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Fantastic Voyage (1966)

movie poster An assassination attempt on a defecting scientist leaves him in a coma. No problem, there’s a super-secret military program to shrink things, so they shrink a medical team in a submarine to microscopic size and inject them into the patient to find the brain injury and zap it with a laser rifle. Donald Pleasence, a popular stage actor in Britain but virtually unknown in the U.S., plays the bad guy (oops – you shouldn’t know that going in).

He would go on to play villains in movies including James Bond, 007’s Blofeld, and a rogue KGB General who sics hypnotized suicide terrorists on the U.S. in “Telefon.” Then he played the good guy in Halloween and stayed with John Carpenter the rest of his career.

Raquel Welch of the MonsterVision movie One Million Years B.C. plays a “scientist” on the team (in a skin-tight white rubber suit), Arthur O’Connell (dad in The Reluctant Astronaut) is in charge of the lab, with Edmond O’Brien (of 1950 movie DOA) as the General. Cast also includes Stephen Boyd, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, James Brolin.
Academy Award winner for art direction and special effects (some biology teachers still show it in High School).

Isaac Asimov had nothing to do with the script or the original story, but he did agree to write a novel based on the movie. It’s been awhile since perused Asimov’s 2-volumn autobiography but as I recall, the film-makers decided that it would add prestige if there was a book version out at the same time. So they sent the script to Asimov and asked him to write a novelization of it. He initially refused, saying there were too many scientific holes in the plot (you cannah change the law of physics).* He eventually agreed, provided that he could “clean up” the science problems as best he could in the book version, but there was another problem. Asimov was between publishers at the time. He had just done a non-fiction book for a textbook publisher, so he asked them to publish “Fantastic Voyage.” They initially refused, saying they had never published fiction and wouldn’t know how to promote it. Asimov assured them that his name was all the promotion they would need with sci-fi fans. It became their all-time biggest seller and they promptly started a fiction division with Asimov as editor. An animated version of “Fantastic Voyage” ran for one season on Saturday mornings and was later seen on the SciFi Channel.

* Now, as to the scientific problems. Everything shrinks for 1 hour – no more and no less – then goes back to full size. This means the atoms themselves are much smaller, right? So how does the sub take on extra air in the giant lungs? And when bad guy Pleasence crashes the sub and it’s disolved by white blood cells, it wouldn’t work because the condensed atoms would be too dense – like a garden slug trying to disolve a chunk of steel. But the biggest problem is that the whole thing’s left inside the giant patient. Even disolved, all the atoms making up the 10-ton submarine would grow big again, making a mess of the patient’s body at expansion time. But it’s just a movie, I should just relax.

"Fantastic Voyage" availability on video and on DVD from Amazon.com

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Fantastic Voyage - Original Trailer

Posted Jun 29, 2005

Trivia (courtesy of the Internet Movie Database)

* The scenes of crewmembers swimming outside the sub were shot on dry soundstages with the actors suspended from wires. There was some additional hazard involved because, to avoid reflections from the metal, the wires were washed in acid to roughen them, which made them more likely to break. To create the impression of swimming in a resisting medium, the scenes were shot at 50% greater speed than normal, then played back at normal speed.

* As a college student, director Richard Fleischer was a pre-med student for a time.

* When filming the scene where the other crew members remove attacking antibodies from Ms. Peterson for the first time, director Fleischer allowed the actors to grab what they pleased. Gentlemen all, they specifically avoided removing them from Raquel Welch's breasts, with an end result that the director described as a "Las Vegas showgirl" effect. Fleischer pointed this out to the cast members -- and on the second try, the actors all reached for her breasts. Finally the director realized that he would have to choreograph who removed what from where, and the result is seen in the final cut.

* Plot holes: The wreckage of the Proteus, Michaels' body, the 30-40 gallons of miniaturized saline, and the air that leaked from the Proteus fail to appear with the scientists as they de-miniaturize at the end of the story.

© Bill Laidlaw. All Rights Reserved. That's my 2½¢ worth