Fantastic Voyage (1966)

fantasticintro01So here we are almost 50 years later.  We abandoned the moon, no flying cars, and no Combined Miniature Defense Force (CMDF).

In a brief, mostly dialog-free opening, cold war scientist Jan Benes gets off a plane and is met by an escort of G-Men.  For you youngsters, this is back when the bad guys were Russkis; not Brits and American white guys as Hollywood now educates us that all terrorists are.  They did not seem to be military as they were not wearing uniforms, but were wearing swell fedoras.

The motorcade is ambushed like every prisoner transport in the history of 24.  The G-Men are able to get Benes away, but he lies in a coma after taking a slug to the noggin.  This being the era of magic bullets, it seems to have left no blood or scar.

Stephen Boyd’s presence is “requested” by the government and he is taken to the least efficiently designed building on earth.  He is told to remain in the car as it is lowered on a hydraulic platform to an underground facility.  There is nowhere to drive the car down below, so it is pretty pointless to have this huge device.  They couldn’t just have Otis install a normal people-elevator?  Clearly Harry Reid Sr. had a relative in the lift business.

The building is so large that Boyd and most others take golf carts to their destinations.  We see almost no one walking, although we see an escalator in the background.  Maybe there is a fleet of golf carts at the bottom.  At one point, there is even an MP directing golf cart traffic.  Hey, CMDF, miniaturize this!

fantasticproteus04After Boyd is dropped off at the general’s office, they hop back into another cart driven by the general.  He explains what CMDF is — they can shrink an army to fit in a bottle cap, is his helpful example.  The problem is that there is a 1 hour time limit before they return to full size, ruining the bottle cap.  Benes had figured out how to control it, and the “other side” wanted to be sure he could not tell us.  The general parks the cart at the base on an escalator which they ride up.  Don’t these people walk anywhere?  And, hey general, way to block the escalator for everyone else!  No handicap spaces available?

The general further explains that CMDF’s plan is to shrink a submarine and inject it into Benes’ bloodstream.  The crew will then navigate to the brain where they can carry out delicate repairs which could not be done by normal-sized surgeons, or even a dwarf.   And, oh yeah Boyd, you’re going with them.

Boyd is not thrilled at this.  I appreciated that he even had a fun Indiana Jones sort of fear at the idea.  He is being sent along as security because Chief Surgeon Duval is suspected of being a spy.  We know that Dr. Duval is innocent the minute Dr. Michaels comes on-screen because he is played very creepily by Donald Pleasence.   To be fair, Pleasence was equally creepy in Escape from New York and Halloween, and didn’t kill anyone.  Well, except The Duke, but he had it coming.  And an multiple attempts on Michael Myers.  Wait, holy crap, this guy is a killing machine.

There is also the captain of the sub, who has never done this before.  Rounding out the crew — heh heh — is 60’s bombshell Racquel Welch as Duval’s assistant.  Who built and tested this ship?  Kinda scarey – is there no one left alive who has ever done this before?

fantasticproteus03The sub, Proteus, looks great and must have been truly impressive 50 years ago.  Most of all, it feels real.  Obviously, this is pre-CGI but they didn’t just rely on crappy models and cardboard sets.  The set is also interesting with its upper floor control room allowing the cigar-chomping generals to look down on the operating theater.

Once they have been injected into Benes, they journey toward the injured areas of his brain.  It could have been boring — there is a sameness to a lot of the footage.  However, unlike the psychedelic trip at the end of 2001, this one kept me riveted.

Along the way, there are acts of sabotage; Boyd plays the MacGyver role coming up with solutions to enable the mission to continue.  At the end, it is unclear whether the mission is a success, but Benes was such a non-entity in the scheme of things, that it doesn’t really matter.  What you really care about is whether the crew survives.  If a movie can make you care about the characters, especially the conscious ones,  and throw in some cool visuals, you have a winner.

I rate it a .00000000000000000000008, de-miniaturized to an 8.

fantasticwelch04Post-Post Leftovers:

  • Why didn’t they just go in through the eye to start with?
  • Isaac Asimov wrote the novelization, but not the source material.  In the book, he addresses some of the crazy science, such as why the mass of the ship and crew did not remain the same when shrunk.
  • Since this exploration of inner space was clearly inspired by NASA’s exploration of outer space, it is strange that Boyd communicates with the outside by using the decidedly low-tech Morse Code.  I suspect this is addressed in the book.
  • Jean Duval as Benes has an even more lifeless role than Michael Fairman in The Nurse.  Strange, because like Fairman, he has an extensive resume including a role in Casablanca, and films with Laurel & Hardy and Abbott & Costello.  Most of the time he is uncredited, however.
  • Boyd and the captain (William Redfield) both died in their 40’s.  Note to self: start working on that Bucket List.
  • Eyes front, mister!

    Eyes front, mister!


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