Fantastic Voyage (1966)

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*. Let’s face it, this is a pure effects movie, one where the story is only there to introduce the snazzy visuals. And what visuals! Chief among them being . . .

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*. Raquel Welch. What, you thought I was referring to those lava-lamp venous and arterial highways? Or those tie-dyed walls of the ear canal? Those elements that make this less a fantastic voyage than a groovy adventure? Wrong.
*. There have been many celluloid sex bombs, but let’s face it, Welch could stop any film right in the projector with her “everything God intended a woman to be” shape. Her hips and bust are always threatening to burst out of her form-fitting outfits here, and the scene where the men pull the antibodies from her is almost pornographic: she writhes like the drugged victim of a gang rape, and the quickly crystallizing antibodies seem like so many ropes of dried semen caked on her pneumatic chest.
*. Of course, there’s little explanation of why she’s even on the Proteus in the first place, aside from providing the movie with eye candy and holding on to the laser rifle’s power source. On the other hand, that’s about as much as the beefcake Grant has to do.

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*. As for the rest of the visuals, you would think that the effects, so redolent of the ’60s and primitive by today’s standards, would have dated more than they have. But despite the fact that superior, or at least more realistic, visual effects are constantly being developed, I can still watch the original King Kong or The Seven Voyages of Sinbad and be impressed, while the best of today’s CGI leaves me cold. Here the effects are quite imaginative and distinctive, giving the movie a unique visual texture that even after the passage of half a century hold up pretty well.
*. I will admit that a part of me wanted to see the effects of mission failure, with the miniaturization process shifting into reverse while the team members were still in Benes’s body. This would lead to a climax where we would see them burst out of his head Alien-style, fully grown. But film hadn’t advanced, or regressed, that far yet.
*. I think it’s important to consider contemporary reviews when trying to judge effects. Pauline Kael, for one, was unimpressed, remarking how “the process shots are so clumsy that the actors look as if a child has cut them out with blunt scissors.” Harsh, but it’s hard not to agree. The “burning” effect can be quite pronounced, and in one memorably clumsy scene the pilot loses half his face. There are also several scenes where wires on the actors and the ship are clearly visible. And yet this film set a mark in 1966 as the most expensive SF film ever produced. Were their standards that much lower?
*. A rather quick ending, with no mention made by anyone of the fact that Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Michaels didn’t make it back. No one seems at all curious or even concerned by this.
*. James Bond in inner space? Stephen Boyd was apparently in the running to play Bond. He didn’t get that part, but the secret installation here (the Los Angeles Sports Arena made over) is vintage Bond bad-guy lair, right down to the absurd little golf carts they use to get around. The score too was originally intended to be a jazzy spy-movie effort, and Welch is a terrific Bond girl.
*. It’s not mentioned anywhere in the film, but according to press releases it was supposed to be set in 1995. Another SF swing-and-a-miss at predicting the future. Nanotech has a ways to go yet.

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*. When I saw James Brolin’s name in the credits I thought I’d keep an eye out for him, but I still missed him completely. He’s only credited as “Technician” and doesn’t seem to have any lines.
*. I read the book as a kid and always thought it was written by Isaac Asimov. But in fact Asimov only wrote the novelization based on the movie, though this came out before the film did because of delays in filming.
*. Why does Dr. Michaels act surprised when Grant expresses his suspicions of Dr. Duval? This is something they’d already discussed earlier via video conferencing. There are many such consistency errors. My favourite (apparently noted by many critics at the time) is how Boyd is sent down into the miniaturization base via car elevator only to be immediately driven back up again. Why didn’t they just let him off on the right floor?
*. Pleasence is working for “the other side,” which basically means he’s a commie. As a commie he’s also godless, leading to the scene where he reveals himself to be a man not to be trusted because he doesn’t hold with the theory of intelligent design.

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*. I don’t think it’s a great movie. After the slam-bang (and confusing) opening, it slows down considerably. The pacing actually dates it more than the effects. Despite the fact that the team are on the clock throughout, they never seem in that much of a rush and there is little suspense. Racing through the heart in 57 seconds, you would expect the Proteus to be really flooring it, but it doesn’t appear to be moving any faster. Contributing to this sense of a lack of urgency is the fact that all of the characters speak in a sedate almost disinterested montone, whatever the circumstances. The only person who seems capable of showing emotion is — surprise! — Donald Pleasence, especially when he is about to be consumed by a white corpuscle.
*. Donald Pleasence. I’ve always liked him, and given his long and very productive career it was a little sad to hear Jeff Bond say on the commentary how he is best known today for his turn as Dr. Loomis in Halloween. After all that time in the trenches, what a thing to be remembered for. Personally, I’ll always remember him best as Mac Davies in The Caretaker (1963), a movie that I don’t think is even available on DVD.
*. Why do the antibodies only attack Ms. Peterson and not Grant? Because she looks so tasty?
*. The amount of sugar the general puts in his coffee would make it undrinkable sludge. He’d have to eat it out of the cup with a spoon.
*. The sets have the same feel as those in that other expedition into inner space, Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959); whimsical, colourful, fun. Let’s face it, even at the height of the Cold War it was a more joyful, innocent time.

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