Fantastic Voyage (1966)

Fantastic Voyage (1966)

“We’re afraid of sabotage: surgical assassination.”

Synopsis:
During the Cold war, a U.S. secret agent (Stephen Boyd) is recruited by General Carter (Edmond O’Brien) of the CMDF (Combined Miniaturized Deterrence Forces) to join a team — including Dr. Duval (Arthur Kennedy), Dr. Duval’s assistant Cora (Raquel Welch), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), and a pilot (William Redfield) — travelling on a submarine into the brain of a dying scientist (Jean Del Val) in order to remove a blood clot so he can share a vital secret about miniaturization.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Arthur Kennedy Films
  • Donald Pleasence Films
  • Edmond O’Brien Films
  • Raquel Welch Films
  • Richard Fleischer Films
  • Science Fiction
  • Stephen Boyd Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Peary doesn’t seem to be a huge fan of this ’60s sci-fi adventure film “directed by Richard Fleischer, who did a marvelous job years before on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, which has a couple of plot similarities.” He notes that as the team travels the scientist’s body, “they encounter a fantastic foreign world of giant monsters (antibodies) and other dangers” — and “to make matters worse, one of them [on the team] is trying to sabotage the mission.”

While Peary concedes that “the premise is terrific,” he adds that “considering it can be used only once in films” (why is that, exactly?) “it’s a shame this effort wasn’t a bit more exciting and inventive.” He writes that while “there are a few good moments,” the “special effects aren’t particularly effective, the sets look phony, the dialogue is trite, Stephen Boyd makes a dull leading man (have you ever met a Stephen Boyd fan?), and Raquel Welch, the era’s sex symbol, is too bundled up.” (Boyd doesn’t seem too upset about this in the shot below, when he’s “forced” to stare at Welch’s bust during a particularly turbulent moment on the ride.)

I think Peary’s review “misses the boat” a bit (sorry for the pun) for this film. Yes, some of the dialogue is dated and corny at times — but humorously so, as when Boyd tries in vain to bow out of the mission:

Boyd: But I don’t want to be miniaturized!
O’Brien: It’s just for an hour.

Or in this ensuing discussion about Welch:

Arthur O’Connell (as Colonel Reid): A woman has no place on a mission of this kind!
Kennedy: I insist on taking my technician!
O’Connell: You’ll take along who I assign.
Kennedy: Don’t tell me who I’m going to work with! Not on this operation. I’ll do what I think is best, without interference!
Pleasence: Dr. Duval has relied on Miss Peterson for years…

Meanwhile, I disagree that the “special effects aren’t particularly effective” and “the sets look phony”: authenticity seems besides the point in a fantasy adventure like this. Instead, one marvels at the audacity and precision of the proceedings, which carry forth in all seriousness (it takes more than half-an-hour for the team to finally get going on their trip):

The miniaturization effects are suitably impressive for the era:

… and the Oscar-winning sets are visually memorable:

Sure, there are a ton of “holes” to be poked (sorry again for the pun) in the science of this storyline — but it’s all in good fun, and one watches with genuine investment to learn the fate of this plucky crew. This film is worth a one-time like simply for being so unique and fearless in its approach.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Ernest Laszlo’s cinematography
  • Oscar-winning art direction and special effects

Must See?
Yes, as a unique sci-fi adventure with impressive moxie.

Categories

  • Historically Relevant

Links:

One thought on “Fantastic Voyage (1966)

  1. (Rewatch 3/25/20. A once-must for its cult status. As posted in ‘Revival House of Camp & Cult’ (fb):

    “White corpuscles!!!”

    ‘Fantastic Voyage’: ~ or ‘Help! Raquel Welch Is Inside My Body and Antibodies Are After Her!’

    I hadn’t seen this since I was a kid at the movies. You might wonder now how 20th Century Fox ever thought it could pull off something so flat-out ridiculous (sending a miniaturized crew inside a guy to perform a medical operation). But producers played it smart. To direct, they hired Richard Fleischer (who, before becoming a director, studied medicine and human anatomy in college).

    With a crackerjack guy at the helm, they gathered topnotch acting pros (Edmond O’Brien, Arthur O’Connell, Donald Pleasence, Arthur Kennedy, William Redfield, Stephen Boyd – even Welch does ok). I imagine that all Fleischer said to his cast was, “Look, I know – between takes – you all may be laughing your asses off. Well, get it out of your systems *then* because, otherwise, I want 100% conviction in *every* single *thing* you all say and do! Got it?”

    They got it. The art direction crew (who won an Oscar) also were very smart in going with an across-the-board, plain bold colors motif (no patterns) – so that ‘the look’ of the production design would not be dated years later.

    Special Effects won an Oscar as well – but, though you do have to suspend a lot of disbelief, you can easily remind yourself ‘It’s just a sci-fi movie!’ and accept things well-enough. (Before the film was originally released, Isaac Asimov wrote a novelization of it, in which he cleared up some of the film’s more obvious goofs.) Of course, it’s all still a little silly – but it’s also kind of fun!

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