The Proteus is just about the coolest movie ship ever. The only real competition would be the Nautilus from Mysterious Island (1961). But while the Nautilus is undoubtedly something special, in the end it is just a submarine. In Fantastic Voyage (1966), the Proteus is a miniaturized ship that sails through the arteries of the human body. This classic science fiction film has recently been released to Blu-ray, and its arrival on the format offers a fine excuse to watch and enjoy it again.
While the focus of the film is the voyage, there is a Cold War edge and urgency about it, which is set up pretty quickly in the opening scene. A Boeing 707 touches down and is immediately surrounded by military police. The plane’s very important passenger is a scientist carrying a tremendous secret, and there is an assassination attempt on him during the trip from the airstrip to what appears to be a military facility. The attack has left him in a coma, with a blood clot on his brain.
The place he is taken to is the Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces facility, which is the home to the latest top-secret weapon. The good people at the C.M.D.F. are able to reduce anything to any size desired, which is quite a twist in the art of war. The big problem is that this only lasts for 60 minutes, then everything reverts back to normal. The Soviets are at the exact same point in their progress with the technology, so whoever can solve this situation will have a massive advantage. It appears that the scientist who was attacked has the secret solution, and it is locked tight in that blood-clotted brain of his.
Thank goodness for miniaturization. The Proteus has been used in salmon before, but this will be the first time it has traveled in a human’s body. A crew is assembled, including surgeon Dr. Peter Duvall (Arthur Kennedy), his stacked assistant Miss Peterson (Raquel Welch), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasance), Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), and agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd). They board the Proteus, are shrunk way, way down, and injected into an artery. The idea is to cruise straight to the brain, where Duvall will break up the clot with a laser gun.
There is trouble along the way however, and the Proteus goes off course. Charles Grant is the hero in these situations, and Miss Peterson provides some nice eye-candy, especially when they have to strip her out of her “uniform” at one point. There is also a saboteur on board, but nobody can figure out who it is until the very end. Very exciting stuff, and the effects are great.
The effects are the subject of the main bonus feature, "Lava Lamps & Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of Fantastic Voyage” (17:40). In this segment, Visual Effects Supervisors Craig Barron and Richard Edlund discuss many elements of the film. One comparison I liked was to the work of Ray Harryhausen. Not so much in style per se, but in pure inventiveness, and in finding ways of doing things that nobody else had ever thought of before.
There is also a fascinating storyboards study, which takes us through the “Whirlpool Scene” (2:22) in three steps. All three feature the dialogue and sound effects. The titles are self-explanatory. The first is “Storyboards,” the second is “Storyboards/Scene Composure,” and the third is “Final Scene.” It is an interesting, step-by-step examination of how a scene is constructed.
Fantastic Voyage was filmed in CinemaScope, and the video transfer looks very good. The Widescreen 2.35:1 aspect ratio gives the frame more of a square shape on the screen than the rectangular letterbox, and there are bars on all four sides. It looks very clear, and nothing is lost in the frame. English Audio is DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, or DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0.
The Blu-ray release of Fantastic Voyage is part of the 20th Century Fox Studio Classics series, and the film has always been something of a cult classic. The special effects are often mentioned, and they are commendable. They have an organic feel to them, which is hard to describe, but work so very well here. It also features the feature film debut of Raquel Welch, which is certainly a notable footnote.
Mostly Fantastic Voyage works because it is good science fiction with great effects. The story is highly improbable, yet we easily buy it. There is also the Cold War angle, the spy on board the Proteus, and the ticking 60-minute clock, which keeps the pace high. I have seen this movie quite a few times, and never get tired of it. It looks nice on Blu-ray too.