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Journey to the Center of the Girth

July 15, 2014

I think I’ve found what’s been missing from recent Science Fiction. All I had to do was go back about forty-eight years to Richard Fleisher’s Fantastic Voyage (1966). This is not to say SF has been sparse. Quite the contrary, SF has been loaded, overloaded in fact, with post-apocalyptic tales, super heroes and remakes. When I say I’ve found what has been missing, I’m referring to more of a spiritual deficit.

The key ingredient I so joyfully experienced with Fantastic Voyage was delivered in the odd form of a title card.

“This film will take you where no one has ever gone before; no eye witness has actually seen what you are about to see,” it boldly claims. It goes on,

“But in this world of ours where going to the moon will soon be upon us and where the most incredible things are happening all around us, someday, perhaps tomorrow, the fantastic events you are about to see can and will take place.”

Fantastic Voyage, 1966

Fantastic Voyage, 1966

Isn’t that a beautiful sentiment? You just don’t see or hear anything like that in movies anymore. I think it’s a shame. Before the movie begins, the audience is presented that paragraph and, in today’s context, it reminds one that we don’t have a space program anymore and perhaps that the only really exciting things going on are medical breakthroughs, many of which become perverted by commercial culture.

This, of course, has birthed a number of “medicine/science run amok” SF in recent years, notably World War Z, the new incarnation of Planet of the Apes, and even Jurassic Park. There’s nothing wrong with this branch of SF, only that it is has saturated the marketplace.A number of these sub-genre films have been exemplary, but it seems there just isn’t a place for a delightful little treat like Fantastic Voyage anymore.

Voyage is the tale of a team of scientists traveling through the circulatory system of a foreign diplomat in order to treat a blood clot in his brain caused by an assassination attempt. The diplomat is carrying vital information that will give the U.S. superiority in the race to perfect the new miniaturization technology that figures heavily in the story. The film features Stephen Boyd, Donald Pleasence (a favorite of mine) and Raquel Welch.

Isaac Asimov wrote a novelization of the script that actually came out before the movie due to production problems. Asimov’s novel shored up a few of the plot holes that were never addressed in the original script or the finished film. Minor complaints about the film aside, just knowing this tidbit about Asimov helps me let the nitpicking go.

Structurally, the bulk of the film plays like a travelogue. This form has been put to good use in such films as Robinson Crusoe on Mars (1964), and the non-SF Aussie pic, Walkabout (1971). With Voyage, rather than a jaunt on Mars or a trek through the Outback, we get a round trip journey through the human heart.

The film is fabulous, touting early James Bond-style production quality. The sets and designs are gorgeous, in that 1960s way, and well-captured by the elegant camera movements. The sound design is evocative as well, with a blissfully SF musical score. As good as the music is, the movie doesn’t rely on constant sound effects and musical cues. Instead it very effectively uses silence when the stakes are high, precision paramount.

George Lucas undoubtedly saw Voyage as a young filmmaker and he just might have gotten a few ideas about how to frame Star Wars from it. The Death Star scenes mirror Voyage’s  missions control sequences. The interior staging of the Millennium Falcon shots resemble the scenes aboard the Proteus. I love how watching any one film can shed light on any number of other films. History is really just convergence.

I realize that we have societal problems that make us unable to spend inordinate sums of money on an active space program. But I also really liked Fantastic Voyage and watching it makes me wish we were experiencing more real-life breakthroughs that inspired wonder, high-adventure and a little levity in our SF.

From → Film Reviews

  1. Great review. It’s interesting to read your opinions on the influence of the film. And yes, the set designs were gorgeous.

    • Thank you Gareth. It’s a very enjoyable film. I just read your review as well and now I could really go for some digestives… Also read your Terminator review. That is one of my all time favorites. Cheers.

      • Ha! It’s always worth having some digestives in the biscuit tin. Thank you for reading my reviews. I’m very happy to have stumbled across your page. I really like bloggers who revisit classic films.

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