Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 science fiction film written by Harry Kleiner, based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby.[1][2][3][4] Bantam Books obtained the rights for a paperback novelization based on the screenplay and approached Isaac Asimov to write it.[5] Because the novelization was released six months before the movie, many people mistakenly believed Asimov's book had inspired the movie.[6]

The movie inspired an animated television series, as well as a painting of the same name by Salvador Dalí.[7]


The United States and the Soviet Union have both developed technology that allowed matter to be miniaturized using a process that shrinks individual atoms, but its value is limited. Objects only stay miniaturized for a limited amount of time depending on how much miniaturization the object undergoes.

Scientist Jan Benes, working behind the Iron Curtain, has figured out how to make the shrinking process work indefinitely. With the help of the CIA, he escapes to the West, but an attempted assassination leaves him comatose, with a blood clot in his brain.

To save his life, Charles Grant (the agent who extracted him, played by Stephen Boyd), pilot Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (who is later revealed to have a fear of small spaces, played by Donald Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy) and his assistant Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) board a specially designed nuclear submarine, the Proteus, which is then miniaturized and injected into Benes. The ship is reduced to one micrometer in length, giving the team only one hour to repair the clot; after that, the submarine will begin to revert to its normal size and become large enough for Benes' immune system to detect and attack.

The crew faces many obstacles on their journey. An arteriovenous fistula forces them to detour through the heart (a temporary cardiac arrest must be induced to avoid destructive turbulence), through the inner ear (all in the lab must remain quiet to prevent similar turbulence) and replenish their supply of oxygen in the alveoli of the lungs. When the surgical laser needed to destroy the clot is damaged, it becomes obvious there is a saboteur on the mission. They cannibalize their radio to repair the laser. When they finally reach the brain clot, there are only six minutes remaining to operate and then exit the body.

The traitor, Dr. Michaels, knocks Owens out and takes control of the Proteus while the rest of the crew is outside for the operation. Duval successfully removes the clot with the laser, but Michaels tries to crash the sub into the clot area to kill Benes. Grant fires the laser at the ship, causing it to veer away and crash. Michaels is trapped in the wreckage and killed when a white blood cell attacks and destroys the Proteus. Grant saves Owens from the ship, and they all swim desperately to one of the eyes, where they escape via a teardrop seconds before they return to normal size.



Isaac Asimov, asked to write the novel from the script, declared that the script was full of plot holes, and received permission to write the book the way he wanted. The novel came out first because he wrote fast and because of delays in filming.[8]

Biological issues and accuracy

In the original movie, the crew (apart from the saboteur) manage to leave Benes' body safely before reverting to normal size, but the Proteus remains inside, as do the remains of the saboteur's body (albeit digested by a white blood cell), as well as several gallons (full scale) of a carrier solution (presumably saline) used in the injection syringe. Isaac Asimov pointed out that this was a serious logical flaw in the plot,[9] since the submarine (even if reduced to bits of debris) would also revert to normal size, killing Benes in the process. Therefore, in his novelisation Asimov had the crew provoke the white cell into following them, so that it drags the submarine to the tearduct. The submarine (or rather, the wreckage of it) then expands outside Benes' body.


The film received mostly positive reviews and a few criticisms. The weekly entertainment-trade magazine Variety gave the film a positive pre-release review, stating, "The lavish production, boasting some brilliant special effects and superior creative efforts, is an entertaining, enlightening excursion through inner space - the body of a man."[10] Bosley Crowther of the New York Times summarized, "Yessir, for straight science-fiction, this is quite a film—the most colorful and imaginative since Destination Moon(1950)."[11] Richard Schickel of Life Magazine wrote that the rewards would be "plentiful" to audiences who get over the "real whopper" of suspended disbelief required. He found that though the excellent special effects and sets could distract from the scenery's scientific purpose in the story, the "old familiar music of science fiction" in lush new arrangements was a "true delight", and the seriousness with which screenwriter Kleiner and director Fleischer treated the story made it more believable and fun. Shickel made note of, but dismissed, other critics' allegations of "camp."[12]

As of 2010, the film holds a 92% approval rating at the review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being: "The special effects may be a bit dated today, but Fantastic Voyage still holds up well as an imaginative journey into the human body."[13]

Awards and nominations

The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for three more:[14]

Won: Best Art Direction - Color (Jack Martin Smith, Dale Hennesy, Walter M. Scott, Stuart A. Reiss)
Won: Best Special Effects
Nominated: Best Cinematography
Nominated: Best Film Editing
Nominated: Best Sound Editing


The score was composed and conducted by Leonard Rosenman. The composer deliberately wrote no music for the first four reels of the film, before the protagonists enter the human body. Rosenman wrote that "the harmony for the entire score is almost completely atonal except for the very end when our heroes grow to normality".[15]

The complete score was released in 1998 on compact disc, on Film Score Monthly records.



