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Fantastic Voyage

20th Century Fox/20th Century Fox . R4 . COLOR . 96 mins . G . PAL


One of the watershed films in science fiction cinema, Fantastic Voyage holds the distinction of being the first to deal with the concept of ‘inner space’ and, in doing so, created an entirely new sub-genre. Inner space, as its name suggests, deals with environments that are simultaneously familiar yet intangibly alien - for instance, underwater and subterranean locations; in the case of Fantastic Voyage, it is the biological universe of a sentient, breathing human being.

Though reserved almost exclusively for Fantastic Voyage, the inner space sub-genre has been expanded to include films such as Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (which, ironically, was produced in 1961, four years before), Journey to the Centre of the Earth, At the Earth's Core and even The Abyss. Often satirised in televison series - notable examples include Lost In Space and ReBoot - Fantastic Voyage received an affectionate homage from Joe Dante (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Gremlins) in his 1987 parody, Innerspace.

Although Fantastic Voyage’s screenplay was written by Harry Kleiner and adapted by David Duncan, legendary science fiction author Issac Asimov was commissioned to write the novel from the film’s script. After scrutinising the script, Asimov acknowledged that it contained numerous inconsistencies and plot holes; a scientific perfectionist, Asimov decreed that he would, indeed, write the novel - on the condition that he was allowed to amend the errors inherent in the script. Due to countless delays in filming, Asimov was actually able to complete his novelisation before Fantastic Voyage was released.

After two years of constant production, director Richard Fleischer - himself a pre-med student whilst in his college years - unleashed Fantastic Voyage in 1966, which soon became a critical and commercial box-office hit. In the process, the film earned a multitude of awards - including the 1967 Academy Awards for Best Art Direction, Best Set Decoration and Best Colour and the American Cinema Editors Award for Best Edited Feature Film within the same year.

"The medieval philosophers were right. 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."

Reflecting the paranoia of the era in which it was made, Fantastic Voyage begins immediately in a taut, dramatic fashion. The world’s dominant superpowers are engaged in a war of attrition, with both antagonists evenly matched in terms of military technology, and unable to break the deadlock which constrains them. However, one individual - a defecting scientist - holds the secret to eliminating the stalemate, ensuring victory for the side who receives his knowledge.

Under the watchful eye of government special agent Grant (Stephen Boyd), scientist Jan Benes (Barry Coe) is escorted to an undisclosed airport. En route to the secretive headquarters of the CMDF (Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces), Benes is involved in an assassination attempt which - although not immediately fatal - results in the defector developing a brain clot. Inoperable with traditional surgical methods, the condition threatens not only Benes’ life, but the security of the world.

Comatose and placed into deep hypothermia in an effort to slow down his heart and circulatory system, Benes is the object of an incredulous mission: in an attempt to remove his clot, five operatives in an experimental Naval submarine, the Proteus, are miniaturized to microscopic size and, through the means of a hypodermic needle, inserted into the carotid artery. Traversing through his arterial system, the crew of the Proteus will attempt to eliminate the clot through the use of a high-powered laser.

However, time is imperative as the Proteus and her crew have only sixty minutes in which to complete their operation before they revert back to their original size. If that occurs, not only will Benes be killed, but his scientific secret of how to stabilise the miniaturization process will be lost and the stalemate will remain.

CMDF General Carter (Edmond O’Brien) orders Grant to participate in the perilous mission against his will. Fearing the possibility of ‘surgical assassination’ by a member of Proteus’ crew, Grant - who is also selected due to his expertise as a frogman during the war - is directed to ensure that Benes is kept alive at all costs. Other than Grant himself, Proteus’ crew consists of four scientists - Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy), the premier brain surgeon in the country; Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch), his assistant; Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence); and Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), designer of the Proteus and its pilot - representing the best in their field.


Fantastic Voyage is presented in its original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.35:1 and is 16:9 enhanced. Considering that this film is approximately thirty-five years old, 20th Century Fox have made an admirable attempt to produce the definitive version of it. When compared to the grain-plagued laserdisc edition, the DVD transfer of Fantastic Voyage looks relatively pristine - but not flawless.

