Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Richard Fleischer|
|Produced by||Saul David|
|Screenplay by||Harry Kleiner|
|Story by||Jerome Bixby|
|Music by||Leonard Rosenman|
|Edited by||William B. Murphy|
|Distributed by||20th Century Fox|
|Box office||$12 million|
Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 American science-fiction film directed by Richard Fleischer and written by Harry Kleiner, based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. The film is about a submarine crew who are shrunk to microscopic size and venture into the body of an injured scientist to repair damage to his brain. The original story took place in the 19th century and was meant to be a Jules Verne-style adventure with a sense of wonder. Kleiner abandoned all but the concept of miniaturization and added a Cold War element. The film starred Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, Donald Pleasence, and Arthur Kennedy.
Bantam Books obtained the rights for a paperback novelization based on the screenplay and approached Isaac Asimov to write it. Because the novelization was released six months before the movie, many people mistakenly believed that the film was based on Asimov's book.
The movie inspired an animated television series.
The United States and the Soviet Union have both developed technology that can miniaturize matter by shrinking individual atoms, but only for one hour. (The novel stated that the duration of miniaturization is inversely proportional to its degree. A 50% reduction, say, could be maintained for many days, but a reduction to microbial size could last for only an hour.)
Scientist Dr. Jan Benes (Jean Del Val), working behind the Iron Curtain, has figured out how to make the process work indefinitely. With the help of American intelligence agents, including agent Charles Grant (Boyd), he escapes to the West, but an attempted assassination leaves him comatose with a blood clot in his brain that no surgery can remove from the outside.
To save his life, agent Grant, pilot Captain Bill Owens (Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Kennedy), and his assistant Cora Peterson (Welch) are placed aboard a Navy submarine (originally designed to study the deep-sea spawning habits of fish) at the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces facilities. The submarine, named Proteus, is then miniaturized to "about the size of a microbe", and injected into Benes. The team has 60 minutes to get to and remove the clot; after this, Proteus and its crew will begin to revert to their normal size, become vulnerable to Benes's immune system, and (in the words of Asimov's novelization) "kill Benes regardless of the success of the surgery."
The crew faces many obstacles during the mission. An arteriovenous fistula forces them to detour through the heart, where cardiac arrest must be induced (at the risk of killing Benes) to, at best, reduce turbulence that would be strong enough to destroy Proteus. After an unexplained loss of oxygen, they must replenish their supply in the lungs. They are forced to pass through the inner ear, requiring all outside personnel to make no noise, so as to prevent destructive shocks (a sound is accidentally made from a fallen surgery tool though, and the ship and crew are badly thrown about and Cora is, as a result, almost killed by antibodies.) To top it all, they discover after their detour through the heart the surgical laser that is needed to destroy the clot was damaged from the turbulence, and as this was due to it not being strapped down as it was before, the crew confirms a saboteur is on the mission. They must cannibalize their wireless telegraph to repair the laser, making communication and guidance from outside impossible to get from then on. By the time they finally reach the clot, they have only six minutes remaining to operate and then exit the body.
Before the mission, Grant had been briefed that Duval was the prime suspect as a potential surgical assassin, but as the mission progresses, he pieces the evidence together, and near the end, instead begins to suspect Michaels. During the critical phase of the operation, Dr. Michaels knocks out Owens and takes control of Proteus, while the rest of the crew is outside for the operation. Duval successfully removes the clot with the laser, but Michaels tries to crash the submarine into the clot area to kill Benes. Grant fires the laser at the ship, causing it to veer away and crash. Grant saves Owens from the Proteus, but Michaels is trapped in the wreckage and killed when a white blood cell attacks and destroys the ship. The remaining crew swim desperately to one of Benes' eyes, and escape through a tear duct seconds before returning to normal size.
The original screenplay included a follow-up scene in which, because of brain damage caused by the submarine, Benes no longer remembers the formula for unlimited miniaturization. Surviving stills suggest that this scene was filmed but never used.
