Fantastic Voyage

Inside the lava lamp
Released:
1966

Director: Richard Fleischer

Starring: Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, Donald Pleasence, Arthur O'Connell

The Setup:

Team of scientists shrinks themselves to perform in-brain surgery.

Discussion:

This was one of my favorite movies when I was younger—and I think I’m not alone in this. I was always excited when it would show up on TV. It was so trippy and bizarre and full of awesome sci-fi mind-blowers, and to my great relief, for the most part it pretty much holds up!

We begin with this airplane landing and guy getting in a big motorcade. His limo is attacked, and they spirit him away [at a rather leisurely pace, considering they’re under fire] to this top-secret lab. He is some scientist that holds the key to some advanced system of some kind [super-weapon or something? I forget], but he has brain damage that is too delicate to fix via conventional surgery. Now, I think we’re supposed to believe that he incurred this damage in the crash, which would make it quite, quite amazing that they were able to construct this elaborate, super-advanced lab with a shinkage section on one side and an operating theater on the other in just an hour or two!

But first we abruptly begin a cool credits sequence that features typed-style letters over overlayed graphics and photos, accompanied by computer sounds, and it occurred to me that this was RIPPED OFF WHOLESALE for the still hella cool credits for The Six Million Dollar Man. You might think “well, maybe,” but once you see the jump-cut toward the patient lying on the operating table, you know for sure. Awesome! I LOVE the credits for The Six Million Dollar Man!

So we meet our pilot, Dr. Grant, who apparently has no idea such a program exists and what part he might play in it. He is taken into this futuristic parking garage on an elevator that descends several levels, only to get on a golf cart and ascend several levels. On the way he learns that he’s going to be shrunken and injected into a dude’s bloodstream. We also learn that they can only stay small for an hour, which makes one consider the awesome [but gross] possibility of a submarine and its crew returning to normal size from inside this guy’s chest or something. Grant adjusts relatively well to the whole situation.

We then meet the rest of the team, including Donald Pleasance as Dr. Michaels, some doctor, some other guy, and Raquel Welch as the doctor’s assistant. Raquel’s sex appeal is temporarily played down via a very sensible hairdo. They board their submarine, which is powered by an atomic particle, and Raquel and Grant flirt over the laser they’re going to use to blast the tumor or whatever. The script includes such clever expository devices as having someone mention the name of the ship, Proteus, and having someone else say “Proteus? What’s that?”

So now the showstopper shrinking sequence. The shrinking lab looks remarkably like a roller disco, and you’ll notice how LONG that take with ooooopening the doors, mooooving the shrinker into position, clooosing he doors…. But it kind of works because the whole concept is so awesome. So they start to shrink, getting to be about the size of a little toy, whereupon this arm is sloooowly moved into place and picks them up, and slooooowly moves over to drop them in this big liquid-filled cylinder. It’s kind of amusing just how very LONG the movie takes with each aspect of the procedure, but you don’t really mind because it’s SO COOL! And, looking back, part of the reason it’s so cool to young people is that when you see the tiny sub, about the size of one’s Star Wars or Battlestar Galactica toys, it allows a youngster the fantasy that thse toys are real, with real, shrunken people inside them! Speaking of toys, don’t miss the little red radar array they put around the patient’s head, all moving at slightly different speeds and obvious, OBVIOUS toys!

They then shrink the beaker, and we discover that it was a giant hypodermic needle! This viewing was the first time I understood that the shrinking happens in two distinct phases, which was a source of great confusion to me in the past. Then Michaels has a total claustrophobic fit! Apparently in their haste to throw together a team they neglected to screen for claustrophobic tendencies. Personally, I would think that the team would be freaking out a lot more than they are. What we do have, however, are a multitude of shots of them giving each other really odd, wide-eyed looks in front of windows to be later filled with special effects.

To they’re shrunk more and injected into the guy. One has already started wishing for a modern remake, not so much just to update the special effects [though they could definitely use it], but so they could more effectively convey some of the amazing situations and have leeway to really create the atmosphere this needs. They’re injected into the bloodstream! Which looks like a lot of colored oil blobs in water!

So they take some time to stare out in wonder and explain why the environment is clear rather than all red, when suddenly they’re caught in this whirlpool kind of thing [do these really happen in the body?] and exposed to dangerously strong G-forces! Then they burst through into the ventrical system, way off course, and heading straight for the heart, which will destroy them. Here the special effects disappoint as well, as the characters are supposed to be staring out at several distinct anatomical phenomena, but all we see out the window are identical yellow blobs.

So the turbulence created by the heart will destroy them. Michael suggests, for the first time of many, that they abandon the mission and be removed. But wait... there’s one crazy idea, but it just might work! They stop the guy’s heart seconds before the sub enters. They have 60 seconds to take it through [it’s all about 60s in this movie], and we wonder at the interior of the heart, then they get through and it’s started again. The movie just floats the idea that scientists can start and stop this guy’s heart as easily as flicking an on/off switch.

So now they’re traveling through all these trippy tunnels. They marvel at the process of oxygenation, and we start to notice that one of the doctors keeps making banal statements of religious wonder, and even have a brief God-vs-Darwin discussion. So relevant! But then—they’re running out of air!

