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Film / Fantastic Voyage

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A 1966 Science Fiction film, directed by Richard Fleischer and starring Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O'Brien, and Donald Pleasence, about a shrinking machine used to send a mini submarine and its crew inside the body of a defecting scientist.

During the Cold War, both the United States and "The Other Side" have discovered the shrinking technology, which is limited in practicality because of how short-lived the effect is. But the scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) had discovered how to overcome the limit, and enemy agents will stop at nothing to prevent the secret from escaping from behind the Iron Curtain. Benes, wounded in an attack, is comatose and dying from a externally inoperable bloodclot, so the U.S. miniaturization taskforce organizes an expedition to be shrunken to remove the clot from the inside, operating on it at the cellular level.

But for the same reason they need to save the scientist, they have a time limit to get out of the body (or they'll grow back to normal size while inside of it). Even further, an enemy agent is trying to stop them; the protagonist Charles Grant (Boyd), who smuggled the scientist from behind the Iron Curtain, has to make sure the mission succeeds while not knowing who he can trust on the crew.

The film also received a novelization by Isaac Asimov, as well as an Animated Adaptation. Very often homaged or parodied — see "Fantastic Voyage" Plot.

This film and its novelization provide examples of:

  • Adaptation Expansion: The novel, big time. Besides correcting countless scientific errors, Asimov added several elements to the book that were absent in the movie. Here, Grant is a bit of a detective, essentially figuring out who The Mole is before he reveals himself, via clues available to an attentive reader. Michaels is less of a traitor, and more of an obsessed pacifist — he believes (not entirely unreasonably) that both sides are currently in balance with regard to miniaturization (*cough* mutually assured destruction *cough*), and either side having the advantage of unlimited shrinking could pressure the other side into shooting first before the new development can be used against them. Asimov also added some scenes between Grant and Benes, as well as a minor subplot about infighting between the military and scientific factions within the CMDF.
    • And several years later he wrote a from-scratch "remake"-slash-"sequel", Fantastic Voyage 2: Destination Brain, that attempted to clean up even more of the science and plot problems.
    • Asimov also wrote an essay discussing the science problems brought by the premise of the movie, as among others how to miniaturize the sub and its crew, to be able to see when wavelengths of visible light are larger than the eyes of the crew, and getting air from the lungs when molecules are not much smaller than the submarine.
  • All for Nothing: In one version of the script, the team saves Benes, but Benes suffers from amnesia and does not remember how to achieve unlimited miniaturization.
  • all lowercase letters: The opening and closing credits for the film.
  • Ambiguous Situation: As the novelization explicitly states, it's unclear how many of the problems the team encountered were sabotage or genuine accidents.
    • Even on a second watch, when the audience knows Michaels is the saboteur, some things remain ambiguous.
      • It isn't clear if the whirlpool was a freak accident or if Michaels knew about it somehow and navigated the Proteus there on purpose.
      • Grant insists his snapping safety line in the lungs must have been tampered with. This serves to increase the suspicion around Duval. But it could have been an accident, especially since the forces were described as "incredible," and because it's not clear when (or why) Michaels might have tampered with it.
      • Did Michaels deliberately navigate them through the lymph system, hoping that it might clog the engines? Or simply slow them down? Or did it have nothing to do with sabotage, and Michaels was earnestly concerned about the (justified) dangers of going through the ear?
  • Artistic License Biology: It shouldn't be physically possible for the pulmonary semilunar valve to stay open when the right ventricle isn't contracting, as a relaxed ventricle's pressure is much too low to force the corresponding valve open. The blood cells don't look anything like they should (they should look like tires with a membrane through the center), being essentially a closeup of a lava lamp. The heart has too many crossed fibers to efficiently pump blood (to make it look hard to find their way through the heart), etc. All of these changes were made very deliberately; the realistic versions made the film look like a voyage through a corpse.
    • One sexist example: antibodies tend to flood an area and attach themselves at random to anything they can. They wouldn't distinguish Cora from Grant, and would attack them both. Apparently, they wanted a Damsel in Distress moment instead.
