Louise does Fantastic Voyage

“But I don’t want to be miniaturized!”

The Scoop: PG 1966, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Donald Pleasance, Raquel Welch and Stephen Boyd.

Tagline: Journey Into The Living Body Of A Man!

Summary Capsule: Imagine an episode of Magic School Bus. Now imagine Ms Frizzle is a saboteur for the Russians…

Louise’s Rating: 4 out of 5 lymphatic ducts.

Louise’s Review: It looks like a distant planet, but it’s closer than the chair you’re sitting in, and who knew the US military were so dependent on coffee? Welcome to the fabulous 60s classic Fantastic Voyage, in which a not-so-crack team have to break up a blood clot in a comatose man’s brain… from the inside! Would you like to see icons like Donald Pleasance and Raquel Welch slipping into white bodysuits and coming across as awkwardly sinister and awkwardly unnecessary respectively? Would you like to see them take a submarine ride through a glittering, frond-filled, multicoloured wonderland, face some minor peril, uncover a saboteur and be home in time for a fresh pot? Then settle ye down, because you can do just that, and I’m going to tell you all about it.

There are three things to say about Fantastic Voyage. Firstly, its special effects were stunning in the 60s and they’re stunning today. The inside of the human body, from the perspective of microbe, is recreated before our very eyes and those of the characters. As in the best sci-fi, we don’t just get the phenomena, but the characters’ differing reactions to it. A lot of it is pink and gauzy; red blood cells fly like birds; there are fibrous bits and frondy bits and glimmering sparkling pulsating bits.

Secondly, the film is really, really good at building tension. No-one speaks for the first 15 minutes or so, in which we see Dr Benes arrive in America from behind the Iron Curtain, only to face an assassination attempt. General Carter of the Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Force and his buddy Colonel Reid are responsible for the wounded scientist, so they resolve to send in the best neurosurgeon in the world on a submarine journey through his bloodstream to fix him with a laser. Yes, a submarine. Yes, the bloodstream. Yes, a laser. You’d better suspend your disbelief quickly or you’ll never get anywhere. The problem is that the best neurosurgeon in the world is a suspected Russian sympathizer, necessitating the addition to the crew of a CIA agent and Dr Michaels, whose loyalty is unquestionable despite being played by Donald Pleasance. Yeah, we’ll see how long that loyalty lasts, knowing only that they hired Donald Pleasance. The submarine scenes are suitably oppressive and anxious, as the characters try to get their craft to the brain in the sixty minutes before the spell wears off, dealing with sabotage, white blood cells, and personality clashes on the way.

The humour and heart of the film, I believe, comes from the folks at home, namely Carter, Reid and an operating theatre full of hard-working medical personnel keeping Benes alive. I found real cinematic joy watching Carter and Reid feverishly problem-solve while sucking down coffee and sugar like there’s no tomorrow. There’s also a wonderful, wonderful moment when the doctors are allowed to relax following a long period of silence, and their humanity floods the room through their scrubs, and you suddenly stop seeing them as anonymous mooks, and start seeing them as blooming heroes! It’s great.

My only caveat. You won’t appreciate the long silent tension-building sequences if you’ve seen the movie recently. Give yourself a good long time between viewings to forget exactly how the miniaturization works, or the fact that Donald Pleasance is really the bad guy OH YOU SEE WHAT I DID THERE! In short, Fantastic Voyage recommended.

At last… from the maelstrom of 60s sci-fi…I have isolated… pure Cult

Intermission:

  • Isaac Azimov wrote a novelization of Fantastic Voyage in which he cleared up a few of the plot holes.
  • As hinted in the summary capsule, a ‘fantastic voyage’ into the human body has featured in Magic School Bus, and been well spoofed in numerous comedies such as The Mighty Boosh.

Groovy Dialogue:

Opening surtitles: This film will take you where no one has ever been before; no eye witness has actually seen what you are about to see. But in this world of ours where going to the moon will soon be upon us and where the most incredible things are happening all around us, someday, perhaps tomorrow, the fantastic events you are about to see can and will take place.

Grant: This CMDF – for all I know it could stand for the Consolidated Mobilization of Delinquent Females.

General Carter: Hell of a time to run out of sugar!

General Carter: Our miniaturizer can shrink anything.
Grant: But I don’t want to be miniaturized.
General Carter: It’s only for an hour.
Grant: Not even for a minute!

Captain Owens: Dr Michaels went berserk!
Grant: Berserk nothing!

Dr Duval: The medieval philosophers were right. Man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there’s no limit to either.

If you enjoyed this movie, try:

  • Planet of the Apes
  • One Million Years B. C.
  • You Only Live Twice
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2 Comments

  1. Wait a minute, the book came out after the movie? Drat, I thought it was the other way around.

    Anyway, in both the book and the movie, there’s a scene where a scientist makes a quick calculation on his slide rule and then hurries off to attend to pressing business. I’ve read plenty of early science fiction, and it has always intrigued me that the authors could imagine all sorts of fantastic technological marvels, but no one ever seemed to foresee hand-held calculators or desktop computers.

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