of) based plot while not neglecting the drama and hint of mystery to sweeten the deal.

Indicative of the Cold War going on in that period of history, the story begins with a scientist smuggled across the Iron Curtain. Possessing essential information, he is injured in transport by agents of ‘the other side’ determined to halt his transit. The current state of surgical capabilities are not advanced enough to access the location in the scientist’s brain which has developed a life threatening blood clot. Agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd) is brought into the secretive C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces) complex where he learns that cutting edge technological advances have been made in the field of miniaturization and that they have a particular mission for him.

While both sides of the global divide have developed miniaturization technology for some time, they have been equally stymied by the one problem that still persists whenever matter, living or dead, is miniaturized to microscopic proportions … the automatic return to normal size after one hour. The solution to the problem is held within the brain of the scientist brought over and now lies on an operating table. Agent Grant’s job is to join the crew of the Proteus, a specialized submarine that will be miniaturized and injected into the body of the scientist. The catch is that not everyone on the crew can be trusted and it is believed that one will attempt to ensure that the mission fails.

Accompanying Grant and a pilot, we have the arrogant surgeon (Arthur Kennedy) and his personal assistant (Rachel Welch), and the trusted doctor leading the expedition (Donald Pleasence).  As the mission encounters one mishap after another it begins it’s extraordinary journey using blood vessels as highways, stopping at the occasional organ and orifice. Some of problems faced require extra vehicular pursuits that subject the travellers to encounters with cells, tissue and parasites and other anatomy marvels.

The plot is bond-esque and the characters are all unidimensional cardboard cutouts, but we’re not here for that. We’re here to see human entrails in macroscopic detail, or at least their inflatable balloon and plastic prop equivalents. Some of the special effects work, like the kaleidoscopic floating globules we see out the Proteus portals, others fail miserably as obvious, poorly painted sheets and fabric in a stage room. In reality, the science behind the premise itself is not well thought out either, as scale and proportions cannot be changed linearly without adverse effects, none of which we see here.

As for the acting the usual charismatic Donald Pleasance is fine but not given a lot to chew here. Even Rachel Welch’s role is nothing more than a exercise in tedium with the highlight seeing her slip out of her overalls to reveal her tight fitting scuba diving suit which is eventually attacked by antibodies, and as a result the only body stimulation she delivers is to a tendril bush. (Later that same year she would forever alter the evolution of man with the introduction of male hormones to human genome after appearing in a loincloth bikini in One Million Years B.C.)

I’ve always believed that this movie was based an Isaac Asimov novel as I had picked it up and read it as I devoured all Asimov books I could get at the time. But with his name distinctly missing in the credits I found out that Asimov only adapted the script from noted SF author Jerome Bixby, which itself was based on a story by Otto Klement.

So while the promise was there, the execution fails and nostalgia aside, Fantastic Voyage is little more than a B movie. Call it a B+ just like the blood type.

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