A landmark of 1960s sci-fi, Fantastic Voyage remains compelling entertainment despite dated special effects, deliberate pacing, and indifferent dialogue and acting, thanks in part to the genuine wonder it brings to its premise — the insertion of a miniaturized submarine and crew into the bloodstream of an injured man — and to the sense of authenticity and seriousness evoked by the methodical, low-key procedures associated with the miniaturization process as well as by the depiction of the project infrastructure and bureaucracy.
Some thought and research has clearly gone into the anatomical itinerary of the microbe-sized crew, which includes Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, and Donald Pleasence. The Cold-War premise involves an assassination attempt against a top scientist defecting from the "other side," leaving him with an inoperable brain injury that only the bionauts can access and treat. There’s also the requisite threat of a traitor among the ship’s crew, and a brief bit of nonsense about whether or not to allow the head surgeon’s female assistant (Welch) on the mission.
The science fiction ranges from respectable to ridiculous, but the film’s appeal lies in the imaginative visualizations of the insides of the human body and in the awe of the crew members at seeing firsthand such wonders as the oxygenation of blood cells — a sight that leads to a brief exchange about whether such wonders don’t imply the existence of an intelligent Designer.
On DVD Fantastic Voyage has been paired with a second film, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961), the modest entertainment value of which is unfortunately subverted by a key depiction of stereotyped religious fanaticism.
Copyright © 2000– Steven D. Greydanus. All rights reserved.