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Fantastic Voyage Blu-ray Review

Fantastic Voyage (1966) movie poster Fantastic Voyage

Theatrical Release: August 24, 1966 / Running Time: 101 Minutes / Rating: PG

Director: Richard Fleischer / Writers: Harry Kleiner (screenplay); David Duncan (adaptation); Otto Klement, Jerome Bixby (story)

Cast: Stephen Boyd (Charles Grant), Raquel Welch (Cora Peterson), Edmond O'Brien (General Carter), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Michaels), Arthur O'Connell (Col. Donald Reid), William Redfield (Capt. Bill Owens), Arthur Kennedy (Dr. Peter Duval), Jean Del Val (Jan Benes), Barry Coe (Communications Aide), Ken Scott (Secret Service), Shelby Grant (Nurse), James Brolin (Technician), Brendan Fitzgerald (Wireless Operator)

Buy Fantastic Voyage from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Special Edition DVD Double Feature DVD

The submarine was a source of fascination to moviegoers in the mid-20th century, lending itself to war dramas and spoofs.
The vessel had also been successfully mined for science fiction in hit movies like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea. Their thrills, involving the extraordinary and Earth-threatening, would be difficult to recreate without obvious imitation. The 1966 film Fantastic Voyage came up with a way around that, by setting its submarine journey inside the body of a human being.

The film opens, quite coyly, with an important old man being protected in a motorcade. Unknown enemies still plot an attack, putting the man in a coma. That's bad news for the United States, because the comatose individual is scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val), the only one with knowledge of how to miniaturize objects for longer than an hour. His life in danger and, with it, his secret knowledge, government agencies schedule an unusual mission.

A team of five is hastily assembled and assigned to pilot the submarine Proteus through Benes' body to reach the damaged part of his brain and dissolve the blood clot. Government agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd) and pilot Bill Owens (William Redfield) join the operation's scientific minds, circulatory specialist/navigator Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), poetic surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy), and Duval's trusted longtime assistant Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch). The crew agrees to be shrunk down to the size of a microbe, injected into Benes, and make the perilous journey up to his brain.

After forty minutes of set-up including a somewhat laborious look at the shrinking process, the voyage begins. It unfolds as an effects-driven spectacle with a swirl of colorful liquid bodies floating past the tiny vessel's ample windows. The ride quickly becomes bumpy and when the crew's path requires them to pass the heart, the human-sized scientists and officials looking on make the decision to stop Benes' heart for a minute to avoid turbulence.

That sets the tone for what is to come, as the sub encounters unforeseen obstacles and changes course accordingly. All the while, cigar-puffing agents observe tensely, making use of primitive screens, vulgar radar tracking, and an analog sign counting down the sixty minutes the crew has to complete the job before deminiaturization occurs and returns them all to their regular dimensions.

In "Fantastic Voyage", Dr. Duval (Arthur Kennedy), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) and Agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd) are shrunk down and injected into a living human body.

Fantastic Voyage is loaded with hooey science. The film opens with a text screen pitching this plot as realistic, what with astronauts soon to go to the moon and all. In spite of that, there isn't a shred of credibility to the story. Nor does there really need to be, as this is clearly designed as mass entertainment and not the kind that makes you think. On that level, the movie somewhat succeeds. It's a bit of fun escapism whose transparently established, perfectly round limitations and region-specific challenges generate suspense and danger out of situations fraught with all kinds of impossibilities.

This was not a production vying for a Nobel Prize, only for the $1.09 an average movie ticket cost in 1966. As much is evident when the film takes noticeable delight in having Raquel Welch, on the cusp of stardom, strip out of her uniform and to reveal a form-fitting wetsuit accentuating her buxom nature. Later on, she's covered with antibodies that her male colleagues get to gallantly pry off her curves. Those are the kind of things you get here, where seaweed-like reticular fibers coat the ship and jeopardize the mission and white blood cells are the last line of defense. When the Proteus has to pass through the ear canal, all the doctors gathered around Benes have to become silent. Meanwhile, a debate on evolution vs. the miracle of intelligent design is abruptly cut off due to a warning signal.

Even with no passion for science, one could easily question the film's many ideas and conceits. But you'd have a better time just going along for the ride and not letting the plot holes and flawed understanding of biology get to you. When was the last time you sailed around a human body? Maybe parts of it do look like graffiti on a blanket!

With their clock run out and their scientists prepared to cut, Colonel Donald Reid (Arthur O'Connell) and General Carter (Edmond O'Brien) consider one final way their voyagers might escape safely.

Actually, graffiti blankets and all, Fantastic Voyage does boast some splendor, enough to earn five technical Academy Award nominations and wins for Best Visual Effects and Best Art Direction - Color (in the final year that distinction was made). We've obviously come a long way since 1966 in terms of effects, but the film's production design still impresses as do its ambitious underwater sequences. Whereas five years earlier Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (whose mystery sabotage plot is borrowed) got away with a few action scenes scattered among the wealth of dialogue, Fantastic prefers to show than tell and gives us a steady supply of sights making real the preposterous twists and turns of this implausible adventure.
It sort of seems like child's play compared to what Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey would do two years later, but in the context of all cinema, Fantastic does an admirable job of advancing the craft, even if our eyes are drawn to its seams and strings today.

