Fantastic Voyage (1966)

Directed by Richard Fleischer

The United States and the Soviet Union have both developed technology that can miniaturize matter by shrinking individual atoms, but only for a limited amount of time, depending on how small the item is miniaturized.

The scientist Dr. Jan Benes(Jean Del Val), working behind the Iron Curtain, has figured out how to make the process work indefinitely. With the help of the CIA, he escapes to the West, but an attempted assassination leaves him comatose with a blood clot in his brain.

To save his life, agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd), pilot Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy), and his assistant Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) are placed aboard a specially designed submarine at the C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces) facilities. The submarine, named the Proteus, is then miniaturized and injected into Benes. The ship is reduced to one micrometer, giving the team one hour (60 minutes) to remove the clot.

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Fantastic Voyage…. a trip that’s quite worth taking.

14 September 2006 | by zeitschik (United States) – See all my reviews

Back in 1966, long, long before the world was turned upside down and inside out on Sept. 11, the world was a very different place. The movies were quite different and science fiction pictures depended more on good writing and less on special effects. Partly because the phrase “computer generated” was years away. In 1966, 20th Century Fox released a very clever, well-written and innovative movie called, “Fantastic Voyage”. The on-screen foreword informed the viewers that they were going to be taken to a place that no one had been before, and see things that had been, until that point in time, never been seen by human beings. I’m sure that this film had its fair share of technical advisors putting in a lot more than their 2 cents worth to make sure that the film accurately depicted human anatomy. The plot… A scientist, Jan Benes, has defected from behind the Iron Curtain, has, with the help of Grant, one of our top CIA operatives.

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Benes has decided to give his expertise with Miniaturization to the US. The “other side” has no choice but to try to kill him before he can breathe a word of it. The assassination attempt is made, but Benes barely survives, falling into a coma. After the movie’s credits finish rolling, Grant is brought to a secret, gov’t location. There, he meets Gen. Carter, who is in charge of the CMDF – Combined Miniature Deterent Forces. They can shrink anything; cars, planes, tanks, people way down in size, thus enabling them to become unseen military weapons. The problem: both sides have this capability. Another problem is… there is a time limit. They can only stay miniaturized for 60 minutes. After that the object or person automatically starts to grow. Benes had the answer to this problem, but he will need special medical treatment to regain consciousness. That’s where Grant and a special team of doctors, technicians and such will have to go into action. After Grant meets the rest of the team, the surgeons in charge, Dr. Duvall and Dr. Michaels go over their plan to remove the blood clot in Benes’ brain. They will board a special Navy submarine, called The Proteus, be miniaturized and injected into Benes’ body by hypodermic needle.

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Naturally, the crew runs into Murphy’s Law and a job that was expected to take 10 to 15 minutes takes much, much longer. The ending in the movie differs quite a bit from the book written by Isaac Azimov (I know because I read it… twice), and there are a number sub-plot twists that made me shake my head, but seeing Ms. Welch in that wet suit made it more than worth while. I consider this movie to be one of my very favorite sci-fi/fantasy flicks from the ’60s. If you haven’t seen it yet, for whatever reason, I can suggest you spend the 100 minutes with some very fine actors, some of whom are no longer with us, such as Stephen Boyd (Grant), Edmund O’Brien (Gen. Carter) and Arthur O’Connell who was in charge of the medical team, and others like Arthur Kennedy (Dr. Duvall), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Michaels) and last but not least, the ever-beautiful, Raquel Welch as Cora Peterson, Dr. Duval’s technical assistant. One last thought…. if this movie was remade with present-day technology, i.e. computer generated imaging and the like, there’s no telling how it would dazzle the viewers’ eye.

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You’re going to see things no one has ever seen before…

8/10
Author: Righty-Sock (robertfrangie@hotmail.com) from Mexico
21 June 2008

“Fantastic Voyage” follows a surgical team of three scientists: Dr Peter Duval, the top brain surgeon in the country (Arthur Kennedy); Cora Peterson, his technical assistant (Raquel Welch); Dr Michaels, chief of the medical mission (Donald Pleasance), plus the skipper of the ship (William Redfield) and Grant (Stephen Boyd) the security agent for security purposes…

The sealed vessel—The Proteus—is reduced down by a secret branch called CMDF (Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces) and injected into one artery of a defecting Russian scientist who has suffered brain injury and he’s in a coma from an assassination attempt… The crew must navigate to the scientist’s brain (within exactly 60 minutes) where Dr Duval will attempt to dissolve the coagulum with a laser beam… After that everything starts growing back to its original size…

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“Fantastic Voyage” is a film of authentic wonder: An ocean of life, the corpuscles, the heart, the lungs of the human body through which the crew move are exquisitely designed in great detail with artistic quality…

The plot creates unceasing moments of suspense as the ship and its crew are continually threatened by the scientist’s natural defenses: white corpuscles, reticular fibers, antibodies and other factors… Leonard Rosenman’s futuristic score nicely complements the adventure on screen with the strange sound of the human blood rushing through arteries, veins, rhythmical muscular movements, and of course, the sabotage occurred on board…

With two Oscar Awards for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction, ‘Fatastic Voyage’ is certainly the most unusual journey into the human body, where 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.’

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Reception

The film received mostly positive reviews and a few criticisms. The weekly entertainment-trade magazine Variety gave the film a positive pre-release review, stating, “The lavish production, boasting some brilliant special effects and superior creative efforts, is an entertaining, enlightening excursion through inner space—the body of a man.”
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times summarized, “Yessir, for straight science-fiction, this is quite a film—the most colorful and imaginative since Destination Moon” (1950).
Richard Schickel of Life Magazine wrote that the rewards would be “plentiful” to audiences who get over the “real whopper” of suspended disbelief required. He found that though the excellent special effects and sets could distract from the scenery’s scientific purpose in the story, the “old familiar music of science fiction” in lush new arrangements was a “true delight,” and the seriousness with which screenwriter Kleiner and director Fleischer treated the story made it more believable and fun. Schickel made note of, but dismissed, other critics’s allegations of “camp.”

As of 2012, the film holds a 92% approval rating at the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being: “The special effects may be a bit dated today, but Fantastic Voyage still holds up well as an imaginative journey into the human body.

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Production

Isaac Asimov, asked to write the novel from the script, declared that the script was full of plot holes, and received permission to write the book the way he wanted. The novel came out first because he wrote quickly and because of delays in filming.[10] Director Richard Fleischer had originally studied medicine and human anatomy in college before choosing to be a movie director.

For the technical and artistic elaboration of the subject, Richard Fleischer asked for the collaboration of two people of the crew he had worked with on the production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the film he directed for Walt Disney in 1954. The designer of the Nautilus from the Jules Verne adaptation, Harper Goff, also designed the Proteus; the same technical advisor, Fred Zendar, collaborated on both productions.

The military headquarters is 100×30 metres, the Proteus 14×8. The artery, in resin and fiberglass, is 33 metres long and 7 metres wide; the heart is 45×10; the brain 70×33. The plasma effect is produced by chief operator Ernest Laszlo via the use of multicolored turning lights, placed on the outside translucent decors. Frederick Schodt‘s book The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution claims that FOX had wanted to use ideas from an episode of Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka‘s Astro Boy in the film, but it never credited him.

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