Fantastic Voyage (1966)

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It may be full of flaws, it may be daft in the extreme and it may be less exciting at times than it should be, but Fantastic Voyage holds up as a slice of enjoyable sci-fi adventure almost half a century after it was first released. Innerspace (which took a similiar premise and reworked it into a sci-fi comedy) is much better, but without this movie it may never have come about.

The story revolves around a team of people trying to save the life of a badly wounded Russian scientist who has just defected to the West. Standard medical procedure, except the team is inside a miniaturised submarine, and actually injected into the body of the patient. They have one hour to get the job done before they start to return to normal size, therefore needing to be out of the patient (otherwise, well, you can imagine the mess).

The film may take about half an hour to get to the fun stuff, but when it does it then moves on, effectively, in real time as the miniaturised submarine, named The Proteus, makes its way through the patient and the team tries to achieve their main objective while dealing with a variety of problems such as replenishing oxygen supplies, maintaining a steady course in such a turbulent environment and avoiding attack from white blood cells that may think of them as a threat. The special effects are pretty solid throughout and certainly do enough to convince viewers to suspend disbelief for the duration.

Writer Harry Kleiner may have left some glaring plot holes in the script, but director Richard Fleischer ensures that viewers don’t spend too much time spotting them and picking them apart. He just sets up the fun and then moves everything briskly along from one set-piece to the next. Some of the set-pieces are better than others (the trip through the heart is actually quite dull), but they leave the film well-paced and almost consistently entertaining.

The cast all do a decent enough job. Stephen Boyd is a strong enough leading man, Raquel Welch is as lovely as ever, Edmond O’Brien, Arthur O’Connell, William Redfield and Arthur Kennedy are all fine, and Donald Pleasence is on good form as the nervous, twitchy Dr. Michaels.

One of many movies from the ’60s more fondly remembered for its concept and pop culture influence than any technical achievements, Fantastic Voyage still has plenty of entertainment value and is well worth watching before the inevitable serious, CGI-laden remake comes along to cover the same ground.

Fantastic Voyage was shown on Sat 22 June at Cineworld as part of a Richard Fleischer retrospective at EIFF 2013

DIRECTOR: RICHARD FLEISCHER
WRITER: HARRY KLEINER
STARS: STEPHEN BOYD, RAQUEL WELCH, EDMOND O’BRIEN, DONALD PLEASENCE, ARTHUR O’CONNELL, WILLIAM REDFIELD, ARTHUR KENNEDY
RUNTIME: 100 MINS APPROX
COUNTRY: USA

Film Rating: ★★★½☆

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