Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Not So Fantastic

Not long ago, I took a chance on an older, classic film (as I occasionally do). The 1966 sci-fi film Fantastic Voyage was a Jules Verne style tale of a group of people miniaturized in a custom submarine, injected inside a human body to conduct a delicate brain surgery. It inspired many subsequent films, some more generally by the visual effects, a few quite specifically (like the 80s comedic take on the premise, Innerspace).

The movie has aged better than many of its contemporaries, but it shows its age nevertheless. The pace is not as languid as many films of the era, but it's still slow. The premise is treated more seriously than those of other sci-fi films of the time, but there are still more than enough plot holes to snap you out of the narrative. The acting (from a cast that includes Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasence) is not quite so self-aware as you usually see in a classic movie, but the dialogue is still silly enough that the more naturalistic approach can't always make it believable.

The movie's visual effects clearly inspired films that followed, including 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek: The Motion Picture. All three of those films employ visuals that are quite well realized for the time, and must surely have cost a fortune, and thus the movies often linger on them too long (to get their money's worth). Conveying a sense of wonder becomes more important that keeping the plot moving. Fantastic Voyage is also a tangential part of the disaster film family that got skewered hilariously in the movie Airplane. Some of the situations and characters here, and even occasionally the very dialogue, are so close to that of the later parody that it's nearly impossible to take it seriously.

More interesting to me than the movie itself were some of the stories I read after the fact about its novelization. The filmmakers went hard after noted author Isaac Asimov to write it. He reportedly resisted at first, citing numerous holes in the plot. He spotted all the ones I did watching it, and many more (most of which revolve around miniaturized debris being left inside the patient at the end of the movie to presumably expand back to full size and kill him after the end credits roll). Asimov ultimately did agree to write the novelization, provided they let him fix all these problems in his version. The result was a book subtly different from the movie, and because Asimov wrote with such speed once he signed the deal, he published six months before the film was released! Apparently, some audience members thought the movie was actually the adaptation, of "an Isaac Asimov book."

But if what happened behind the scenes was interesting, what wound up on the screen just wasn't nearly as interesting to me. I'd give Fantastic Voyage a D. Film buffs might want to give it a look, but I don't think I'd recommend it otherwise.

No comments: