Monday, February 4, 2019
Flashback Film Review: Fantastic Voyage 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.
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