Leaving soon: ‘Fantastic Voyage’ on HBO Max

2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) took the world on a mind bending trip to outer space, but Fantastic Voyage (1966) is the original psychedelic inner-space adventure.

When a brilliant scientist falls into a coma with an inoperable blood clot in the brain, a surgical team embarks on a top secret journey to the center of the mind in a high tech military submarine shrunk to microbial dimensions. But there’s a deadline: they have only sixty minutes to reach the brain, remove the clot, and leave the patient. After that, the effect wears off and they return to full size.

Stephen Boyd stars as a colorless commander sent to keep an eye on things (though his eyes stay mostly on shapely medical assistant Raquel Welch), while Donald Pleasence is suitably twitchy as the claustrophobic medical consultant. While they literally fight the immune system of their patient while navigating the circulatory system, the mission is complicated by Cold War tensions, double agents, and defecting scientists

The science is shaky at best but the imaginative spectacle is marvelous: scuba diving surgeons battle white blood cells, tap the lungs to replenish the oxygen supply, and shoot the aorta like daredevil surfers. Director Richard Fleischer, who turned Disney’s 1954 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea into one of the most riveting submarine adventures of all time, creates a picture so taut with cloak and dagger secrecy that niggling scientific contradictions (like how do miniaturized humans breath full sized air molecules?) seem moot.

Edmond O’Brien plays the general presiding over the mission, Arthur Kennedy is the medical doctor on board, and William Redfielt and Arthur O’Connell costar.

It won Oscars for visual effects and art direction.

Rated PG

Leaves HBO Max at the end of February. Add to My List on HBO Max

Also on Blu-ray and DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay, Vudu and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.
Fantastic Voyage [DVD]
Fantastic Voyage [Blu-ray]

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears at RogerEbert.com, Turner Classic Movies online, The Film Noir Foundation, and Parallax View.

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