Fantastic Voyage Blu-ray Review
“This film will take you where no one has ever been before; no eye witness has actually seen what you are about to see. 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, somebody, perhaps tomorrow, the fantastic events you are about to see can and will take place.”
It seems highly unlikely, but let’s play along. It’s the Cold War, and the United States and the Soviet Union are in a race to be the first to develop and execute a scientific advancement that can make anything—man, beast, weapons—miniature. Thanks to a brilliant scientist named Jan Benes (Jean Del Val, THE SECRET OF ST. IVES) who has figured out the keys necessary to make the process permanent, the U.S. is in the lead—until an assassination attempt by certain comrades leaves Benes in a coma and with a massive blood clot in his brain.
The only way to save Benes (and regain the secret) is, yes, to shrink the entire crew, set them in a mini submarine and inject them into an artery. From there, they’ll travel up and remove the clot. Oh, and they have exactly one hour. The team: Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd, BEN-HUR), Captain Bill Owens (Broadway veteran William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence, THE GREAT ESCAPE), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy, SOME CAME RUNNING), and his assistant, Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch, who would star in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. just months later).
If the plot sounds familiar, it’s because FANTASTIC VOYAGE has been a popular source for parody and homage in everything from television (cartoons, especially) to theme park rides (Epcot’s Body Wars). (The story was so intriguing from the start that Isaac Asimov agreed to pen the novelization.) Unlike all of the cartoon parodies (from RUGRATS to FUTURAMA), this original trip uses special effects and trickery to put viewers, as the prologue states, somewhere they’ve never been before (and in CinemaScope, no less). While they’re certainly outdated (and would seem so even two years after the film’s release, when 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY raised the bar for science-fiction effects), the Oscar-winning special effects—headed by Art Cruickshank (he’d be nominated again for THE BLACK HOLE)—are the star of the show and undoubtedly what makes FANTASTIC VOYAGE so memorable.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE is directed by Richard Fleischer, who had taken an earlier effects-heavy journey in 1954’s 20,000 LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA (itself adapted for Disney World’s use), and written by Harry Kleiner, whose next work would be BULLITT. While both men are skilled in their fields, it’s at their hands that the movie meets its biggest flaws. For one, the movie is so poorly paced that the crew doesn’t enter Benes’ body until nearly the 40-minute mark. For another, it takes itself so seriously that the viewer at times may wonder if they’re taking part in a lecture on the intricacies of the human body.
Such complaints aside, FANTASTIC VOYAGE remains a classic of 1960s science-fiction. When it gets going, it’s a suspenseful ride—certainly not the best of its time, but there are worse places to be than trapped in a submarine with Raquel Welch.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE BLU-RAY REVIEW
Video: 2.35:1 in 1080p with MPEG-4 AVC codec. FANTASTIC VOYAGE has been cleaned up very nicely for its Blu-ray debut. As the film has a limited range of colors in the first half hour or so, this Blu-ray really starts to show off once the crew enters the body. Fortunately, the clarity doesn’t expose major flaws in the special effects but instead highlights the Oscar-winning work.
Audio: English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1; English DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0; Spanish Dolby Digital 1.0; French Dolby Digital 1.0. Subtitles in English and Spanish. This is a very good audio transfer that emphasizes the sound effects and Leonard Rosenman’s incredible score.
Commentary by film & music historian Jeff Bond: This solo commentary is very in-depth and provides fans with a number of details regarding FANTASTIC VOYAGE, including the stars, the special effects and more.
Isolated Score Track with commentary by film & music historians Jeff Bond, John Burlingame and Nick Redman
Lava Lamps and Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of FANTASTIC VOYAGE (17:40): This featurette gathers a handful of experts and fans to dissect the film’s special effects.
Whirlpool Scene: Storyboard-to-Scene is divided into three sections: “Storyboards,” “Storyboard/Scene Comparison” and “Final Scene.”
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