This review is part of the Summer Under the Stars Blogathon. Today's star is Raquel Welch.
Fantastic Voyage lives up to its name, an exceptional film that tackles what is a far-out premise, takes it seriously and has some beautiful imagery. Despite nearly sixty years since its debut, Fantastic Voyage still holds up very well.
A major scientist has discovered how to miniaturize living beings long past the hour-long mark that both the Soviets and Americans can. Now safely in Washington's hands, he still faces danger: an assassination attempt nearly kills him. To keep him alive, it is decided to send a team of medical surgeons inside the scientist's body to evaporate the blood clot that could kill him.
Major Grant (Stephen Boyd) heads up the security on this journey into inner space. However, he is aware that there is a traitor among the crew, determined to see the mission is not completed. Could it be the cantankerous surgeon Dr. Duval (Arthur Kennedy)? What about his beautiful assistant Cora (Raquel Welch)? Could the saboteur be Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), the pilot of the ship Proteus? Then there is Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasance), who is supposed to be working with Grant but who may be up to no good.
As the Proteus continues travelling within the body, they are watched by General Carter (Edmond O'Brien) and Colonel Reid (Arthur O'Connell) from the outside. With only an hour before the Proteus and its crew will begin returning to their natural sizes, they face all sorts of dangers. Everything from the effects of noise when they are within the inner ear to white blood cells mistaking them for viruses and the turbulence of pumping blood, the race is on to save the scientist and themselves.
The premise of Fantastic Voyage is pretty wild, but it is to the credit of the cast and crew that it is played totally straight. There is never any sense that a journey into the body by shrinking people, even a whole submarine, is ever ridiculous or strange. As much of an explanation for the proceedings is given, and you just take things as they are presented.
This seriousness elevates Fantastic Voyage into strong science fiction, but what really sells it are the visual images. There are some beautiful looking sequences in the film, with some excellent art design of the interior of the human body. While I think that some people would note that the images are backscreen images and elaborate sets, they are still beautifully rendered.
It is no surprise that Fantastic Voyage won both Best Visual Effects and Art Direction given the visual splendor of the film.
The performances were on the whole quite well done. Stephen Boyd is strong as the square-jawed hero. He is clearly no scientist, but he is shrewd and capable. Sadly, he is also something of a sexist pig. "Is the technician OK in addition to the looks department?" he asks his superiors when brief on Duval's assistant Cora. When he first interacts with her as she sets up the laser, he quips, "Bet you're pretty handy around the house. Can you cook?"
I think it is the sign of the times to have Grant say such demeaning things to the lone female in the cast. Fantastic Voyage apparently thought little of Cora, given she was the one needing rescue when a pair of scissors dropped in the operating room caused havoc for the Proteus crew when they are in the inner ear.
It is to Welch's credit that she did not make Cora into a completely helpless female. It should be noted that Fantastic Voyage, while not her first film, was her breakthrough film. I think she played the part as well as the part was written. One wishes she had been more than just "the assistant" but again, I put that down to the times in which it was made.
Welch was able to hold her own against experienced actors like Pleasance and Kennedy, both of whom did well. It was interesting that for how cranky Duval was, he also was more philosophical even spiritual about the journey through the body. He seemed in Harry Kleiner's screenplay to believe in Intelligent Design, while Pleasance's Dr. Michaels firmly rejects such thoughts. I was impressed that Fantastic Voyage, albeit briefly, touched on metaphysical topics as it raced against time to save a life.
Leonard Rosenman's score should also be noted for how effective it was in capturing the beauty and terror of the inner space voyage. Director Richard Fleisher also brought surprisingly tense moments on screen when they travel through the heart and lungs.
Fantastic Voyage has long been targeted for a remake or sequel. While I think the possibilities are there, I think the film we have now is good enough to be left alone. Perhaps a bit dated (particularly when it comes to how the lone woman is written), Fantastic Voyage is still beautifully rendered and yes, fantastical enough to be enjoyed.