Fantastic Voyage (Blu-ray Review)21 Oct, 2013 By: Mike Clark
Stars Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Arthur Kennedy, Edmond O’Brien.
A dual Oscar winner for art/set decoration and special effects in a far more primitive technological era, Fox’s hit howler about an eventful hour’s journey through a human body is a prime example of a mostly terrible movie being sometimes mistaken for a better one simply because it is what it is (i.e. something any movie lover would covet, at least on paper). And in this vein for a storyline that has quite a few, I paid to see FV twice in ’66 because … well, it was what it was … though whenever I see the “in development” tag in IMDb.com for a possible remake, I find myself vowing to shell out again if the project ever materializes. For one thing, a new version won’t have the same male lead, which is important because this is the movie that caused a similarly disappointed Danny Peary to ask in his essential read Guide for the Film Fanatic: “Have you ever met a Stephen Boyd fan?”
Of course, there’s plenty of cardboard to go around; have you ever noticed that when decent-or-better actors like Edmond O’Brien donned military garb, they lost about 90% of their acting range? But enough of this: Fox’s Blu-ray is a notable leap over the old DVD version, and if the image looks soft (the visual fall-off from, say, Paramount VistaVision in the ‘50s to Fox De Luxe Color in the ‘60s was beyond obscene), the common Fox problem of the era is significantly compounded due to the difficulty in mounting the effects in terms of what was available at the time. You just have to go with it because it was a remarkable achievement for the day, and at least Leonard Rosenman’s score remains effective.
In the kind of script clunkiness that was accepted at the time (though not by anyone I personally knew), a world-renowned scientist with unique knowledge barely survives an assassination attempt by what is termed “the other side” — as if any political being who ever lived would use that terminology. To save him, a small crew of experts must be miniaturized along with their submarine and injected into the victim’s bloodstream, though the miracle aspect of just this is sloughed over pretty fast. Assuming success, a famed surgeon (Arthur Kennedy, who always kept his dignity in these camp fests) will attack it with a laser — but there’s a hitch. If the participants, who include Raquel Welch in her first major role, can’t accomplish the feat in an hour, they, their tools and the craft will begin reverting to normal size, which is naturally going to launch any human’s protective white cells into a supremely p.o’d state. Not addressed is the presumed male frustration of being cramped up with Raquel in claustrophobic quarters and having some damned scientist shrinking your body parts — though there is a scene in which the white cells attack Welch and stick to her garb, which means that fellow crew members basically have to feel her up when removing them (though, OK, given the situation, this is a professionally sanctioned feel-up).
And as if this mission isn’t tough enough, there’s a saboteur aboard — and though the script tries to build a little suspense over this, one of the supporting cast members has loony-bin eyes and was famed for playing nut jobs, so this aspect of the movie never takes off. Keeping the whole thing going is the utter coolness of the premise, and I can remember one of the big journalistic magazines (probably Life, because the others were in decline by ’66) running a standout example of advance p.r. that whetted the appetite for a movie that couldn’t miss. Opening in late August back when movies that mattered commercially still did, the picture got surprisingly good reviews — and this roughly at a time when the same critics were dumping on John Frankenheimer’s Seconds, which even in ’66 (and I was there) was about a hundred-fold better movie that I saw first-run in a spacious but sadly empty movie palace that was, matter of fact, called the Palace.
Richard Fleischer, who should have stayed in the B-pictures where he was proficient, directs in the same toss-off style as Doctor Dolittte, Che! and Tora! Tora! Tora!; my movie buddies at NYU and the AFI used to say there wasn’t any genre he couldn’t screw up (though in the light of Django Unchained, I wouldn’t mind giving Mandingo a fresh look). But again, Voyage is what it is, and some movies make it on concept alone, assuming the execution or at least production values are well beyond Ed Wood-caliber. And also because it is what it is, the filmmakers had legitimate reasons to keep statuesque Welch heavily garbed — a frustration the studio seemed to sense because Fox had her in One Million Years B.C. before even six months elapsed.