Review: Fantastic Voyage - The Complete Series (PG) /Directed by: Hal Sutherland / Written by: Jerome Bixby, Eric Blair, HF Mauberley, David Melmuth, Ken Sobol, William Welch /Starring: (voices) Marvin Miller, Jane Webb, Ted Knight / Release date: Out now
Raquel Welch caused quite a stir in 1966 at the Box Office - and elsewhere, very probably - when she and a bunch of other earnest Hollywood types such as Donald Pleasance and Stephen Boyd were shrunk down to microscopic proportions, bundled aboard the nuclear submarine Proteus and injected into the comatose body of the scientist who found a way to make the revolutionary miniaturisation process temporary but suffered an assassination attempt which left him with a blood clot in his brain. The team aboard the Proteus had just sixty minutes to repair the damage caused by the blood clot before their sub reverted to normal size and the scientist’s immune system began to attack and reject the invader.
Exciting stuff and the resulting film - Fantastic Voyage - was a smash hit, attracting rave reviews for its innovative special effects and imaginative storyline. A couple of years later animation studio Filmation took the title and refashioned the idea into a bright, lively cartoon adventure series for kids which aired on ABC in the States between September 1968 and January 1969, running to one brief series of seventeen episodes.
Naturally enough, some changes needed to be made to the concept as presented in the movie to turn Fantastic Voyage into a series format. In the animated show the submarine - now redesigned into a simple winged mini-sub/plane called Voyager - is deployed by the CMDF (Combined Miniature Defense Force) to combat sinister (and often comical) threats to world security, some of which were distinctly extra-terrestrial. The Voyager is piloted by square-jawed eye-patched Commander Jonathan Kidd, biologist Erica Lane, geeky boffin (and designer of the Voyager) Busby Birdwell and the outrageous turbaned “master of mysterious powers” known as Guru who appears to have some extremely non-specific paranormal abilities subject to the requirements of the script. In the animated series the miniaturisation process lasts for 12 hours giving our heroes more time to get involved in tricky situations involving space aliens, magic crystals, cackling bad guys, giant butterflies and, in one memorable episode, Busby is shrunk down to the size of a doll to provide entertainment for kids at a local orphanage.
Fantastic Voyage, never screened in the UK, is primitive stuff by today’s snazzy computer-animation standards and, in truth, I suspect it was even a bit primitive by 1960s standards. Filmation churned out a lot of product in the 1960s but they were very much a second tier outfit behind the much slicker Hanna-Barbera. Filmation’s stuff relied horribly on stock shots - here it’s the repeated images of the Voyager being shrunk and shots of CMDF bigwigs sitting around desks in exactly the same positions week after week. The real giveaway with Filmation was always the number of dialogue scenes where characters had their backs to the camera or else were shown from the nose up, animation reduced to a shoulder-shrug or a raised eyebrow. Fantastic Voyage tries a bit harder because its premise demands that it has to so there’s a bit more going on in these often outlandish, but always trivial little stories and even here there’s a bit of a residual thrill at watching miniaturised humans fighting off giant-sized enemies. There’s even time for the odd flash of humour too; in The Magic Crystal of Kabala the evil Mephisto conjures up hallucinatory visions of the future for the Voyager crew, one of which sees Erica getting married to hunky Commander Kidd which leaves the Commander sputtering “But I don’t want to get married…yet” when he’s told about it. Well, it made me smile.
Colourful and relentlessly undemanding, fans of garish 1960s cartoons may be fascinated by this little-seen rarity but for anyone else it’s likely to be a bit of a slog.