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Fantastic Voyage

Entry updated 20 May 2024. Tagged: Film, TV.


1. Film (1966). Twentieth Century Fox. Directed by Richard Fleischer. Written by Harry Kleiner, based on a story by Otto Clement and J Lewis (i.e., Jerome) Bixby adapted by David Duncan. Cast includes Stephen Boyd, Edmund O'Brien, Donald Pleasence and Raquel Welch. 100 minutes. Colour.

A submarine carrying a crew of medical experts – including a double-agent saboteur (Pleasence) – is Miniaturized by Ray treatment at the US Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces facility and injected into the bloodstream of an important Scientist (a Soviet defector in the Cold War context) in order to remove by laser surgery a blood-clot from his brain. Owing to various accidents they deviate from the intended course, leading to such desperate expedients as the temporary stopping of the patient's heart to allow a turbulence-free passage for the tiny submarine, and a side-trip to the lungs for additional oxygen supplies. Despite sabotage and other obstacles the blood clot is successfully lasered, only for the submarine to be attacked and destroyed by the immune system's implacable white blood cells. In the finale – a swimming race to escape before the team reverts to full size while still inside the body – they exit via a tear duct with only seconds to spare. The special effects by L B Abbott, Art Cruickshank and Emil Kosa Jr are impressive, as are the sets – duplicating in giant size various organs of the body, such as the heart, lungs and brain – designed by art director Dale Hennesy with spectacular histological surrealism. This vivid spectacle, however, does not compensate for the ham acting, the irrelevance of the lingered-on breasts of surgical assistant Cora Peterson (Welch), and the sometimes puerile melodrama.

The novelization was Fantastic Voyage (1966) by Isaac Asimov, who doggedly repaired such filmic lapses as the abandoning of the wrecked submarine (and saboteur) within the patient's body where it would of course expand disastrously to full size. A film using a very similar theme is Joe Dante's Innerspace (1987). [PN/JB/DRL]

2. US animated tv series (1968-1970). Filmation Associates with 20th Century Fox Television for the ABC-TV network. Produced by Loc Scheimer and Norm Prescott. Directed by Hal Sutherland and Anatole Kirsanoff. Writers include Jerome Bixby, Eric Blair, David Melmuth, and Ken Sobol. Cast includes Ted Knight, Marvin Miller and Jane Webb. Narrator: Knight. 17 30-minute episodes. Colour.

A super-secret agency, the Combined Miniature Defence Force (CMDF), oversees the missions of the Voyager, a winged submarine, whose crew faces various threats when they and their ship are miniaturized to microscopic level in twelve-hour stints (see Great and Small). Led by Commander Jonathan Kidd (Knight), the crew includes the submarine's designer Bushy Birdwell (Miller), Dr Erica Lane (Webb), and Guru (also Miller) a Tibetan wizard with mild powers of Telekinesis. The Voyager faces various threats including espionage from hostile foreign powers, and unfriendly Aliens as well; missions inside the human body are rare.

More a spin-off from Fantastic Voyage (1 above) than a sequel, the series was reportedly originally meant to be a live-action programme developed by teleplay authors William Read Woodfield and Allan Balter. This idea was scrapped, presumably due to cost considerations; 20th Century Fox settled instead for an animated series slanted towards younger audiences, with an entirely new crew. Tie merchandise was limited to a short-run plastic model kit from Aurora Model Company produced near the series' conclusion. Fantastic Voyage was one of the first science fiction offerings from Filmation Associates, which – with Hanna-Barbera, and Sid and Marty Krofft Productions (see The Krofft Brothers) – would dominate US juvenile programming in both live-action and animated television throughout the 1970s. [GSt]


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