Monday, February 4, 2019

Flashback Film Review: Fantastic Voyage 1966

Film: Fantastic Voyage
Year: 1966
Director: Richard Fleischer
Writer: Harry Kleiner (screenplay)
Stars: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch
Genre: Science Fiction
Fun Fact: To create a swimming effect, the cast was suspended from wires and shot at double speed, which was then played at normal speed.

Made in 1966, Fantastic Voyage joined the genre of exploratory science-fiction movies inspired by the Space Race. Only, this voyage didn’t lead to the final frontier. It turned inward.

Set vaguely in the 1990s, but with no attempts to make the world or it’s political issues look any different than the 1960s, the movie follows Soviet scientist who defects, and in so doing he nearly dies. A team of scientists rushes to serve their country and science by getting miniaturized and going into the scientist’s body to blast a blood clot with a laser.

Of course, the voyage goes wrong quickly. They end up off course and forced to travel through delicate and dangerous parts of the body where they find themselves under siege from antibodies and corpuscles. Also, the entire crew may not be trustworthy.

The plot is straightforward and predictable while also being full of holes. The characters are more types than people -- the handsome hero, the dutiful scientist, the possibly mad scientist, the sexy assistant. The movie even tries to weigh in on Cold War fears and vague political issues, but isn’t at all successful.

That said, this is still in a worthwhile watch over 50 years later. Directed by Richard Fleischer, known for Doctor Dolittle, Conan the Destroyer, 2000 Leagues Under the Sea and Soylent Green, Fantastic Voyage delivers the promised fantastic visuals. Many of the set pieces and sound effects are reused from other productions and showcase a great deal of imagination. The visual effects may not be much to look at by today’s standards, but the production goes to great lengths to create colorful, varied, intricate scenery for the various parts of the body. Even though the effects have little basis in reality, the film took home two Oscars for these efforts, one for Art Direction and another for Visual Effects.

The trip into a human body fresh, though very fictional, look at scientific developments. Space was an exciting new place to explore, but it had been well covered by science fiction of the era. Audiences hadn’t yet experienced 2001: A Space Odyssey or Star Wars, but they’d seen plenty of alien monster movies and space exploration. Fantastic Voyage explores a future of medical advancements and what might be possible someday.

Fantastic Voyage also serves as the basis for many future miniaturization themes in media. A military official refers to this as “inner space” exploration. That phrase would later become the title of a 1987 film starring Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan and Martin Short. The idea of “inner space” travel plays out in TV shows and movies like Futurama; Family Guy; The Simpsons; Sabrina the Teenage Witch; Honey, We Shrunk Ourselves and more. The film also spawned a novelization for Isaac Asimov and as well a several comic book adaptations.

Fantastic Voyage may not be the greatest classic sci-fi film ever made, but it holds an important place in the development of the genre and the use of visual effects. It’s also worth a watch because there have been several high-profile attempts to remake it. Less than a decade ago James Cameron was in talks for a remake, and more recently Guillermo del Torro has considered taking on the project, which could be quite the visual treat.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

Flashback Film Reivew: Dark Passage 1947

Film: Dark Passage
Year: 1947
Director: Delmer Daves
Writer: Delmer Daves (screenplay)
Based on: Dark Passage by David Goodis (serialized novel)
Stars: Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Becall 
Genre: Noir, Thriller
Fun Fact: This is the third of four Bogie & Becall films. 

*Note: Mild storyline spoilers ahead, no plot twist spoilers

Dark Passage tells the story of Vincent Parry, played by Humphrey Bogart, who escapes from prison so he can prove his claim that he's been wrongly accused of killing his wife. Lauren Becall is there too, playing Irene Jansen, an heiress eager to get herself mixed up in the whole tawdry affair. 

Dark Passage uses first-person perspective at the beginning of the film, meaning we can only see what our main character sees. It came out a year after Lady In the Lake, which is credited as the first film to use the first person point of view. Despite being an early experiment in this technique, Dark Passage uses it well. For the first hour, we, the audience, see everything through Parry's eyes. He's on the run, having escaped from San Quentin, and everything is terrifying. 

The limited perspective forces us to share his fear, feeling just as terrified about what's around the next corner. We meet new characters through his eyes, wary of how each person might recognize him, might figure him out, might send him back where he came from. Not only do we see things from his point of view, but we also hear his thoughts, in Bogart's distinct voice, letting us even further into the mind of this frightened, determined fugitive. 

The first person viewpoint is also a clever way to keep us from seeing a pre-plastic surgery Parry. We see a photo of Parry through his own eyes, but we do not yet get a look at our main character, who we will later see as Bogart. It isn't until he has said surgery and his face is wrapped in bandages that we get a look at him. We still can't see what's under the bandages, and we're thrust further outside our previous perspective because we can't hear his thoughts anymore, and he can't talk. 

Eventually, we get a glimpse of Bogart's mug, but the film is half over by that point. The audience is hooked, the suspense is in full swing and the mystery is far from solved. From here the film plays out like a textbook noir thriller with plenty of fights, chases, fast talking and reveals. 

Without the excellent use of the first person viewpoint, I doubt Dark Passage would stand out much from other noir thrillers. It isn't the best of it's kind. However, the first person viewpoint, which could have easily become a cheap gimmick, turns a slightly unbelievable story into a truly thrilling ride. 

Flashback Film Review: Fantastic Voyage 1966

Film: Fantastic Voyage Year: 1966 Director: Richard Fleischer Writer: Harry Kleiner (screenplay) Stars: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch Ge...