“Let’s abandon the mission!” Michaels once more suggests. But no! They’re about to take one of the most ludicrous leaps of logic in the entire movie! You see, they’re right next to the lungs… if they could just poke a “snorkel” [that’s right, a snorkel] into the lung, they could full up their tanks! Never mind that, according to their size, air molecules would be the size of marbles and they couldn’t possibly breathe them. Never you mind! So for some reason this necessitates three of them going outside the sub, and the guy gets sucked into the lung and then he gets back—fairly routine. By this time you’ve started to realize that this is going to be a picaresque, stopping for adventures in most of the major organs. But you what? You don’t care. Also this time we’ve noticed that Raquel’s white wetsuit conforms quite snugly to her titties, even providing little evocative points at the ends, and that her hair has been shaken out into a more va-voom effect.

But the laser has been damaged! “Well, better call off the trip!” Michaels suggests. And Grant suspects sabotage! And chooses to confide in Michaels, the OBVIOUS saboteur. Then, after a brief sojurn in the endocrine system, they’ve got a bunch of gunk clotting up their vents, so they park in the inner ear to clean them out. This necessitates that all the surgeons in the operating theater be completely silent, or the sub will be destroyed! Again the methodical, time-wasting nature of the movie becomes apparent as we see two divers get in the airlock, then it’s filled up with water, then they go outside, then two more divers get in, then it’s filled… it’s like, ELISION, folks, look it up! So they the divers are slowly, daintily, plucking the choicest bits of gunk out of the vents and tossing them aside, then picking the next most logical morsel of gunk to remove, and you’re like “HI! Are you not in some kind of HURRY? You have like 13 minutes left before you become full-sized again and you not only have to travel into the brain but perform BRAIN SURGERY, so uh, shouldn’t we be hurrying things along?”

SPOILERS > > >
But now! Perhaps THE scene that made the biggest impression on me as a callow youth! Some nurse, who is just SO concerned that a nearby doctor is sweating, feels that she MUST tenderly wipe his brow. So she reaches behind her without even looking and dislodges a pair of scissors that clatter to the floor! This creates an earthquake-like effect in the inner ear and Raquel is sucked into these plastic tubes that are supposed to be cilia! She’s stuck in them and bravely pretending that she can’t move although she obviously isn’t even trying. Then Michaels says that they have to get her out of there NOW or the antibodies will attack her! This film was indeed where I learned about antibodies and hoo boy did they freak me out. They are these living seaweed things that come suck onto your body and constrict you! You will notice that although two of them are swimming together, ONLY Raquel gets attacked. I guess this time, IT’S PERSONAL. Raquel gets covered and brought inside, where the guys rip them off her body. Okay—call me Freudian—but it seems clear that all of the sublimated sexual tension of having these four men and one glamorous woman in a ship together is RELEASED in this scene, in which she is prone and gasping as four men paw at her body. The IMDb trivia has a note that on the first take none of the men would reach for her boobs. In the second take, they all did. And finally, they has to carefully choreograph who would scrape off her boobs. Thank you for joining us on Boob Talk.

So now they’re unsure where to go. “We should probably abort the mission,” Michaels suggests. They have 6 minutes left, and they sit around fucking arguing. So they head on into the brain and get out their laser [which they fixed] and go to perform the surgery—still at a very leasurely pace. But what’s this comin’ round the bend? A white corpsucle! And apparently much as Michaels hates confined spaces, hates the mission, hates antibodies and such, he REALLY, REALLY hates the idea of death by white corpuscle! So he takes command of the sub and takes off! And they shoot it with the laser! And he crashes and gets eaten by a white corpuscle [bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy, if you ask me]. There is a notable shot of his head being glooped with this white gel. Then there is a brief shot of the white corpuscle dissolving the ship, which also cleared up a question I had all these years—if they left the ship in dude’s brain, wouldn’t it have returned to normal size? Exploding his head from within in a geyser of blood and pinky-white brain bits?

So, to the eye! They swim up along the eye and there’s a brief shot of them sloshing around on the surface of the eyeball—please disregard the full-sized water they are sloshing through. The guy in charge places a slide against the patient’s eyeball, and as far as we can tell a droplet of fluid containing our heroes leaps onto the slide. They are taken to the growing chamber where they return to normal size, and that’s pretty much the end. You’ll notice that they don’t even bother to tell us whether the operation was successful or not because, hello, who cares?
< < < SPOILERS END

It was awesome. It still holds up, just for how cool the very concept is and the mood of sci-fi seriousness that pervades the whole thing. Plus trippy visuals like the sub slowly traveling down these tubes made of interlocking cells, or the interior of the heart or brain. It’s just unendingly cool!

The cast pretty much holds up, too, although they’re a little generic aside from Raquel and Donald Pleasance. I have to say I found myself really enjoying Pleasance’s performance, and found him perfect for the kind of creepy, sneaky, whiny guy needed here. The director of this, Richard Fleischer, has a startlingly diverse lineup of films to his credit, with 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Compulsion, Doctor Doolittle [the original], Tora! Tora! Tora!, Soylent Green, Mandingo, Neil Diamond’s The Jazz Singer, Conan the Destroyer and Amityville 3-D! Can you believe it?!

So yeah, if you like awesome, in the 14-year-old-boy sense of the word, sci-fi that’ll show you a good time and blow your mind repeatedly, Fantastic Voyage is where it’s at.

Should you watch it?

Yes! It’s really cool!

RELATED MOVIES:
INNERSPACE is about the same thing, but with Dennis Quaid and a bit more comedic. I remember not thinking it was that good, but maybe I need to re-evaluate.

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