The premise of Fantastic Voyage is a classic one—a team of scientists are shrunk to miniature size and tasked with entering a comatose patient’s body to cure him—but Fantastic Voyage certainly doesn’t belong in the field of classic ‘hard’ science-fiction, where premises aren’t just posited, but critically examined as part of a wider discussion of what it means to human. Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey is often cited as the primary example here, but there was plenty of excellent, questing sci-fi before that too: The Day the Earth Stood Still and Invasion of the Body Snatchers are prime examples.
Fantastic Voyage however, is largely a journey of spectacle. In this respect, the set and production design is the film’s biggest star; once the film journeys inside the human body we’re treated to a never-ending whirlpool of trippy sets and funky effects. But other than that, there really isn’t much to see here. The film takes an absolute age to make good on its premise, the first 40 minutes or so being an indeterminable slog through exposition and boredom, with not much in the way of performance or character in the meantime. Of the film’s main cast, most are instantly forgettable with the exception of Donald Pleasence, seen here patiently waiting for his paycheque, as he so often always was, but enjoying himself in the meantime. A fine premise, but the intellectual core of it is mostly ignored in favour of just an empty spectacle.