Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Fantastic Voyage (1966) * * *

Set during the Cold War, CIA agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd) is called in to escort scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val), a man behind the Iron Curtain with information vital to the safety and security of the United States. When their motorcade is attacked, Benes is injured, causing a blood clot to form in his brain and he goes into a coma. Grant and Benes escape to the West. The United States and the former Soviet Union have both developed technology that allows matter to be miniaturized using a process that shrinks individual atoms, but its value is limited because objects shrunk return to normal size after a period of time--the smaller an object, the quicker it reverts.

Benes figured out how to make the shrinking process work indefinitely to keep soldiers shrunken for long periods. To save his life, agent Grant, pilot Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy) and his assistant Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) board a high-tech military submarine, the Proteus, which is then miniaturized in a lab and injected into Benes body. The ship is reduced to one micrometre in length, giving the team only one hour to repair the clot. After that time, the submarine will revert to its normal size and become large enough for Benes' immune system to detect and attack.

Grant: Wait a minute! They can't shrink me.
General Carter: Our miniaturizer can shrink anything.
Grant: But I don't want to be miniaturized!
General Carter: It's just for an hour.
Grant: Not even for a minute!
General Carter: (after the briefing before the mission) Any questions?
Grant: Yes. When can I catch the next train back to town?
Cora Peterson: We're going to see things no one has ever seen before. Just think about it.
Grant: That's the trouble. I am.

The crew of the Proteus faces many obstacles in a colorful and thrill-packed journey inside the human body. They encounter the body's natural defense systems, nearly get smashed by the force of the beating heart, and have to repair damaged blood vessels in the brain. "That's plasma," somebody mentions, and now we know what the blood in the human body looks like from the point of view of a germ. They are forced to detour through the heart where a temporary cardiac arrest is induced to avoid destructive turbulence, the inner ear (all in the lab must remain quiet to prevent turbulence) and the alveoli of the lungs where they replenish their supply of oxygen. When the surgical laser needed to destroy the clot is damaged, it becomes obvious there is a saboteur on the mission. They cannibalize their radio to repair the laser. When they finally reach the brain clot, there are only six minutes remaining to operate and then exit the body.

The traitor, Dr. Michaels, knocks Owens out and takes control of the Proteus while the rest of the crew is outside for the operation. Duval successfully removes the clot with the laser. Michaels tries to crash the sub into the clot area to kill Benes, but Grant fires the laser at the ship, causing it to veer away and crash. The climax comes when the good guys are out of the capsule, clearing the blood clot with a laser ray, and the evil saboteur tries to run them down. Just then a white corpuscle, a great cotton avalanche, looms to engulf the operation. Michaels is trapped in the wreckage and killed when a white blood cell attacks and destroys the Proteus. Grant saves Owens from the ship, and they all swim desperately to one of the eyes, where they escape via a teardrop.

Dr. Peter 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.

FANTASTIC VOYAGE is the original psychedelic inner-space adventure. Stephen Boyd stars as a colorless commander sent to keep an eye on things, while Donald Pleasance is suitably twitchy as the claustrophobic medical consultant. Raquel Welch performs well and is not especially sexy. The science is shaky at best, but the imaginative spectacle is marvelous: scuba-diving surgeons battle an attack by white corpuscles, get caught in a tornado-like storm in the lungs, travel the aorta like daredevil surfers, and struggle to survive sabotage from one of their own.

The cast also includes: Edmond O'Brien (General Carter), Arthur O'Connell (Col. Donald Reid), Barry Coe (Communications Aide), Ken Scott (Secret Service), Shelby Grant (Nurse), James Brolin (Technician), Brendan Fitzgerald (Wireless Operator), Brendon Boone (MP), and Christopher Riordan (Young Scientist). Leonard Rosenman composed the original music. Harry Kleiner wrote the screenplay from David Duncan's adaptation of a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. Richard Fleischer directed.

Fans of 1960's science fiction will appreciation the deluxe DVD reissue of FANTASTIC VOYAGE put out by Fox. While very much a product of the mid 1960s, the movie holds up surprisingly well in just about every area. We get a good looking transfer for the film. It isn't perfect but it couldn't be because of the source material. Some shots appear soft and a bit blurry due to the process photography/visual effects added to shots. But it's unavoidable and typical of films from this time before digital video. Colors are bold and bright.

There are some good extras as well. Except for the theatrical trailer, all the extras were created especially for this release. The featurette on visual effects has special effects cinematographer Richard Edlund discussing the difficulty of shooting a film like FANTASTIC VOYAGE in 1965. Like FORBIDDEN PLANET (1956), it pushed the barrier of visual effects for its time. Edlund points out that building the Proetus both in full size and miniature allowed director Richard Flesicher opportunities that most directors wouldn't have in being flexible in his shooting. We also get an isolated music score with a commentary track as well featuring Nick Redman, Jon Burlingame and Jeff Bond discussing Leonard Rosenman's score. They are quiet about 40 minutes in when Rosenman's score kicks in but the first 40 minutes these music/film historians focus on everything from the casting, to bits of trivia about the shooting of the film. There is also a storyboard to film comparison of the whirlpool scene as well as a deleted scene from the script with storyboard illustrations. The electronic press booklet includes the original press booklet. Plus we get lobby cards, posters, radio and TV ads as well as the original theatrical trailer. The interactive portion of the gallery also allows us a 360 view of the 5 foot model of the Proetus as well as its slightly smaller version used for long shots and visual effects mattes. Fox has done a very nice job on this 40th Anniversary Edition of this classic Science Fiction film.

Bantam Books obtained the rights for a paperback novelization based on the screenplay and approached Isaac Asimov to write it. According to the introduction of the novel, Asimov was rather reluctant to write it because he believed that the miniaturization of matter is physically impossible. But he decided that it was still good fodder for story-telling and that it could still make for some intelligent reading. Asimov had the crew provoke the white cell into following them, so that it drags the submarine to the tearduct. The submarine then expands outside Benes' body. Because the novelization was released six months before the movie, many people believed Asimov's book had inspired the movie. "Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain", was written by Isaac Asimov as an attempt to develop and present his own story apart from the 1966 screenplay. This novel is not a sequel to the original, but instead is a separate story taking place in the Soviet Union with an entirely different set of characters.

A comic book adaptation of the film was released by Gold Key in 1967. Drawn by industry legend Wally Wood, the comic follows the plot of the movie with general accuracy, but many scenes are depicted differently and/or outright dropped, and the ending is given an epilogue similar as that seen in some of the early draft scripts for the film. Two years after the film was released, ABC aired an animated series on Saturday mornings. The series was produced by Filmation. In the series, a different team of scientists perform their missions in a craft known as Voyager, a submarine which features wedge-shaped wings and a large swept T-tail, and is capable of flight. A model kit of Voyager was offered by Aurora Model Company for several years, and has become a sought-after collectors' item since then. As of June, 2008, the Voyager kit has been re-released by the Moebius model company.

Salvador Dali did a painting inspired by FANTASTIC VOYAGE. The film took home Oscars for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction (Jack Martin Smith, Dale Hennesy, Walter M. Scott, Stuart A. Reiss). One scientific contradiction is how do miniaturized humans breathe full-sized air molecules?

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