After acquiring the film's paperback novelisation rights, Bantam Books approached Isaac Asimov to write the novelisation, offering him a flat sum of $5,000 with no royalties involved. In his autobiography In Joy Still Felt, Asimov writes, "I turned down the proposal out of hand. Hackwork, I said. Beneath my dignity."[8] However, Bantam Books persisted, and at a meeting with Marc Jaffe and Marcia Nassiter on April 21, 1965, Asimov agreed to read the screenplay.

In the novelisation's introduction, Asimov states that he was rather reluctant to write the book because he believed that the miniaturization of matter was physically impossible. But he decided that it was still good fodder for story-telling and that it could still make for some intelligent reading. Plus it was known that 20th Century Fox wanted someone with some science-fiction clout to help promote the film. To his credit, aside from the initial "impossibility" of the shrinking machine, Asimov went to great lengths to accurately portray what it would actually be like to be shrunk to that scale, such as the lights on the sub being highly penetrating to normal matter, time distortion, and other side effects that are completely ignored in the movie.

As noted above, Asimov was bothered by the way the Proteus was left in Benes, and in a subsequent meeting with Jaffe he insisted that he would have to change the ending so that the submarine was brought out. Asimov also felt the need to gain permission from his usual science fiction publisher, Doubleday, to do the novel. Not only did Doubleday not object, it had been they who had suggested his name to Bantam in the first place. Asimov began work on the novel on May 31, and completed it on July 23.[16]

Asimov did not want any of his books, even a film novelisation, to appear only in paperback, so in August he persuaded Austin Olney of Houghton Mifflin to publish a hardcover edition, assuring him that the book would sell at least eight thousand copies, which it did.[17] However, since the rights to the story were held by Otto Klement, who had co-written the original story treatment, Asimov would not be entitled to any royalties. By the time the hardcover edition was published in March 1966, Houghton Mifflin had persuaded Klement to allow Asimov to have a quarter of the royalties.[18] Klement also negotiated for The Saturday Evening Post to serialize an abridged version of the novel, and he agreed to give Asimov half the payment for it. Fantastic Voyage appeared in the February 26 and March 12, 1966 issues of the Post.[19]

Bantam Books released the paperback edition of the novel in September 1966 to coincide with the release of the film.[20]

Related novels and comics

Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain, was written by Isaac Asimov as an attempt to develop and present his own story apart from the 1966 screenplay. This novel is not a sequel to the original, but instead is a separate story taking place in the Soviet Union with an entirely different set of characters.

Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm is a third interpretation, written by Kevin J. Anderson, published in 2001. This version has the crew of the Proteus explore the body of a dead alien that crash-lands on earth, and updates the story with such modern concepts as nanotechnology (replacing killer white cells).

A comic book adaptation of the film was released by Gold Key Comics in 1967. Drawn by industry legend Wally Wood, the book followed the plot of the movie with general accuracy, but many scenes were depicted differently and/or outright dropped, and the ending was given an epilogue similar as that seen in some of the early draft scripts for the film.

A parody of the film titled Fantastecch Voyage was published in Mad Magazine. It was illustrated by Mort Drucker and written by Larry Siegel in regular issue #110, April 1967.[21]

1968 animated television series

Two years after the film was released, ABC aired an animated series of the same name on Saturday mornings. The series was produced by Filmation.

In the series, a different team of scientists performed their missions in a craft known as Voyager, a submarine which featured wedge-shaped wings and large, swept T-tail, and was capable of flight. A model kit of Voyager was offered by Aurora Model Company for several years, and has become a sought-after collectors' item since then. As of June 2008, the Voyager kit has been re-released by the Moebius model company.

