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Fox Voyage Double Feature

Fantastic Voyage


Somewhere out there, someone has compiled a list of the most regularly referenced, adapted, and spoofed movies of all time. Alongside the most popular and obvious entries, movies like Jaws, King Kong, and Star Wars, is Fantastic Voyage. Fantastic Voyage is such an ingrained and vital piece of pop-culture knowledge that it’s often mistaken for an adaptation of a classic science fiction novel, but, apparently, screenwriter Jerome Bixby (a Twilight Zone contributor who shares a co-writing credit with Harry Kleiner and David Duncan) really did originate the general idea of shrinking a team of scientists/doctors and injecting them into a sick man for some kind of micro surgery. Even if you somehow haven’t seen Fantastic Voyage, you’ve definitely gotten the gist of it via episodes of The Simpsons, Futurama, Phineas and Ferb, or Venture Bros.. Or maybe you saw Joe Dante’s comedic take on the material, Innerspace.

Richard Fleischer, son of legendary animator Max Fleischer, had one of the most varied and respectable filmographies in Hollywood, including a Disney adventure picture ( 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea), a children’s musical ( Doctor Dolittle), a collaborative historical look at the Pearl Harbor attack ( Tora! Tora! Tora! with Toshio Masuda and Kinji Fukasaku), and even a big-budget blaxploitation epic ( Mandingo). Fantastic Voyage utilizes all of his experience with lavish sets and special effects while also feeding his charmingly exploitative side with its gimmicky concepts and cheesy pseudo-science. The sillier sci-fi elements are initially delivered by way of Cold War-era spy movie conventions and Fleischer wisely recalls the aesthetics of the more elaborate 007 movies (though, do note, Donald Pleasance wouldn’t play Bloefeld for another year), giving the mainstream audiences of the time a stylistic sense of ‘reality’ to grasp as things get distinctively sillier. The film’s more dated elements – décor, costumes, special effects, weird lapses in technology (they can shrink a submarine to the size of a blood cell, but have to use Morse code and navigate via paper charts) – all work in its favour, allowing us a glimpse of classic special effects ingenuity.

Fantastic Voyage has never looked better than it does here. The new 1080p, 2.35:1 transfer is sharp and vivid, making use of every inch of the CinemaScope and DeLuxe formats. Details are crisp without being rigid and patterns are complex without excessive edge haloes (besides the natural ones caused by old blue screen effects). Grain levels appear natural, including the uptakes in the miniature footage, which, obviously, had to be blown up and reprinted. The acrylic palette is quite brilliant (especially those pinks and violets) with smooth gradations and tight separations. The only major impediments are brought about by limitations in the special effects processes that ‘green-up’ the otherwise deep black levels. There are also minor inconsistencies with contrast levels and hue vibrancy from scene to scene, but this is another common artefact of DeLuxe movies. The new transfer is matched with a new 5.1 remix, presented in DTS-HD Master Audio sound. I believe this is the first time the film has been mixed into 5.1, rather than 2.0 surround, and, for the most part, the remix is true to the source material. Despite my tendency to stick to original soundtracks, I have to say that this remix might be worth it, just for the opening title’s multi-channel enhancements alone. The bulk of the track, including dialogue and incidental effects, are still situated in the center channel and the film’s use of sterile silence keeps the other speakers relatively silent outside of Leonard Rosenman’s Academy Award-nominated score and the ‘60s-tastic sci-fi noises – though even these are largely limited to the center speaker. For the record, Fox has also seen fit to include the film’s original mono sound, also in lossless DTS-HD MA. The extras include a commentary track with film & music historian Jeff Bond, an isolated score track with Bond and other film & music historians Jon Avalingame & Nick Redman, Lava Lamps and Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of Fantastic Voyage (17:40, HD), Whirlpool Scene: Storyboard-To-Scene multi-angle comparison (2:20, SD), a trailer, and TV spots.


Fox Voyage Double Feature

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea


Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea didn’t enjoy quite the same long-term success Fantastic Voyage did, but both films were television mainstays for generations and both became a part of the pop-culture lexicon. Of course, Allen’s film would forever live in the shadow of a different Richard Fleischer movie, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. There’s no avoiding the truth that the big-budget Disney production of a Jules Verne story is the better pulpy undersea adventure, but Allen’s sense of classic Hollywood showmanship and adherence to his extraordinarily bleak narrative override the film’s excessive length and occasional lapses in storytelling structure. The film follows the crew of a nuclear-powered submarine that surfaces from a trip beneath the Arctic icecap (inspired by a similar journey undertaken by the USS Nautilus) to discover a meteor belt has fried the skies and is steadily raising the world’s temperature. The ship’s designer, Admiral Harriman Nelson (Walter Pidgeon), and colleague, retired Commodore Lucius Emery (Peter Lorre), concoct a plan to fire nuclear missiles towards the belt at a precise moment and blast the radiation back into space. Unfortunately, the UN delegates disagree, forcing the crew into a race against time and worldwide submarine forces, to stop Armageddon.

Allen, who was best known for his later career in block-busting disaster flicks, like The Poseidon Adventure, co-wrote his screenplay with former Hitchcock collaborator Charles Bennett. Together, they help suspend disbelief by covering the story’s more convoluted and catastrophic elements with agreeably dry humour and efficiently crafted, easily discernible characters. The ensuing apocalypse is believable enough to impart a surprising level of anxiety and much of the mass destruction is described via news cycles, not chintzy special effects. This allows our imaginations to fill in the appropriately dreadful images. One wonders if George Romero took some inspiration when he made Night of the Living Dead seven years later. There are also, of course, parallels to be drawn to our current, real-world fears of global warming, but this is more interesting in a trivial sense. I don’t believe that Allen was ahead of the curve in scientific truths or anything – he was just making the best end of the world adventure picture he could.

Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was also a CinemaScope production. It is presented in its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio and full 1080p HD video. The image is clean without any notable DNR effects or blobby clumps of grain. Detail levels are, again, crisp with sharp element separation, though not so much with fine textural complexities. The DeLuxe color is typically unnatural in its abnormally consistent hue qualities, which is to say that it looks more or less how I’d expect it to. It’s possible that the people in charge of the remaster got a little carried away with the luminosity of pervasive lighter blues, but they haven’t full-on orange & teal’d the thing – flesh tones are still relatively warm and the red highlights are incredibly vivid. There’s a bit of bleeding around the edges, but the basic separation is plenty tight and there aren’t any major blocking effects to speak of. Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea is also presented for the first time in its original 4-Track Stereo instead of the similar, but not fully discrete Pro-Logic. The lossless, DTS-HD Master Audio track shares some odd dialogue spreads with Fox’s Bus Stop Blu-ray, but is generally a more modern stereo/surround mix. The sound effects are more naturalistic than Fantastic Voyage’s surrealist tracks, and are usually coupled with a lot more of Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter’s full-bodied musical score. The extras include a commentary with author Tim Colliver, an isolated score track, a featurette entitled Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality (16:50, HD), an interview with Barbara Eden (6:00, SD), and a trailer.


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