Agent Grant (Stephen Boyd) is a little confused when he is summoned by a classified division of the military to help with a medical emergency. A former Navy Frogman and communications officer, he cannot see how his swimming skills or Mores Code speed would be of any use to a physician. It isn’t until General Carter (Edmond O’Brien) explains the details of the delicate operation that Grant reluctantly begins to feel he might be of some assistance.
Scientist Jan Benes (Jean Del Val) is a man with knowledge critical to research being done at the C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniaturized Deterrent Forces). However, Eastern enemies want to insure he doesn’t share these secrets, so they ambush him. Although injured during the shoot-out, Benes survives in a comatose state caused by a blood clot in his brain. Now the only hope of retrieving the information is a radical and untried surgical procedure using miniaturization technology.
What is proposed is assembling a group of doctors and technician, placing them in a submarine, then shrinking both to a microscopic size and injecting them into Benes’ blood stream. There the ship and crew will make their way through the circulatory system to the affected area of the brain and use a lazar gun to disintegrate the mass. Afterward, following the venous system will bring them back to a pre-assigned spot where they will be removed by a syringe. And all of this must be done in less than 60 minutes—because that is only how long the miniaturization effect will last.
Despite how fantastic it all seems Grant soon finds himself inside the sub preparing for the little adventure. Also on board are brain surgeon (and suspected spy) Dr. Duvall (Arthur Kennedy), his beautiful assistant Cora (Raquel Welch), circulatory specialist Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence) who will act as navigator, and Capt. Owens (William Redfield) who will pilot the craft. Grant’s job is to communicate with the mission-control-style team who are supervising their progress from outside the operating room. His scuba skills maybe required as well, should something go wrong and the need arise for an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) outing.
Of course something goes wrong! Almost immediately after being injected into the bloodstream, they are sucked off course and forced to use their ingenuity to stay on the tight timeline allotted for their mission. Their detour provides plenty of peril for the tiny vessel and opportunities for the team (and audience) to see the interior of the heart, lungs and even inner ear of their host. When other malfunctions occur as well, Grant is convinced there is a saboteur amongst the crew.
Made in 1966, Fantastic Voyage required all the visual effects tricks known to the movie industry at the time. Blue screens and creative sets were used to depict the infinite inner space of the human body that these explorers journey through. While these images may pale in comparison to the digital computer graphics of today, they still add quaintness to the production that is matched only by the high tech equipment and medical expertise depicted in the film. (For instance, Grant uses a “wireless” to talk to those in the control room.)
Despite a few profanities, moments of peril from the body’s immune system and brief non-explicate violence, this Academy Award winning journey still provides plenty of entertainment for those willing to suspend their disbelief.