Richard Fleischer’s “Fantastic Voyage” was released in 1966, a time when the public was still not quite ready to take science-fiction seriously. In just a couple of years, that would all change however with the release of Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Before that, sci-fi was treated as a kind of silly genre, where imaginations could run wild, but usually resulting in a film filled with camp. “Fantastic Voyage” has the most preposterous of plots, as many sci-fi films do, but it is treated with the utmost seriousness. Five specialists (Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Pleasence, and William Redfield) are shrunk down to microbe size inside a submarine and injected into a scientist in need of delicate surgery. Their mission is to clear a clot in his brain so that he can reveal the secret to keeping objects shrunk indefinitely (currently it can only be done for 60 minutes before objects revert to their normal size). Almost from the very start, the mission doesn’t quite go as planned, leading to an incredible journey through the human body and a deadly race against the clock.
The last time I had seen “Fantastic Voyage” was about ten years ago for an anatomy class, making it a treat to revisit it all these years later for this Blu-ray upgrade. It’s hard to say that it’s a great film, but there are certain elements that make it an enjoyable experience. The story is an intriguing one, but pacing issues hold it back from being as good as it could be. It’s a bit deceptive in how the film seems to get started with the main plot very quickly, only to go on hiatus for the shrinking scene that takes about 20 minutes. However, once the film gets started, you quickly realize what the real meat of the movie is. It’s not the plot, not the performances, but the special effects. Despite the film being nearly 50 years old, it’s still pretty impressive what they were able to accomplish using practical photography. From the extensive use of composite shots to the actual constructed sets, it provides a marvelous interpretation of the inner workings of the human body. Sure it’s campy, but it’s the kitschy design that makes it so much fun to watch. In fact, it was these elements that won it Oscars for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration and Special Visual Effects, while earning nominations for Film Editing, Cinematography, and Sound Effects as well. You may not remember much else from it once it’s over, but chances are you’ll enjoy the journey thanks to the magic these filmmakers created so many years ago.
The film is presented in a 2.35:1 widescreen transfer that looks a little blurry in spots at first, but it seldom becomes noticeable later on in the film. For the most part, it’s a sharp and clear picture that looks better than it ever has before. The colors are rich and vibrant, giving the film a fresh look even after all these years. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio sounds brand new, allowing all of the little sound effects to come through loud and clear. 20th Century Fox has cleaned up the film beautifully for its upgrade. You could hardly ask for better.
Commentary by Film & Music Historian Jeff Bond – An informative track with some interesting pieces of information, though at times it sounds as though Bond is reading from cue cards, making for a rather dry lesson in the behind-the-scenes magic.
Isolated Score Track with Commentary by Film & Music Historians Jeff Bond, Jon Burlingame, and Nick Redman – An extensive discussion of the music for the film and other scores/composers of the era. There’s not really much of interest here in less you really want to hear a lot about the score.
Lava Lamps & Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of Fantastic Voyage – A fascinating 20-minute featurette featuring interviews with special effects experts discussing the various effects used for the production. It’s very much worth a watch to learn more about the making of the film.
Storyboard-to-scene Comparison: Whirlpool Scene – It’s just what it sounds like. Somewhat interesting if you’re interested in seeing how they originally planned the scene and how it turned out in comparison.
With the film looking better than ever and a decent selection of special features, “Fantastic Voyage” on Blu-ray makes for an easy recommendation. If anything, it will give you a fascinating look back to when effects actually had to have quite a lot of physical work put into them. Today there’s very little that can’t be accomplished with a computer, whereas these guys had to come up with cutting-edge effects using what little they had to work with. For that alone, this “Fantastic Voyage” is one worth taking.
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This review is based on a copy of the Blu-ray received for reviewing purposes.