Sunday, April 10, 2016

Fantastic Voyage

   Fantastic Voyage has got to be one of my favorite science fiction films from the 60's. It's suspenseful, exciting, imaginative, and features a core concept yet to be achieved by modern science- unlike 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The premise is simple: A scientist with some very sensitive knowledge barely survives an assassination attempt, which lands him in a coma with a brain injury. Using experimental shrinking technology, a mission is quickly assembled to send a hi-tech submarine with a small crew into his body, so they can pilot the vessel into his brain, and use a laser beam to remove the problem. Simple enough. Right? Wrong. Everything that can go wrong... does. But, if it didn't, where's the adventure?

   Factual errors and plot holes aside, it's hard to not be impressed by the visuals on display even as we approach the 50th anniversary of this movie. 50 years later, and this movie maintains it's raw entertainment value. The concept is still engaging, the adventure itself is still exciting, and the movie is still plain old fun. It's simple and straightforward, never getting overly caught up in it's science, or becoming too wordy. There's some sluggish pacing in the first act as every phase of shrinking the Proteus submarine and it's crew is shown in painstaking tedious detail. This is where the movie seems the most dated, to be honest. The special effects and spectacle on display took preeminence over pacing and editing

   Kind of how in Star Trek: The Motion Picture- we get a full (excruciatingly long) circle-around of the Enterprise? That scene in that movie, and this scene is this movie, are shot with an almost fetishistic lens. I wonder if in this movie, were going for 'suspenseful'? By the same token, I wonder if the whole sequence was at one time actually perceived as suspenseful. Unfortunately, it's not anymore. It just drags... for way... too... long. Nobody needed this whole thing to take like ten minutes. Nevertheless, the longer the scene goes on, the more the anticipation builds- and it pays off really well. I think the same thing could've been achieved in half the time, but still. Seeing the Proteus injected into this body, and these microscopic sights made gargantuan is still pretty amazing.

   Gigantic blood vessels and antibodies, a trip through veins and arteries, the lungs and the heart- you get to see it all. It's pure special effects spectacle; vibrant, colorful, and larger than life. Modern special effects could only make these things more accurate, but not any more awesome- in the literal sense of the word. Nevertheless, like any good submarine movie, something is always going wrong. And, worst of all, there's a saboteur aboard! Who could it be? Nobody over the age of five could possibly ask that question in earnest. The movie makes it quite obvious who the bad guy is, but now that I'm a 'grown up' I find it kind of funny that movies like this always needed to have a villain. The dilemma and the mission itself were never enough.

   It's impossible to completely maintain the cynicism and critical eye of an adult while watching Fantastic Voyage. It's more than science fiction, it's a fantasy adventure with all the trappings of a perfect Saturday matinee. Gadgets, lasers, an alien landscape, sabotage, a ticking timer, and every requisite obstacle to mercilessly hurl at the crew of the Proteus. I had the pleasure of watching this movie with my two little brothers, who're currently 9 and 11 years old. They were both completely enraptured by the movie. It takes a special film to maintain it's appeal to kids and kids-at-heart for over 50 years, and especially so in an era where fantastical special effects have been perfected to the point where they're no longer awe inspiring. They are expected and perfunctory.

   There's real skill on display here with the effects, and it's funny to think of Fantastic Voyage as a 'special effects movie', but it really is. A lot of those kinds of movies don't stand the test of time. Hell, I have a hard time watch 90's sci-fi because some of the effects work looks horrible- completely shattering the suspension of disbelief. I had to look up some of the effects in this movie to see how they achieved them- and I was consistently surprised. But technical behind-the-scenes stuff aside, hearing my brothers exclaim "Wow!" and "Woah!" at all the inner-space sights of Fantastic Voyage is the only review this movie really needs. I was worried I was going to hear "That looks fake..." but nope, not once. I can't recommend this movie enough, and if you have the chance to watch it with a couple wide-eyed brats with big imaginations- all the better.

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