- Stephen Boyd as Grant
- Raquel Welch as Cora Peterson
- Edmond O'Brien as General Carter
- Donald Pleasence as Dr. Michaels
- Arthur O'Connell as Colonel Donald Reid
- William Redfield as Captain Bill Owens
- Arthur Kennedy as Dr. Peter Duval
- Jean Del Val as Dr. Jan Benes
- Barry Coe as communications aide
- Ken Scott as a Secret Service agent
- Shelby Grant as nurse
- James Brolin as technician
The film was the original idea of Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. They sold it to Fox, which announced the film would be "the most expensive science-fiction film ever made." Richard Fleischer was assigned to direct and Saul David to produce; both men had worked at the studio before. Fleischer had originally studied medicine and human anatomy in college before choosing to be a movie director. Harry Kleiner was brought in to work on the script.
The film starred Stephen Boyd, making his first Hollywood movie in five years. It was the first role at Fox for Raquel Welch, who was put under contract to the studio after being spotted in a beauty contest by David's wife.
For the technical and artistic elaboration of the subject, Fleischer asked for the collaboration of two people of the crew that he had worked with on the production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the film he directed for Walt Disney in 1954. The designer of the Nautilus from the Jules Verne adaptation, Harper Goff, also designed the Proteus; the same technical advisor, Fred Zendar, collaborated on both productions.
The military headquarters is 100 × 30 m, and the Proteus 14 × 8 m. The artery, in resin and fiberglass, is 33 m long and 7 m wide; the heart is 45 × 10 m; and the brain is 70 × 33 m. The plasma effect is produced by chief operator Ernest Laszlo via the use of multicolored turning lights, placed on the outside of translucent decors.
"There are no precedents so we must proceed by trial and error", said David.
Frederick Schodt's book The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution claims that Fox had wanted to use ideas from an episode of Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy in the film, but it never credited him.
Isaac Asimov, asked to write the novelization from the script, declared that the script was full of plot holes, and received permission to write the book the way he wanted. The novel came out first because he wrote quickly and because of delays in filming.
Biological issues and accuracy
In the film, the crew (apart from the saboteur) manage to leave Benes's body safely before reverting to normal size, but the Proteus remains inside, as do the remains of the saboteur's body (albeit digested by a white blood cell), and several gallons (full scale) of a carrier solution (presumably saline) used in the injection syringe. Isaac Asimov pointed out that this was a serious logical flaw in the plot, since the submarine (even if reduced to bits of debris) would also revert to normal size, killing Benes in the process. Therefore, in his novelization Asimov had the crew provoke the white cell into following them, so that it drags the submarine to the tear duct, and its wreckage expands outside Benes's body. Asimov solved the problem of the syringe fluid by having the staff inject only a very small amount of miniaturized fluid into Benes, minimizing its effect on him when it expands.
The score was composed and conducted by Leonard Rosenman. The composer deliberately wrote no music for the first four reels of the film, before the protagonists enter the human body. Rosenman wrote that "the harmony for the entire score is almost completely atonal except for the very end when our heroes grow to normality".
The film received mostly positive reviews and a few criticisms. The weekly entertainment-trade magazine Variety gave the film a positive pre-release review, stating, "The lavish production, boasting some brilliant special effects and superior creative efforts, is an entertaining, enlightening excursion through inner space—the body of a man."
Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote, "Yessir, for straight science-fiction, this is quite a film—the most colorful and imaginative since Destination Moon" (1950).
Richard Schickel of Life Magazine wrote that the rewards would be "plentiful" to audiences who get over the "real whopper" of suspended disbelief required. He found that though the excellent special effects and sets could distract from the scenery's scientific purpose in the story, the "old familiar music of science fiction" in lush new arrangements was a "true delight", and the seriousness with which screenwriter Kleiner and director Fleischer treated the story made it more believable and fun. Schickel made note of, but dismissed, other critics' allegations of "camp."