Future plans

Plans for a remake or sequel have been in discussion since at least 1984, but the project has been stuck in development hell ever since. In 1984, Isaac Asimov was approached to write Fantastic Voyage II, out of which a movie would be made.[22] Asimov "was sent a suggested outline" that mirrored the movie Innerspace and "involved two vessels in the bloodstream, one American and one Soviet, and what followed was a kind of submicroscopic version of World War III".[22] Asimov was against such an approach. Following a dispute between publishers, the original commissioners of the novel approached Philip Farmer, who "wrote a novel and sent [in] the manuscript" that was rejected despite "stick[ing] tightly to the outline [that was sent to Asimov]".[22] "It dealt with World War III in the bloodstream, and it was full of action and excitement".[22] Although Asimov urged the publisher to accept Farmer's manuscript, it was insisted that Asimov write the novel. So, Asimov eventually wrote the book in his own way (completely different in plot from what [Farmer] had written), which was eventually published by Doubleday in 1987 as Fantastic Voyage II and "dealt not with competing submarines in the bloodstream, but with one submarine, with [an] American hero cooperating (not entirely voluntarily) with four Soviet crew members".[22] The novel was not made into a movie, however.

James Cameron was also interested in directing a remake (since at least 1997),[23] but decided to devote his efforts to his Avatar project. He still remained open to the idea of producing a feature based on his own screenplay, and in 2007, 20th Century Fox announced that pre-production on the project was finally underway. Roland Emmerich agreed to direct, but rejected the script written by Cameron.[23][24] Marianne and Cormac Wibberley were hired to write a new script, but the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike delayed filming, and Emmerich began working on 2012 instead.[24][25]

In spring 2010, Paul Greengrass was considering directing the remake from a script written by Shane Salerno and produced by James Cameron but later dropped out as well. It is intended that the film be shot in native stereoscopic 3D.[26]

See also


  1. Menville, Douglas Alver; R. Reginald (1977). Things to Come: An Illustrated History of the Science Fiction Film. Times Books. p. 133. ISBN 0812907108.  Cite uses deprecated parameter |coauthors= (help)
  2. Fischer, Dennis (2000). Science Fiction Film Directors, 1895-1998. McFarland. p. 192. ISBN 0786407409. 
  3. Script error
  4. "Full cast and crew for 'Fantastic Voyage'". Internet Movie Database. Retrieved 2009-11-23. 
  5. Asimov, Isaac (1980). In Joy Still Felt: The Autobiography of Isaac Asimov, 1954-1978. New York: Avon. p. 363. ISBN 0380530252. 
  6. Asimov 1980:390.
  7. "Lot 140, Sale 7354: Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), Le voyage fantastique". The Art of the Surreal. February 6, 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 Asimov 1980:363
  9. Asimov 1980:363-364
  10. "Fantastic Voyage Review". Variety. Reed Business Information. December 31, 1965. Retrieved 2010-08-01.  (extract)
  11. Crowther, Bosley (September 8, 1966). "Screen: 'Fantastic Voyage' Is All That". New York Times.  (registration required)
  12. Schickel, Richard (September 23, 1966). "A Wild Trip in a Blood Vessel". Movie Review. Life Magazine. p. 16. Retrieved 2010-09-09.  (archive)
  13. "Fantastic Voyage Movie Reviews, Pictures". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 2010-08-01. 
  14. "NY Times: Fantastic Voyage - Awards". NY Times. All Movie Guide. Retrieved 2008-12-27. 
  15. Bond, Jeff (1998). Release notes for Fantastic Voyage by Leonard Rosenman, p. 2 (CD insert notes). Los Angeles, California, U.S.A.: Film Score Monthly (Vol. 1, No. 3).
  16. Asimov 1980:366-370
  17. Asimov 1980:371
  18. Asimov 1980:390
  19. Asimov 1980:388-389
  20. Asimov 1980:407
  21. MAD Cover Site, MAD #110 April 1967.
  22. 22.0 22.1 22.2 22.3 22.4 Asimov, Isaac (1994). I, Asimov. Bantam Books. p. 501. ISBN 055356997X. 
  23. 23.0 23.1 Sciretta, Peter (September 26, 2007). "Roland Emmerich Tries To Explain Why James Cameron's Fantastic Voyage Script Sucked". /Film. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  24. 24.0 24.1 "Exclusive: Emmerich On Fantastic Voyage". (Bauer Consumer Media). September 25, 2007. Retrieved 2009-11-24. 
  25. Fleming, Michael (August 15, 2007). "Emmerich to Captain 'Voyage'". (Reed Business Information). Retrieved 2007-08-15. 
  26. Leins, Jeff (April 4, 2010). "Paul Greengrass Eyes ‘Fantastic Voyage’ in 3D". News in Film. Retrieved 2010-04-04. 

External links

Template:Richard Fleischer Template:Isaac Asimov novels

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