Fantastic Voyage

Fantastic Voyage. 20th Century Fox 1966.

Before watching the movie:

I loved the concept of this movie when I first heard about it years ago. Matter shrinking, a tour of the human body, the body as a counterpart to outer space and alien worlds…

I’ve put it off for so long because films of the 60s and 70s, especially science fiction films, were focused on amazing imagery that looks badly dated today and moved at glacial paces. Aside from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I can’t think of a better opportunity for a filmmaker to stop and let the scenery flow over the acid-tripping audience than a submarine  drifting through the world inside the human body. Never mind the dying patient they belong to, aren’t those nerve fibers far out?

I just hope the storytelling of this movie won’t be as nonexistent as in 2001.

After watching the movie:

In the middle of the Cold war, tactical miniaturization technology has been developed by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, but with a fatal flaw: it only lasts for one hour, after which the miniaturization subject rapidly returns to normal size.  However, a soviet scientist has discovered the secret for permanent miniaturization, and defects to America. Unfortunately, he is critically injured in his extraction and the only way to save his life and knowledge is by deploying a miniaturized submarine carrying a laser to destroy the blood clot in his brain. Out of concern for the possibility of internal assassination, in addition to the medical team and pilot, the government places an agent on the crew for safety. With multiple natural setbacks and sabotage attempts, the crew will need every last second to perform the surgery and get out.

I was concerned for the storytelling pace, but actually I came to appreciate it. Even before the shrinking process appeared, the sparse music and slow pace eventually developed a feeling that these events really were an emergency operation taking place in the wee hours of the morning, roughly in real time. The submarine is shrunk at around 35 minutes into the story, and deminiaturizes at about an hour and forty minutes. The early tension drew me in quickly.

On the other hand, the story is fairly light. However, I even managed to appreciate that. What the film lacks in plot it makes up for in education and thought experiment. The biology of what it would be like to be inside the human body and what obstacles it would present a miniaturized crew is exhaustively researched and presented, even if it ignores some glaring logic problems involved in the actual shrinking phenomenon. (When Isaac Asimov novelized the story, he rightly fixed those problems.) By the end, when the plot finally takes over (because there were less than fifteen minutes left in the movie), I actually resented it, and would have almost preferred replacing the submarine Prometheus with Carl Sagan’s Ship of the Imagination from Cosmos.

The visuals are the best the 1960s had to offer, and although they look fantastically fake by today’s standards, they still have an appealing beauty and sincerity. Although the bodily tissue was usually simulated by what was clearly cloth, I accepted it for what it was and appreciated the storytelling. Once I got used to it, the only thing that took me out of the story was the bad compositing that put the bloodstream visuals behind the actors.

Altogether, I enjoyed the film a lot more than I expected, if in a different way than I thought. The narrative holds up well for its age, even if the plot is light and seems a tad obligational. For the most part, this film lives up to its title.

 

Watch this movie: for a dramatic tour of the human circulatory system.

Don’t watch this movie: if you have a headache and a hypochondriac streak.

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