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Fantastic Voyage

****
1966

‘…the missing link between 1950’s space potboilers and the still awe-inspiring future-scapes of 2001…’

‘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…’ is one of many pretentious lines in Richard Fleischer’s 1966 sci-fi fantasy, but for once, pretention is justified. Before Kubrick’s 2001 put the ‘awe’ into outer-space, Fantastic Voyage engendered some similar emotions with their trip to ‘innerspace’; the film follows an intrepid group whose submarine is injected into the body of a prone scientist. The effects and production design won Oscars, and even if the process work is poor by today’s standards, this voyage still seems fantastic today.

A motely collection, Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welsh and Donald Pleasence are amongst those who don skin-tight plastic wetsuits for the mission, but there’s a good half-hour of chat beforehand just to ramp up expectations. The miniaturisation process is covered in detail, as are the practices and rubrics of the Combined Miniature Deterrent Force who mastermind the project. One of the team is a spy, although that narrative takes a back-seat to tension as the crew of the Proteus navigate the internal workings of Benes (Jean De Val). Memorable moments include a trip through an ear canal, a lazer-firing escape through the brain, an exit through a tear duct, attacks by antibodies, and stopping the patient’s heart so that the ship can pass through in one piece.

‘Every beat separates a man from eternity…’ murmurs one of the doctors, while another considers converting to Hindu-ism because they value all forms of life, large or small. There’s a dash of philosophical insight in the script, keeping things interesting, and the prospect of the ship suddenly returning to full size keeps the film taunt. Welsh seems unusually buttoned down here, but was managing the transition from pin-up to serious actress with some success, while Pleasance gets to do this patented sweaty-brow/agitated-man thing.

Fleischer has previously pulled 20,000 League Under The Sea together for Disney, and knows how to get great visuals; the submarine itself looks pretty functional, and the educational insights into how the human body works are good for young audiences. Miniaturisation has staged periodic comebacks, from Innerspace to Ant Man, but Fantastic Voyage lives up to its title by telling on original story with some verve; it’s a classic of the sci-fi genre, with James Cameron reputedly mulling a remake. It would be nice if any reboot retained the 1960’s setting; this is the missing link between 1950’s space potboilers and the still awe-inspiring future-scapes of 2001.

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    • I try to respect all pictures by not cropping them, but I noticed that when viewing the website via the landing page, it wasn’t Raquel’s face that was most prominent, and this blog does not stand for accidental objectification of women. I’ll email you the old picture if you want?

  1. I’ve seen this movie years back on the sci-fi channel and really enjoyed it. There are some parts that I remember, and some parts that I don’t…(hey I’m 44 my brain is slowly degrading). One of the things I didn’t remember was that Donald Pleasance was in this. So nice to sometimes take a trip down memory lane isn’t it! Great post! 😀😀

  2. I read the book by Asimov and my highschool self was so unimpressed that I never bothered with the movie.

    Is Rachel Welsh the same person as Raquelle Welsh?

    I have always found it ironic how uninformed hollywood is about religion/s when they include it in their movies. Obviously, being a christian, I tend to see the ham handed handling of our values being destroyed in every movie that portrays a “christian” (usually a dour or fanatic nut job), but I had to laugh at the little line about Hinduism honoring all life. This is the religion that creates the caste system. Let me tell you, the untouchable cast isn’t honored much, nay, at all 😉 Better to be dead in fact. Even a modicum of research, that is all I ask.

    I know there was a second book, but was there a second movie? And do you know if the book or the movie inspired the other?

  3. Welch may be buttoned down, but there’s no missing those curves in that outfit. The art design is the most ’60s thing about it. Interesting that the inside of a body looks like the inside of the Earth in Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959 version).

    • I’m impressed that Welsh made it as an actress, and although she looked great, managed to forge a great career in more serious roles. This is one where she fits in with the terse atmosphere, and yes, that art direction is very of-its-time, but very well done for 1966…

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