Fantastic Voyage (1966) Directed by Richard Fleischer. With Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Donald Pleasence, Arthur O’ Connell and Arthur Kennedy.
Some films are released and echo throughout time, remaining relevant and potent to live a life beyond a life. Casablanca, for example, Psycho and Star Wars. Then there are some that are locked in their time. Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage is such a film. As a kid, I fondly remember Sunday afternoons, settling down to old episodes of Land of the Giants and Lost in Space. Even at a young age, despite the wonder that comes from seeing through young eyes, there was always something warming about those shows. They were born of a less sophisticated, more speculative era of science-fiction, but that only contributed to their enduring charm. In many ways, Fantastic Voyage is a cinematic extension of that.
Anyone familiar with the plot of the 1987 sci-fi/comedy, Innerspace, can know what to expect. A team of scientists are shrunk down to the size of a molecule to be injected into the body of an ailing man in a bid to save his life. Where Innerspace (clearly influenced by Fantastic Voyage) was a comedy/adventure; high on gags with a romantic flavour, Fantastic Voyage is a straight-up thriller.
The tone is kept very sober throughout, with a procedural feel. In keeping, the performances from the ensemble cast are stiff, which would be fine if the script had more for them to do than utter exposition dialogue. Whenever the writing does venture off, it’s usually for a moment of deep Arthur Kennedy’s Dr Duval about the wonders of the human body – “Man is the centre of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there’s no limit to either.” Raquel Welch is afforded second billing on the cast list, yet the script barely affords her a sentence of dialogue. And while it’s true that her acting does nothing to register on any level, it does appear that she is here for reasons that have more to do with overall aesthetics and marketing than any artistic imperative.
Of course, it is worth recalling that the mid-60’s was an exciting time for science. Plans to land on the moon were afoot and a film like this would only contribute to the growing sense of progression being made in the real world. Much of it looks and seems silly now, but you can still see the ambition in the film making, which in itself creates an innate charm that keeps your interest.
In the end, the star of this film is the idea. The characters aren’t fleshed out or given much to do other than to react to the Oscar winning special effects and wonderful set designs. Strictly speaking, they act as our tour guides for the fantastic voyage. For best results, watch it on a Sunday afternoon with a nice cup of tea and a chocolate digestive or six. 3/5