At the box office, Fantastic Voyage opened in first place at the end of August, being the second film to topple Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? for a week during its two-month reign into the fall. Fantastic would end up in 21st place for the year, its $12 million gross converting to $90 million by 2013 ticket prices, a respectable if not out-of-this-world sum.

Prolific sci-fi author (and biochemist) Isaac Asimov was commissioned to write the film's novelization, which he did over some initial reluctance. It was published in early 1966, first in a serialized, abridged form in The Saturday Evening Post and then as a popular hardcover book. In 1987, Asimov would release a related original story (not sequel) he shrewdly titled Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain.

Colorful visuals like these helped "Fantastic Voyage" win Academy Awards for visual effects and art direction.

He wasn't the only one returning to the concept of miniaturization in the late-1980s. The Steven Spielberg-produced, Joe Dante-directed film Innerspace (1987) is basically an unofficial comedy remake of the film. Meanwhile, in 1989, the Walt Disney World attraction Body Wars presented the same ideas of shrinking down and journeying through the human body.

The notion of an official sequel to or remake of Fantastic Voyage has been discussed for thirty years, and quite seriously in recent ones, with James Cameron attached as producer and Shawn Levy as director of an obviously 3D production. Not since Gold Key's 1967 comic book adaptation and Filmation's 1968-69 Saturday morning cartoon has this property been legitimately expanded.

The original Fantastic Voyage hit Blu-ray last week alongside Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, the film Fox both paired it with and timed it to on DVD.

Fantastic Voyage: Blu-ray Disc cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.35:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD MA (English), 1.0 DTS-HD MA Mono (English, Castilian, Italian), Dolby 1.0 (Spanish, French), DTS 5.1 (French, German)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French, Castilian, Dutch, Finnish, German, Italian, Norwegian, Portuguese, Swedish
Not Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Release Date: October 8, 2013 / Suggested Retail Price: $24.99
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (BD-50) / Eco-Friendly Blue Keepcase
Still available as Special Edition DVD ($19.98 SRP; June 5, 2007)
Previously released as Double Feature DVD with Fantastic Voyage (September 5, 2000)

VIDEO and AUDIO

Fantastic Voyage is treated to outstanding picture and sound quality on this Blu-ray. It's almost unbelievable that a film approaching 50 can look and sound as good as this does. The 2.35:1 CinemaScope visuals are impeccable, remaining sharp, vibrant, and well-defined throughout, falling short only on the rare out-of-focus shot. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is lively and immersive. Purists will be glad to find a monaural 1.0 DTS-HD master audio option included too. English language learners will be delighted by the abundance of foreign dubs and subtitles provided.

In front of a shelf full of Oscars, Richard Edlund sings the praises of Fantastic Voyage's visual effects in "Lava Lamps and Celluloid." Storyboards planned out the whirlpool sequence.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

The Blu-ray's recycled, standard definition extras begin with "Lava Lamps and Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of Fantastic Voyage" (17:40). This 2007 featurette collects praise and admiration from Academy Award-winning contemporary visual effects supervisors Richard Edlund and Craig Barron. That shallow pool of interview subjects limits the piece somewhat, but the knowledgeable speaker direct our attention to the film's specific technical achievements.

Next, the whirlpool scene is treated to a storyboard-to-scene comparison (2:22). With your remote's red button, you can easily toggle between a split-screen comparison (the most useful illustration) and viewing the storyboards or the final scene at full size.

Words aren't minced in Fantastic Voyage's preserved original marketing. This golden shot serves as the Fantastic Voyage Blu-ray's main menu image.

Four pieces of Fantastic Voyage marketing are preserved: a long, hype-building theatrical trailer (3:24), an extended TV promo (8:20), and two TV spots (0:23 & 0:59).

The extras draw to a close with two alternate soundtracks.

First,

a standard audio commentary is supplied by film and music historian Jeff Bond. He speaks consistently and knowledgeably about the film, for which his appreciation is obvious, but does not prevent him from acknowledging some of the sillier touches. Bond informs us about the cast and crew, putting the movie into context for many of the key personnel, and of course the revolutionary visual effects.

Then, there is an isolated score track whose big first 38-minute gap is filled in with score-centric commentary by Bond and fellow film historians Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman. They discuss composer Leonard Rosenman and scenes deleted and never shot. Future gaps in the music just fill in the dialogue and effects, making this not truly an isolated score track (but when the score returns, the other elements are dropped).

Failing to make the jump to Blu-ray from Fantastic's Special Edition DVD are galleries of props and behind-the-scenes stills. There's got to be a way for Blu-rays to preserve this content, even if as a simple standard def slideshow.

The menu plays an excerpt of score over a promotional still. Gladly, Fox equips the disc with both resuming and bookmarking capabilities.

The eco-friendly keepcase is not joined by any inserts or a slipcover.

The five-member crew of the submarine Proteus prepares to make a fantastic voyage.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Though it's impossible to overlook its age and stupidity, Fantastic Voyage remains a moderately appealing and technically impressive piece of science fiction. The film explores a fun concept in basically real time and even if leaves several questions unanswered, you might not notice with your brain shut off as intended.

Fox's Blu-ray doesn't deliver any surprises in the bonus features department, but the recycled content maintains value and the feature presentation is nothing short of amazing. While I can't in good faith recommend the movie, those attached to it who are collecting Blu-rays have every reason to check out this fine disc.

Buy Fantastic Voyage from Amazon.com: Blu-ray / Special Edition DVD / Double Feature DVD

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Reviewed October 13, 2013.



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