Starring: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Donald Pleasence, Arthur O’Connell, William Redfield
Directed by: Richard Fleischer
Written By: Harry Kleiner, David Duncan
Rating: PG (US) Running Time: 1 hr 40 min
In order to save a foreign diplomat, a submarine and its medical crew are shrunken to microscopic size, and injected into his blood stream.
Analyzing a visual effects heavy film from 1966, several years before I was even born, is actually not that easy. Since I’ve been spoiled by technical marvels like Star Wars and Avatar. So to review a movie from that period, with 2014 level movie going sensibilities, I have to assume everything I saw was state of the art back then, and try to ignore the flaws with the effects (I could see the wires). Which is a good thing for this movie, because beyond the production design and visual effects, there isn’t a lot to recommended here.
The story has a Cold War era vibe about it, but the Soviets* are never called out directly, and only once as ‘the other side.’ We’re also not told much about the central characters in this story, and most of the interactions between the players in this tale seemed wooden and sterile. Apart from one moment when Capt. Bill Owens (William Redfield) considers killing an ant, but changes his mind. A sign that his character has begun to reevaluate life, and removed ‘size’ as a measure of value. Beyond that, there are some poetic moments inside the miniaturized sub as the crew contemplate man’s place in the universe, inner-space, and religion versus evolution. But these conversations are never properly explored, and are often cut off by loud alarms on the sub, indicating it’s time to stop the philosophical debate, and get back work!
Where this movie shines though, even by today’s standards, is with the production design. Once the story heads underground to the CIA’s super secret base, the set design and photography are first-rate. Especially in the miniaturization chamber, and on-board the Proteus submarine. The soft off-white/gray walls and panels, broken up with bright primary colored lights and buttons (a design aesthetic popular at the time) really showcase the crisp sharp angles and well thought out functionality of the sets. And later, the uncluttered plain walls in the sub, and the crew’s bland white uniforms become a canvas for the light show generated inside the human body.
As a visual experience, Fantastic Voyage is certainly worth watching, as the design and lighting work are stunning. The movie also does manage to create a sense of wonder, as the crew get the atom’s eye view of the inner workings of the human body. Whether you can emotionally connect to the crew’s journey however, is another matter entirely.
* And I only know that because I read the film’s Wikipedia page!
Some of the visual effects have dated, so keep that in mind. You will occasionally see wires holding up actors and the Proteus submarine. If you can ignore that, you might appreciate the story, and impressive production values. This movie is rated PG, and should be suitable for the entire family.
I wouldn’t mind seeing this on a theater sized screen, as some of the visuals are really quite stunning. At home a regular dvd or streaming show on a nice big TV is recommended.
I really liked the sequence of shots as the crew and sub are miniaturized. I also liked that little scene where the captain decides to let an ant live. The opening credits are amazing too!