1966: Fantastic Voyage

Fantasticvoyageposter1966 starts with a double header: Fantastic Voyage and Fantastic Voyage! One, the Academy Award winning film that sends 5 miniaturized people on a journey through the human body to save a mans life. The other, a novel written by famous science fiction writer Isaac Asimov that sends… well, it tells the same story.

The story begins with an airplane landing and a passenger being met by the military. While being escorted away, the motorcade is attacked by a kamikaze car crash and then a shoot out. In the process, our passenger gets knocked out. It is revealed that he is a famous scientist named Benes and that he was being brought into the country for protection. During the accident he was hit in the head and now has a blood clot in his brain. Unable to do surgery from the outside, a team is assembled (not The Avengers) to shrink down to microscopic level and travel in a miniaturized submarine to the brain where they will remove it from the inside. On top of all other pressures, miniaturization only lasts 60 minutes, so time is of the essence.

The C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniature Defense Force) Team

Charles Grant: Our hero and military personnel. He mans the communication system to the outside world. His purpose in the movie is to keep his eyes on Duval, who is suspected of being a traitor. In the book, having no scientific bias, he is the leader of the mission.

Dr. Duval: A brilliant scientist who will operate on Benes upon arrival at the clot. In the film he is suspected of being a traitor, in the book he is not, initially.

Cora Peterson: Dr. Duvals assistant

Dr. Michaels: Familiar with travel within the human body he is the navigator. In the film, he is in charge of the mission, not Grant.

Captain Owens: Designer and pilot of the submarine,
fantastic voyage bookThe Proteus and its crew get into many mishaps during their way to the brain. They get off course because of internal bleeding, they run low on oxygen, their laser breaks, the lose communication with the scientists on the outside, these could be accidents, they could be sabotage. The biggest threat, however, is Dr. Benes body itself. The antibodies, the white blood cells, along with various other threats. Many of the accidents that happen point toward different people being a saboteur and in the end the real saboteur reveals himself and, while trying to jeopardize the mission, gets killed by a white blood cell.

There are many differences between the book and the film. The book adds many layers to the characters. Specifically, Duval is a cold doctor who is oblivious to how he makes other people feel but does what is needed to what he feels needs to get done. In the book he insists that Cora Peterson joins the crew while everyone else objects. Grant is an man who flaunts his football past and playboy ways to hide his intelligence and courage. Cora is a beautiful woman who dismisses her beauty and wishes she was recognized for her genius. Grant and Cora have an evolving love story through the book that adds a lot of depth to both of them. Introductions are also given to all the characters prior to the beginning of the mission.

Another difference between book and film is that the book focuses more on the science and adds more realistic story elements, such as how time passes slower at a smaller size, how they see things on different wave lengths at a smaller size and what it’s like to be hit by molecules that are now much larger. In the book, all molecules deminiaturize after an hour, no matter what, so they must get everything out of the body. In the film, the ship gets destroyed by a white blood cell, it never leaves the body and there are no issues. (While I watched the movie, I just pictured a mangled ship growing out of Benes and killing him, completely ruining everyones day)

In both stories, I enjoyed that it is obviously a cold war type society, but it is never stated that they work for the U.S. government, or that they are working against the soviets. The only speak of Our Side and Their Side, or Us and Them, capitalized. It is likely even that this is set several years in the future with many advanced technologies. In 1966 the cold war had only really just begun but the book states that Benes had been a scientist for The Other Side for several decades (however in this technologically advanced time they still use overhead projectors and flip sheets)

The movie was entertaining and captivated my attention, but I much preferred the book. It may have been that more depth is attainable, it may have been Asimov’s brilliant writing. I did feel there was a lot of description, which I usually don’t appreciate, but Asimov has a way of making it pull you in and you don’t realize until you’ve finished. Solid points for the movie are how it made the inside of the human body look. Despite being filmed in the 60s, the film does a great job of portraying what it would be like to take a submarine ride through the blood system. Watching this film mad me wish I had been around to see it in the theatres, that is not a feat many films of the time are able to accomplish. The film won Academy Awards for Special Effects and Art Direction.

Despite being released several months before the film, the book is actually a novelization of the screenplay that Harry Kleiner wrote for the film, based off of Otto Clemens and Jerome Bixby’s story. However, according to Wikipedia, Asimov was able to take some liberties on the story to make it more scientifically possible.

Fantastic Voyage was developed into a cartoon series in 1968 that lasted for 17 episodes. In 1987 another book was written by Asimov called Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain that is unrelated to the original story. Kevin J. Anderson wrote a book called Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm that takes the crew of the Proteus through the body of an alien. Reading this story brought to mind 2 other stories with similar concepts. The first: the 93rd issue of Avengers (1971) where Ant Man shrinks down to microscopic level to go inside and fix the android known as the Vision (If you don’t know who they are, you will meet them both this year in the films Ant Man and The Avengers: Age of Ultron respectively). The second: the 3rd episode of Magic School Bus (1994) where Ralphie gets sick and the class goes on a field trip inside of him.

One last thing to say. In one scene in the book Grant enters a room for briefing and starts eating from a plate of sandwiches. He gets through two before noticing that no one else is eating and everyone is staring at him. I have recently had my wisdom teeth out (which is why I have had time for more posts than I normally will)  and have only been eating liquidy foods. This made me want sandwiches so badly for 2 days. I tried to eat a sandwich a few hours ago. It was not worth the pain. I no longer crave sandwiches.

I’ll be back with Star Trek and a few comic firsts this week. Thanks for reading. See you in the future!

Pictures from Wikipedia and Coverbrowser


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