The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Fantastic Voyage

Groundbreaking doesn't mean groundbreaking for all-time. It qualifies only in the moment, maybe a few months, or even a year in the luckiest of situations. If a movie is considered groundbreaking, it kicks the door open and hundreds of rip-offs and wanna be follow-ups storm through the opening. That kept cycling through my head as I watched 1966's Fantastic Voyage.

A scientist (Jean Del Val) working for the Soviets has defected with American intelligence agencies desperate to help him and bring him to the United States. In the transport though, enemy agents attack, severely wounding him. He's in a coma with an unreachable blood clot on his brain, but he has info that the American government desperately wants. To relieve the pressure of the clot, a new technology will be utilized. A team of surgeons (including Arthur Kennedy and Donald Pleasence), a security officer (Stephen Boyd), and two others will travel via a submarine, be shrunk down to a microscopic size and injected into the scientist's body, traveling through his body and ultimately break up the clot and save his life. There's problems though. The body will most likely do everything it can to slow down the intruders, and they only have 60 minutes to get the job done before they begin to grow back to their normal size, whether they're in the body or not.

From director Richard Fleischer, this science fiction story won two Oscars, one for Best Art Direction and one for Best Special Effects. So while I didn't really care for the movie, I can appreciate the crazy visual on display. A tiny submarine the size of a period with five people inside traveling through a human body? How couldn't that be a great visual experience as a movie? Much of it comes from a green screen visual -- sets of the human body would be rather immense I'm supposing -- and just in terms of color alone, it's a beautiful movie. The little prototype submarine travels through the veins, arteries, lungs, heart, ears and ultimately, the brain.

So what do you think? A trip through the body and all its inner workings is unique, no doubt about that. Why then is this story so dull? I was bored to tears almost the second the submarine went to work. There's plenty of detours that provide some excitement. A miscalculation forces the crew to travel through the heart, but the problem is that the heart beating should tear the submarine apart. The medical staff monitoring the body basically shuts down the heart, giving the crew 60 seconds to travel through it. The premise presents all kinds of impressive, should-be cool situations like that. The crew is told that the body is going to do its best to protect itself, assuming that the submarine is a disease or virus of sorts. Those provide some cool visuals as well, antibodies swarming to the sub and the crew, but it's the weirdest thing. If that wasn't enough, someone involved with the mission is an enemy agent, but even that reveal is disappointing. It's a dull story of a very cool idea.

In a variation on one of my favorite sub-genres, 'Voyage' is a men-on-a-mission movie. Check that; a men-on-a-mission movie with Raquel Welch in a tight white bodysuit. So there it is, a group of specialists working to accomplish a mission. Along with Boyd's security and government agent, Kennedy's extremely talented lead surgeon, and Pleasence's reliable medical officer, there is Welch as Cora, Kennedy's assistant, and William Redfield as Capt. Owens, the Navy officer piloting the prototype submarine. Back at normal size, Edmond O'Brien and Arthur O'Connell play the bickering officers forced to make the difficult command decisions.  Also look for a young James Brolin as one of the technicians working in the lab. None are given much in the way of background so instead of characters working to accomplish a dangerous mission, we're watching Stephen Boyd, Arthur Kennedy and Raquel Welch accomplish the mission. In other words, there's little personal investment in accomplishing the mission.

I thought I would enjoy this movie a lot in the early goings. The virtually silent, unexplained opening is a great scene-setter, eerie and unsettling because we don't know what's going on. It reminded me a lot of 1965's The Satan Bug in its simple style. I can't explain it though, but the second the miniaturized mission was presented I lost almost all interest in the story. There are some cool moments, but they didn't add up to a finished product that I enjoyed that much. Sorry to say it because I've long wanted to see it, but I came away disappointed with this 1960s sci-fi classic.

Fantastic Voyage (1966): **/****

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