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"Fantastic Voyages"

"Voyage to the bottom of the Sea" and "Fantastic Voyage" on DVD

Twin Sci-Fi Thrills

Part of 20th Century Fox's "Double Feature" series, this disk brings to DVD a couple of minor science fiction classics from the 1960's.

Irwin Allen's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" receives the most benefit from the DVD treatment; its picture is bright and sharp and its audio has been remixed to Dolby 4.0 surround. Richard Fleishcer's "Fantastic Voyage," on the hand, looks very soft and the audio isn't nearly as good.

It's almost as if Fox spent its energies making the Allen film look great, but ignored Fleischer's, which is undoubtedly not true ("Fantastic Voyage," according to the box, has received a newly created "English Surround" track).

Anyway, it isn't unreasonable to buy this disc for the Allen "Voyage," and consider Fleischer's a bonus.

Too bad; in the grand scheme of things, Fantastic Voyage is probably the more important of the two films.

"Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" recounts the tale of an Earth where the temperature has soared thanks to the sudden fiery ignition of the van Allen belts of the atmosphere. Fortunately, super scientist Admiral Nelson (Walter Pidgeon) and his new supersub the Seaview are on patrol and have the wherwithal to save the world. Nelson figures out that a missle aimed at just the right point will explode the van Allen belt into space, restoring the Earth's temperature to its pre-artifiicial greenhouse effect days.

Unfortunately, the world's powers that be don't believe him, and he's forced to take his sub on a renegade mission to save humanity.

Pidgeon's Admiral Nelson is a driven man who won't listen to anyone but himself, which makes it a good thing that he's right all the time! Also along for the ride are Barbara Eden, Joan Fontaine, Peter Lorre, Robert Sterling, Michael Ansara, and Frankie Avalon.

There are plenty of plot holes, but the Seaview looks great (so do most of the special effects, though this doesn't appear to be a very big buget movie) and the story's engaging enough to have spawned a TV series (which, of course, it did).

The widescreen (2.35:1) picture looks great and the Dolby Digital surround is pretty good.

"Fantastic Voyage" concerns miniaturization technology and the cold war. Stephen Boyd is, well, some kind of agent, who has just brought scientist Jan Benes to the US where he's about to spill his guts to the scientific authorities. He knows the secret to making the miniaturization process feasible.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, since otherwise we'd have no story), the other side has gotten to him, and Benes is now in a coma, on an operating table, with a brain clot that can't be operated on with conventional surgery.

What they propose to do is shrink a submarine and crew, and send it through Benes' bloodstream to the site of the injury and operate on it from inside, with a laser beam.

A nifty idea, and one that gives the producers plenty of opportunity to portray the wonders of the human body as seen from the inside perspective.

Along for this fantastic voyage, besides "Messala" himself, are Arthur Kennedy as the surgeon tapped for the job, Raquel Welch as the requisite girl, Donald Pleasence as, well, you'll you have to watch and see, and William Redfield as the Captain and designer of the good sub Proteus. Edmond O'Brien and Arthur O'Connell run the show from outside.

The story's neat, but once again there are plot holes large enough to drive the unshrunk Proteus through (for instance, how come the wreckage of the sub doesn't destroy the patient when it returns to its normal size?).

Still, it's a nifty yarn and for the most part director Richard Fleischer (Disney's 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea) pulled it off very well.

The widescreen (2.35:1) picture quality is definitely not up to DVD standards, and this is a shame. Audio quality is merely okay.

Neither movie, each of which occupies one side of the single DVD disc, has a lot of extras. You basically get the usual subtitle choices and a trailer for both movies with each movie.

Still, you have to love Fox for giving us a "Saturday Afternnoon Matinee" of movie entertainment on a single disc. We hope to see lots more. .


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Updated May 13, 2006