I watched a lot of science fiction films growing up and Fantastic Voyage remains one of my favorites. The film is a slight twist on the genre in that, instead of exploring outer space (as many science fiction films do), Fantastic Voyage explores the inner workings of the human body, an environment filled with strange and wondrous things. The film follows the submarine crew of the Proteus, a vessel that can be shrunk to minute proportions, as it is injected into the body of a scientist fleeing the Iron Curtain in order to fix a brain aneurysm. It’s vital to save the scientists life because he has learned the secret of miniaturizing both people and items for an indefinite period of time (the process currently works for an hour).
The crew consists of Grant (Stephen Boyd), a government agent; Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield); Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasance); surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy); and his assistant Cora (Raquel Welch). Once placed inside the body, they’ll have one hour to travel to the brain, eliminate the aneurysm and reach an extraction point, otherwise they’ll start to grow and be attacked by the scientist’s body.
For years clips of Fantastic Voyage were played in medical schools to explain various facets of human anatomy; and once you see the film it’s easy to see why as the story covers a large chunk of the body. In no particular order, the Proteus passes through: the heart (the circulatory system), the lungs (the respiratory system), the brain, the inner ear and several veins and arteries. Various bodily processes are explained (for the sake of Grant, who serves as the audience surrogate) with a great degree of detail and it really changes how you think about your own body.
During the journey to the brain, the crew has to dive outside the ship several times and I was amazed to learn that none of those scenes were filmed in water. Instead, everyone was suspended from wires and miming the motions of being underwater (if you look carefully, you can see the wires and harnesses in most of these scenes, despite the production’s best efforts to disguise them).
*warning, major plot spoilers can be found below*
I can’t end this article without discussing the climax of the film. For most of the journey, Grant has suspected a saboteur is on board, someone who doesn’t want the mission to succeed. He suspects Dr. Duval for most of the journey, but out of the blue Dr. Michaels is revealed as the culprit. Michaels attempts to flee with the Proteus (which is starting to grow back to normal size) but can’t control the vessel and it crashes, attracting the attention of a white blood cell (which views the growing ship as a threat). Grant, being a good guy, enters the damaged ship to get the rest of the crew out to safety and finds Michaels pinned inside the pilot’s compartment as the white blood cell begins to descend.
It’s terrifying enough that Michaels is stuck looking up at an organism that will dissolve him into oblivion (a painful way to go), but it becomes even worse when you remember that Michaels has a fear of enclosed spaces and being trapped. Thus, the would-be saboteur is living all of his worst nightmares at once. Grant tries everything to get Michaels free, but it’s no good, he’s hopelessly stuck. During these last few minutes, Michaels’ voice slowly rises in panic as he realizes he’s going to die. It’s a hard scene to watch, and one of the more gruesome comeuppances I’ve ever seen for a villain.
It’s hard to believe that Fantastic Voyage is 52 years old, but all things considered the film has aged extremely well. If you ever get the chance to check it out, I highly recommend it. If you have seen Fantastic Voyage, let me know your thoughts about it in the comments below and have a great day!
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