As of 2020[update], the film holds a 91% approval rating at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes from 32 reviews, with the consensus being: "The special effects may be a bit dated today, but Fantastic Voyage still holds up well as an imaginative journey into the human body."
According to Fox records, the film needed to earn $9,400,000 in rentals to break even and made $8,880,000, meaning it made a loss.
Awards and honors
- Academy Awards (1966)
- Won: Best Art Direction – Color (Jack Martin Smith, Dale Hennesy, Walter M. Scott, Stuart A. Reiss)
- Won: Best Special Effects (Art Cruickshank)
- Nominated: Best Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo)
- Nominated: Best Film Editing (William B. Murphy)
- Nominated: Best Sound Editing (Walter Rossi)
After acquiring the film's paperback novelization rights, Bantam Books approached Isaac Asimov to write the novelization, offering him a flat sum of $5,000 with no royalties involved. In his autobiography In Joy Still Felt, Asimov writes, "I turned down the proposal out of hand. Hackwork, I said. Beneath my dignity." However, Bantam Books persisted, and at a meeting with Marc Jaffe and Marcia Nassiter on April 21, 1965, Asimov agreed to read the screenplay.
In the novelization's introduction, Asimov states that he was reluctant to write the book because he believed that the miniaturization of matter was physically impossible, but he decided that it was still good fodder for story-telling and that it could still make for some intelligent reading. In addition, 20th Century Fox was known to want someone with some science-fiction clout to help promote the film. Aside from the initial "impossibility" of the shrinking machine, Asimov went to great lengths to portray with great accuracy what it would actually be like to be reduced to infinitesimal scale. He discussed the ability of the lights on the sub to penetrate normal matter, issues of time distortion, and other side effects that the movie does not address. Asimov was also bothered by the way the wreck of Proteus was left in Benes. In a subsequent meeting with Jaffe, he insisted that he would have to change the ending so that the submarine was brought out. Asimov also felt the need to gain permission from his usual science-fiction publisher, Doubleday, to write the novel. Doubleday did not object, and had suggested his name to Bantam in the first place. Asimov began work on the novel on May 31, and completed it on July 23.
Asimov did not want any of his books, even a film novelization, to appear only in paperback, so in August, he persuaded Austin Olney of Houghton Mifflin to publish a hardcover edition, assuring him that the book would sell at least 8000 copies, which it did. However, since the rights to the story were held by Otto Klement, who had co-written the original story treatment, Asimov would not be entitled to any royalties. By the time the hardcover edition was published in March 1966, Houghton Mifflin had persuaded Klement to allow Asimov to have a quarter of the royalties. Klement also negotiated for The Saturday Evening Post to serialize an abridged version of the novel, and he agreed to give Asimov half the payment for it. Fantastic Voyage (abridged to half its length) appeared in the February 26 and March 12, 1966 issues of the Post. Bantam Books released the paperback edition of the novel in September 1966 to coincide with the release of the film. Harry Harrison, reviewing the Asimov novelization, called it a "Jerry-built monstrosity", praising the descriptions of science-fiction events as "Asimov at his best", while condemning the narrative framework as "inane drivel".
Related novels and comics
Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain (1987) was written by Isaac Asimov as an attempt to develop and present his own story apart from the 1966 screenplay. This novel is not a sequel to the original, but instead is a separate story taking place in the Soviet Union with an entirely different set of characters.
Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm is a third interpretation, written by Kevin J. Anderson, published in 2001. This version has the crew of the Proteus explore the body of a dead alien that crash-lands on earth, and updates the story with such modern concepts as nanotechnology (replacing killer white cells).
A comic book adaptation of the film was released by Gold Key Comics in 1967. Drawn by Wally Wood, the book followed the plot of the movie with general accuracy, but many scenes were depicted differently and/or outright dropped, and the ending was given an epilogue similar as that seen in some of the early draft scripts for the film.