Blacks are resolutely solid, and shadow detail - for a film of this vintage - is quite acceptable. Detail is very sharp, almost crisp in some places. However, in some of the film’s latter scenes - particular in Chapter 19, when the Proteus’ crew clean their craft of recepticle filaments - the image quality is somewhat soft, but this can be attributed to the director’s intention to lend these scenes an ethereal quality.

There are no evident MPEG artefacts and film artefacts are surprisingly minimal, although there are a few moments where vertical scratches can be seen - most notably, in Chapter 14 as the Proteus passes through the heart. Fortunately, its impact here is negligible as the scene is predominately dark. Again, taking into account the film’s age, artefacts such as this are not to be completely unexpected.

Flesh-tones are accurate. There is no evidence of colour bleeding and, despite the fact that some of the film’s colour schemes are quite vivid - Chapter 11 in which the Proteus' crew obtain their first glimpse of inner space and their subsequent journey through Benes’ arterial system is a prime example - there seems to be no true over-saturation.

Some minor aliasing was detected throughout the film - mostly affecting automobile grills and a corrugated security door in Chapter 3, and the ventilation grill situated above the body chart compartment on Proteus’ bridge. However, it does not warrant cause for concern.

The nemesis of the laserdisc version of Fantastic Voyage, grain is sometimes present in the DVD edition, but remains unobtrusive throughout most of the film. There are a few moments where minor grain is truly noticeable - most prominently, during Chapters 18 and 19 where darkened and dimly-lit environments are featured. Despite this, the transfer holds up remarkably well.

Having viewed the disc three times, the layer transition cannot be found. If it is present, my player did not detect it.


Originally released in mono, Fantastic Voyage has been treated to a Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround audio track which, while not raising any benchmarks in home theatre sound, is nevertheless quite impressive in the manner in which it opens up the soundfield. The Dolby Digital 2.0 is the only selection available on this disc.

Dialogue is always clear and easy to understand. The film’s sound effect showpieces - mainly the approach to the heart in Chapter 14 with the ominous palpitations which steadily grow louder as the Proteus draws near, and the atmospheric ambiance in Chapter 20 as final preparations are made to perform the delicate surgery on the brain clot itself - while not earth-shattering in their frequency range, are still wonderful via the Dolby Pro-Logic decoder.

The rear surrounds feature quite predominantly in these key scenes; elsewhere, they someimes provide subtle reinforcement when needed. Naturally, the subwoofer remains inactive throughout the film.


Other than a singular trailer, there are no extra features with which to become excited.

Theatrical Trailer: Presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 with a 4:3 screen aspect ratio, this non-anamorphic trailer runs for 3 minutes and 17 seconds. Exhibiting abundant grain, film artefacts and an over-earnest narrator, the trailer is an excellent indication of what this film would look like if it was not lifted from a clean print and re-mastered.


Despite its age, Fantastic Voyage is still captivating and deserves its reputation as a true science fiction classic. Certainly, there are cynics who will no doubt regard the film’s then-revolutionary special effects as nothing more than pale imitations of today’s computer-generated wizardry. Such a point is not only short-sighted, but irrelevant to the issue of the film’s entertainment value.

Fleischer's direction is taut and assured; from Fantastic Voyage's dramatic opening to its memorable, nail-biting finale, he never allows the film to lose its momentum. Even in its most static moments, there is an electrifying undercurrent of tension which is almost palpable - reinforced by introducing the concept of the sixty-minute limitation imposed on the Proteus and its crew. Fleischer never allows the audience to forget that time is paramount to the success of the mission and their survival.

Although the film boasts a strong cast and sterling performances, it should be noted that Raquel Welch literally steals the shows - almost through default - on account of her infamously tight uniforms and the lecherous way in which Fleischer seems to focus on her breasts. This film, along with One Million Years B.C., launched Welch into super-stardom and transformed her into a celluloid sex kitten to rival Sophia Loren and Brigitte Bardot.

If you are a true science fiction fan, then Fantastic Voyage definitely deserves to be added to your DVD collection.

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      And I quote...
    "...One of the most endearing and enduring classics in the annuals of science fiction cinema, Fantastic Voyage is an absolute must for any self-respecting sci-fi fan..."
    - Shaun Bennett
      Review Equipment
    • DVD Player:
          Panasonic SC-HT80
    • TV:
          Panasonic TX-43P15 109cm Rear Projection
    • Audio Cables:
          Standard Optical
    • Video Cables:
          standard s-video
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