Movie Review – Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Imagine if medical science advanced to the point where surgeons could operate on a person from *inside* of their body.
That’s basically the premise behind 1966’s hit science-fiction film, Fantastic Voyage.
In Fantastic Voyage, a team of surgeons is miniaturized inside of a special submersible that is sent inside of a scientist’s body. It’s a race against time to not only battle the hostile environment of the human body, but to also reach the critical injury and repair it, all while racing a clock as well as dealing with somebody sabotaging the mission.
Directed by Richard Fleischer, Fantastic Voyage stars Stephen Boyd as Charles Grant. Supporting him in the film are Raquel Welch as Cora Peterson and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Michaels.
Fantastic Voyage begins with scientist Dr. Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) fleeing from the Soviets and eventually reaching the United States. However, just after he arrives in the U.S, Benes’s car is attacked by assassins, and Benes is critically injured. He quickly develops a dangerous blood clot inside of his brain, and the condition will kill him if it’s left untreated. The only problem is that the type of surgery required to remove the clot is incredibly dangerous.
Agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd) is quickly brought to the secretive Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces (C.M.D.F.) facilities and informed about Dr. Benes. It turns out that both the U.S. and Soviets have figured out how to miniaturize people and machines to a microscopic level. The only problem is that this is only a temporary effect, and whatever was miniaturized will regain its normal size in 60 minutes. Both the U.S. and Soviets have the same time restriction. However, Dr. Benes specializes in miniaturization, and he recently discovered how to keep people miniaturized indefinitely.
General Carter (Edmond O’Brien) informs Grant that his mission is to join a team of doctors and to be miniaturized and inserted inside of Dr. Benes so that the doctors can destroy the blood clot from inside of Benes’s brain. Grant is to be watchful of the crew as any of the doctors could be an assassin.
The crew includes Grant as well as pilot Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy), and assistant Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch). The specialized submarine, named the Proteus, is then loaded and prepared for its journey inside of a human being. Once everybody is loaded, the submarine is miniaturized, loaded into a saline solution, miniaturized a second time, and then injected into Benes’s neck. The team has less than sixty minutes to complete their mission and be removed from Dr. Benes’s body before the miniaturization effect stops and their ship enlarges back to its normal size.
A team of doctors follows along as the crew of the Proteus progresses through the body of Dr. Benes. However, there’s little that they can do to actually help the doctors on board the submarine.
Upon entering the scientist’s body, the crew of the Proteus faces trouble when they’re swept through a fistula (a joining of a vein and an artery), and their course sends them right to Benes’s heart. The pressure inside of the heart muscle is great enough to crush the submarine. The doctors in the lab realize this problem, and they temporarily stop Benes’s heart from beating as the Proteus passes through the muscle. Just as the submarine clears the heart, the doctors restart it and bring Benes back to life.
The submarine is then swept into the lungs, and there the crew notices that the ship is actually running low of oxygen. Apparently part of the ship was damaged during the electrical shock that was used to restart Benes’s heart. Grant then leads some crew members out of the submarine and use the submarine’s snorkel to replenish the air supply. They attach the snorkel to an air sack and successfully transfer oxygen into the storage tanks on board the Proteus.
After resuming their journey, it’s discover that the hand-held laser was also damaged. It seems like they’re forced to abandon their mission until Grant suggests cannibalizing the parts from their radio to repair the laser. That means that they will no longer have communication with the doctors in the lab, but that’s what it takes to continue with their mission.
When the Proteus passes through Dr. Benes’s inner ear, Captain Owens is forced to stop the submarine. The intake for the ship’s engines was clogged when passing through an earlier part of the body, and now the engines are in danger of overheating. The crew goes outside of the ship again to clear the clog. While they’re working, the doctors in the lab have to remain absolutely silent as any sound waves inside of Benes’s ear would be greatly troublesome. Unfortunately, a nurse accidentally knocks a surgical tool onto the floor, and the sound waves send Cora further into the ear where she’s attacked by white blood cells. Cora is barely rescued in time and pulled into the Proteus before the white blood cells kill her.
Time quickly passes as the submarine finally reaches the blood clot inside of Dr. Benes’s brain. While Grant, Cora and Dr. Duval work on destroying the clot, Dr. Michaels attacks Captain Owens and takes over control of the Proteus. It turns out that Dr. Michaels was the saboteur that General Carter was worried about. When Dr. Michaels tries to crash the Proteus into the clot and kill Dr. Benes, Grant fires the laser at the ship and causes it to veer off course and crash. Grant boards the ship, saves Owens, and tries to also save Dr. Michaels, but white blood cells arrive and kill Dr. Michaels.
The rest of the crew members swim to one of Benes’s eyes and escape through a tear duct. They barely make it outside of his body when the 60-minute mark is reached and all of the scientists return to their normal size.
Fantastic Voyage ends with Grant, Owens, Duval and Peterson resuming their normal size. It’s presumed that the operation was a success and that Dr. Benes will recover from his injury.
Is 1966’s Fantastic Voyage a good movie?
Yes and no, mainly yes.
For starters, Fantastic Voyage is an original science-fiction film that takes viewers on a thrilling trip not through outer space, but through the equally hostile and very exotic environment of a human body. It’s an incredibly dangerous experience that can easily kill not only the crew of the submarine, but the scientist that they are inside of as well, Dr. Benes.
When you combine the originality of the story, the 1960s special effects and music, and the solid cast of actors, Fantastic Voyage is a pretty neat science-fiction film.
That is, as long as you overlook a couple of major flaws.
For starters, we know that Dr. Benes should have been killed at the 60-minute mark as the Proteus should have returned to its original size, along with the laser that was also discarded inside of the scientist’s brain. The same is true for the saline solution that was miniaturized and then injected inside of Dr. Benes with the submarine. All of that should have expanded to its original size at the end of the movie, easily killing the scientist.
Let’s also not forget that the crew of the submarine could not have just attached a snorkel to an air sac, and used that to replenish their ship’s air supply. Those people were all miniaturized, and the oxygen molecules inside of Dr. Benes’s lungs would have been way too large for the crew to contain inside of storage tanks and then breathe. The oxygen would have had to have been miniaturized or somehow severely compressed for the crew to actually breathe it.
Those are just a few plot holes in Fantastic Voyage, but they are pretty severe. Whether or not you notice them may have a major impact on how you view this film.
Fantastic Voyage (1966) – movie trailer
Overall, Fantastic Voyage is a great film and a fantastic science-fiction movie, especially considering its originality along with its (at the time) cutting edge special effects. When you take all of that into consideration, and then look the other way during the flaws, then you’ll probably enjoy this movie as well. It’s not perfect, but Fantastic Voyage is still a lot of fun.
Dr. Peter Duval – “The medieval philosophers were right. Man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there’s no limit to either.”