Get ready for excitement, y’all, because 20th Century Fox is set to debut a pair of epic, sci-fi submarine adventures on their Studio Classics Blu-ray line on Tuesday, October 8, 2013: Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage (1966) and Irwin Allen’s Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea (1961). Having previewed these discs, I can say these are indeed most exciting releases, and I’m not just talking about the films themselves (which are terrific, don’t get me wrong). As soon as their beautiful, stylistic main menus load, you know you’re in for a treat. Boasting the sort of pristine transfers typical of Fox’s recent archival releases alongside a selection of commentaries, featurettes and interviews, the Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea Blu-rays are among the most all-around impressive releases in the Fox Studio Classics line.
Fantastic Voyage is one of those rare films that has an almost universal, cross-generational appeal, able to entertain viewers of all ages. It wasn’t until recently that I saw it for the first time, and I thought even then that I wished I had seen it much sooner. It’s a stunning achievement in visual effects with a terrific science fiction premise that even my two-year-old son appreciated. The premise: a scientist in possession of valuable government information lies dying after an attempted assassination by Soviet spies. The only course of action the American government can devise to save his life involves shrinking a submarine and its crew, including a brain surgeon and circulatory system specialist, to microscopic size and injecting the craft into the patient. At that point it’s a race against time! Because the crew (among whom are characters played by stars Raquel Welch and Donald Pleasance) has but one hour to reach an isolated portion of the scientist’s brain, destroy the clot that keeps him comatose, and escape before being killed by antibodies and white corpuscles. Combining an impressive array of visual effects techniques from blue screens to miniatures to full-size sets designed to look like the interiors of veins, the film is every bit as visually exciting as it is narratively tense. I pretty much guarantee that no one in your family will be disappointed by Fantastic Voyage lest they have no imagination or sense of wonder whatsoever.
Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, in spite of its misleading title, is almost every bit the thrilling science fiction adventure that Fantastic Voyage is. But what else would you expect from Irwin Allen, the man who also gave us Lost in Space and The Poseidon Adventure? This one follows the crew of the experimental submarine Seaview, who embark on a seemingly doomed voyage to save the world after a radiation belt surrounding the Earth catches fire and melts the polar ice caps. The visuals of the burning sky and the watery causeways along which the Seaview travels are enough to hold any kid’s attention (whether you’re a kid of two or 29 or whatever). However, the tension amongst the crew as the Seaview’s superiors defy United Nations mandates in their attempt to expel the radiation belt from the atmosphere is where the real heart of the film lies. In this, Voyage offers a believably realistic presentation of a rather far-fetched scenario—just as any great science fiction disaster film must. If I had to take issue with anything in the film, it would be that Peter Lorre doesn’t spend enough time on screen and that a few stretches of the film prove to be a tad bit dull, especially when compared to the scenes in which the central end-of-world scenario is revealed or the (perhaps overly) complex climax.
With two films similarly reliant on submarine adventures with sci-fi premises being released on the same day, and from 20th Century Fox no less, I can’t see how anyone could justify picking up one title without the other, especially when both transfers are so stunningly vibrant and clean. I’ve written a number of reviews in recent months raving about the transfers on Fox’s archival releases, and it boggles my mind that I don’t hear more people singing the praises of Fox’s archival Blu-rays. They’re honestly up there with the best of them, restored to near perfection. If you’ve yet to experience any of these Studio Classics releases first-hand, do yourself a favor and get on it. And trust me, there’s no better place to start than here with Fantastic Voyage and Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea.
Special features on the Blu-ray release of Fantastic Voyage include:
-Commentary by film & music historian Jeff Bond,
-Isolated score track with commentary by film & musichistorians Jeff Bond, Jon Burlingame and Nick Redman,
-“Lava Lamps & Celluloid: A Tribute to the Visual Effects of Fantastic Voyage,”
-A storyboard-to-scene comparison of the “Whirlpool Scene,”
-and the original theatrical trailer.
Special feature on Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea include:
-Commentary by author Tim Colliver,
-The short documentary “Science Fiction: Fantasy to Reality,”
-An interview with star Barbara Eden,
-Isolated score track,
-And the original theatrical trailer.