  • Bald of Evil: Michaels
  • Bigger on the Inside: Played With — The Proteus was built as a single set, with removable exterior panels to allow filming. However, some have argued that the remaining volume is insufficient for the air tanks, engines, etc.
  • The Big Board: A vertical diagram of the scientist's body, where the location of the Proteus is marked.
  • Big "NO!": Carter gets a few of these when things look bad.
  • Blob Monster: The White Cells
  • The Brigadier: General Carter, the commander of a scientific research division, who sends them into the body to save Benes and his knowledge.
  • Buried Alive: Michaels attributes his claustrophobia to having been trapped beneath rubble during the Blitz.
  • The Chains of Commanding: Carter is determined to have them get through the body, and takes some great risks to do so, but is clearly torn up over it.
  • The Coconut Effect: Deoxygenated blood is actually maroon, not blue. Blue is simply how systemic veins look from the outside when seen through human skin, and how deoxygenated blood vessels are illustrated to distinguish them from their oxygenated counterparts. But of course the film's lava lamp blobs - er, erythrocytes - turn from blue to red as they pick up oxygen in the lungs...
  • Communications Officer: Grant's cover
  • Cool Ship: The Proteus
  • Defector from Commie Land: Benes, who holds the secret to unlimited miniaturization.
  • Determinator: It's far more pronounced in the book, but Carter will do anything within reason he can to see the mission succeed, even induce cardiac arrest so they can travel through Benes' heart safely.
  • Elaborate Underground Base: CMDF HQ
  • Energy Weapon: The surgical laser, it has a constant beam and slices cleanly through what it's aimed at — but would a doctor really be using a rifle for brain surgery?
  • Fanservice: Raquel Welch is in the movie, wearing a skintight Latex Space Suit. 'Nuff said.
  • "Fantastic Voyage" Plot: The Trope Namer
  • Future Spandex: Under the neat white jumpsuits. Justified, both for the Fanservice, and because they're neoprene diving suits.
  • Giant's Droplet, Human's Shower: A variation. The crew inside Benes's body must make a quick exit before they grow back to their normal size, taking one of the tear ducts as their only possible route. The supervising scientists then discover them swimming in Benes's tears as if they are in a pool.
  • Got Volunteered: Grant is not happy to be selected for the mission once he finds out what it entails, but he isn't given much choice.
  • Government Agency of Fiction: Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces (CMDF).
  • Hammer and Sickle Removed for Your Protection: The Soviet Union and its allies are only referred to as "The Other Side".
  • High-Tech Hexagons: The shrink ray room had hexagons all over the floor. The ship rose up on one of them once it got small enough, so that it could be shrunk one more time, and then readied for insertion into the guy's body.
  • Hollywood Atheist: Michaels. Does it come as any surprise to the 1960s audience that the non-believer turns out to be the traitor?
  • If I Wanted You Dead...: In the novelization, Grant eventually figures out the identity of the mole by realizing that the acts of sabotage that seem to implicate various crew members would have been far more effective if those crew members had in fact committed them using their specialized skillsnote . The one exception is Michaels, the only one who could have mis-navigated them into a circulatory whirlpool that nearly destroyed the ship.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The whole plot to the story involves a surgical team and their sub being shrunk to microbe size to laser away at the life-threatening clots Benes developed.
  • Insufferable Genius: Duval, the surgeon. In the novel he's more of a Dr. Jerk with No Social Skills.
  • Latex Space Suit: As Homer Simpson has been known to observe, the crew get to wear skintight diving suits when venturing out of the sub. This is actually quite justified, in that wetsuits are less complex than space suits and do indeed have to be quite figure-hugging but any movie that gets Raquel Welch into a costume on those lines may be suspected of fanservice.
  • Magic Countdown: Moderately averted. The crew's one hour is actually within a few minutes of a real-time hour for the audience. Whenever the wall clock is shown in the operating room, it corresponds within a few minutes of actual remaining runtime for the movie.
    • Played straight, however, in the heart scene. "60 seconds" of cardiac arrest actually lasts for over 3 minutes of film, probably to draw out the dramatic tension and the special effects.
  • Mega-Microbes: Inverted — Tiny Humans, normally sized Microbes...
  • The Navigator: Dr. Michaels, who steers the vessel through the body, being the member of the group who is most aware of what goes where in anatomical terms.