A parody of the film titled "Fantastecch Voyage" was published in Mad Magazine. It was illustrated by Mort Drucker and written by Larry Siegel, two members of "The Usual Gang Of Idiots", in regular issue #110, April 1967. The advertising-business-themed spoof has the crew—from L.S.M.F.T. (Laboratory Sector for Making Folks Tiny)—sent to inject decongestant into a badly plugged-up nose.
1968 animated television series
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In the series, a different team of experts performed their missions in a craft called Voyager, a submarine that featured wedge-shaped wings and a large, swept T-tail, and was capable of flight. A model kit of Voyager was offered by Aurora Model Company for several years, and has become a sought-after collectors' item since then.
As of June 2008, the Voyager kit has been re-released by the Moebius model company.
Similarly themed works
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- Doctor Who: The Invisible Enemy (1977), a four-part serial of the British TV series Doctor Who is said to have been inspired by the film. In it, the Doctor's body is possessed by an evil virus, so a doctor creates clones of his companion Leela and him to enter his head to search for the virus and destroy it.
- Futurama episode Parasites Lost involves the Planet Express crew sending microscopic copies of themselves inside Fry to save him from parasites.
- Archer (2009 TV series) two-part episode Drastic Voyage spoofs the film.
- Rick and Morty episode Anatomy Park involves Rick shrinks Morty down to fit in a homeless man dressed as Santa Claus to assist with the amusement park he was trying to operate inside of him.
- The musical video for Placebo's Special K follows the premise of the film.
- The plot of the computer game Space Quest 6 involves the protagonist Roger Wilco being shrunk and injected into the body of his love interest Stellar Santiago to defeat the virus-villain Sharpei.
Cancelled sequel/remake plans
Plans for a sequel or remake have been in discussion since at least 1984, but as of the beginning of July 2015, the project remained stuck in development hell. In 1984, Isaac Asimov was approached to write Fantastic Voyage II, out of which a movie would be made. Asimov "was sent a suggested outline" that mirrored the movie Innerspace and "involved two vessels in the bloodstream, one American and one Soviet, and what followed was a kind of submicroscopic version of World War III." Asimov was against such an approach. Following a dispute between publishers, the original commissioners of the novel approached Philip José Farmer, who "wrote a novel and sent [in] the manuscript" that was rejected despite "stick[ing] tightly to the outline [that was sent to Asimov]." "It dealt with World War III in the bloodstream, and it was full of action and excitement." Although Asimov urged the publisher to accept Farmer's manuscript, it was insisted that Asimov write the novel. So, Asimov eventually wrote the book in his own way (completely different in plot from what [Farmer] had written), which was eventually published by Doubleday in 1987 as Fantastic Voyage II and "dealt not with competing submarines in the bloodstream, but with one submarine, with [an] American hero cooperating (not entirely voluntarily) with four Soviet crew members." The novel was not made into a movie, however.
James Cameron was also interested in directing a remake (since at least 1997), but decided to devote his efforts to his Avatar project. He still remained open to the idea of producing a feature based on his own screenplay, and in 2007, 20th Century Fox announced that pre-production on the project was finally underway. Roland Emmerich agreed to direct, but rejected the script written by Cameron. Marianne and Cormac Wibberley were hired to write a new script, but the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike delayed filming, and Emmerich began working on 2012 instead.
In spring 2010, Paul Greengrass was considering directing the remake from a script written by Shane Salerno and produced by James Cameron, but later dropped out to be replaced by Shawn Levy. It was intended that the film be shot in native stereoscopic 3D.
In January 2016, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Guillermo del Toro was in talks to direct the reboot by reteaming with David S. Goyer, who was writing the film's script with Justin Rhodes with Cameron still on the film by his production company Lightstorm Entertainment.
In August 2017, it was reported that del Toro had postponed working on the film to completely focus on his film The Shape of Water, due to release the same year, and he would start pre-production in spring 2018 and would begin filming in the fall of the same year for a 2020 release.
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