  • No Ending: The film ends with the Proteus destroyed, Michaels gobbled up by a white blood cell, and the rest of the crew escaping the scientist's brain through his tear duct, de-miniaturising on a microscope slide. There is no explanation for what actually happens afterwards. There was an extra scene at the end of the film that explained what happened next but for whatever reason it was cut out. See "Shaggy Dog" Story below.
  • No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Benes apparently did not keep any notes of his process. Justified in that he probably destroyed any notes he took to keep The Other Side from getting hold of them before he defected.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Specifically, a lack of soundtrack is frequently used to build suspend. The first bit of "soundtrack" music comes after Acts I and II. There is no soundtrack at all in the ship's approach to the dangerous heart. The soundtrack is similarly absent while the crew are in the ear, to heighten the suspense around needing "complete silence."
  • Race Against the Clock: After miniaturization, the team has 60 minutes to complete their mission before they start to de-miniaturize.
  • The Radio Dies First: Technically, the laser dies first — the wireless is cannibalized to fix it.
  • Scenery Porn: The body interior sets, built full scale.
  • Seeker White Blood Cells: White blood cells are mentioned but not seen until the near end, antibodies make a earlier appearance.
  • "Shaggy Dog" Story: In the original screenplay, Dr. Benes awakens from the operation having recovered, but is unfortunately unable to remember how to make the shrinking process work indefinitely due to the blood-clot, rendering the heroes' efforts all for naught (other than having saved his life). This was included in the Asimov novelisation and surviving production stills suggest this was how the film was supposed to end as well, but it was removed - perhaps to prevent audiences from feeling that the heroes' efforts - and therefore the audience's time - had been wasted.
  • Shrink Ray: The non-portable variety, used chiefly as a research tool due to the time limit making military uses non-viable (it's also the variety that can expand as well as shrinknote ).
  • The Smurfette Principle: Cora is the only female member of the team (and the only female speaking part in the movie). Colonel Reid complains that a woman has no place on such a dangerous mission.
  • Square-Cube Law: Why Isaac Asimov was initially reluctant to write the novelisation — he thought that being miniaturised was impossible because of this. Nevertheless, he decided it would make for some good writing and came up with a novelisation that is almost as hard as science fiction can be, ignoring the physical impossibility of miniaturisation.
  • Stating the Simple Solution: It takes a bit before Carter thinks to put cotton in Benes' ears to lessen the risk when they are traveling through the eardrum.
  • Ten Little Murder Victims: Who's the enemy agent on the crew that's responsible for the series of disasters threatening the mission? Why, it's Dr. Michaels, the sweaty scientist played by Donald Pleasence!
    • In the novelization, the mole is played with more subtlety. Michaels avoids the blatant panic attacks of his movie incarnation, and serves as Grant's mentor about miniaturization; the two even discuss possible suspects throughout the story — including themselves. (Grant admits that Michaels' theory that The Other Side could have let Grant escape with Dr. Benes to build his reputation is reasonable, if nothing else.)
  • To the Batpole!: The Elevator to CMDF HQ.
  • The War Room: The CMDF Operating Theater
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A number of elements that should be problematic are ignored: the wreckage of the Proteus, and Dr. Michaels' body, after being eaten by the white blood cell — somehow that keeps them from re-enlarging once time runs out. This is one of the most memorable plot holes of the film, and Asimov made sure to close it in his novelization. Massively averted by the novelization, which accurately depicts, as well as we know (or, at least, as well as we knew in 1966), what it would be like if humans could in fact be miniaturized to this degree. Even Brownian Motion (random molecular motion of a fluid or gas) is noticed and commented on. Most of the flaws of the movie are explained or elaborated on so as to be acceptable to reality, making the book as much a corrective Retcon as a novelization.
  • The World Is Just Awesome: Well not the world, but this describes Duval's feelings about their journey though the body.
  • Zeerust: Varies — Being set 20 Minutes into the Future in 1960s, some elements, like the laser rifle don't hold up well, while the Proteus itself varies from a sleek futuristic but practical exterior, to an interior that could be considered Used Future. What dates the film most of all are the '60s contemporary elements, such as computers, cars and uniforms.