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Fantastic Voyage: The Complete Series

01/01/2012. Contributed by Pauline Morgan

Buy Fantastic Voyage: The Complete Series in the USA - or Buy Fantastic Voyage: The Complete Series in the UK

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region 2 DVD: pub: Filmation Associates/Revelation Films Ltd 5060285850009. 3 DVDs 368 mins 17 x 22 minute episodes. Price: GBP19.99 (UK).

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Many will remember the 1966 film ‘Fantastic Voyage’ in which a submarine and crew were miniaturised and injected into the blood stream of a scientist. The purpose was to travel along the blood vessels to his brain and remove a blood clot which would otherwise kill him. This live-action film had a lot of good features even if some of the science behind the miniaturisation was pure fantasy. The screenplay, written by Harry Kleiner was based on a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby. Though some believe the idea came from an Isaac Asimov novel, this was actually a novelisation commissioned by Bantam. The mistake arose because the book made it to the shelves six months before the film hit the screens. Under normal circumstances, Asimov would not have let them get away with scientific inaccuracies.

As a result of the success of the film, Filmation Associates, in association with 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, made a series of seventeen half-hour (with ad space built in) animated films for children’s television. In the UK, they were broadcast by ABC-TV between 14th September 1968 and 4th January 1969. Now they have been released on a three disc DVD set. When considering these episodes from the perspective of 2011, it is important to remember that not only were they scripted for children but that the animation techniques of more than forty years ago were not as sophisticated as they are now. All the frames had to be hand drawn and painted as there were not computers good enough to produce the kind of animations we expect now.

Each episode begins with an introduction to the C.M.D.F. – Combined Miniature Defence Force, a top secret organisation the purpose of which is to combat the unseen enemies of freedom. The craft they use, called Voyager, is capable of working in any medium – water, air or space – and has a crew of four. To the twenty-first century adult, these characters may seem like clichés but to the undiscerning child they were created for they would have been taken at face value. The commander of Voyager is Jonathan Kidd, a ruggedly handsome one-eyed ‘All-American Hero’, a strong dependable man of action. Erica Lane is a very capable blonde doctor, there to show girls that they can have adventures, too, and fancies Kidd. Guru is a Hindu mystic who has been trained to use the powers of his mind. In various adventures, he uses telepathy, telekinesis and hypnotism to help the crew get out of trouble. The fourth member of the team is Busby Birdwell, the scientist and engineer who designed Voyager. He is the pilot of the craft and, initially, a reluctant team member and portrayed as the spectacled nerd. There is tension between him and Kidd, as he fancies Erica and between him and Guru as Busby does not believe in magic. There is, he knows, a scientific explanation for everything. This antagonism, which is very strong in the early episodes, gets a little wearing but tends to fade as the series progresses.

This first episode is probably the most imaginative and closest to the original concept. In its trial run, Voyager is dropped into a droplet of water and the crew see the kind of things which live there, including an animal which inadvertently puts them all in danger. In most of the other episodes the craft, is not miniaturised as much as it is visible to the naked eye, sometimes even as large as a toy plane. The only other episode that attempts this level of imagination again harks back to the original, the first written by Eric Blair, in which the team have to go into the brain of Guru in order to remove a blood clot, an injury caused by an attack by a rival for his mystic powers.

The first three episodes, all written by Ken Sobel (one of four writers overall) appear to set a pattern in which there is a problem to be solved and a fifth person, an expert, is taken along for the ride who subsequently turns out to be the villain of the piece. Although this pattern persists for a short time, other writers make the threats external. Although the formulaic patterns in plot construction may worry an adult viewer, it is just this that makes such stories appealing to the younger viewer.

After all this time and the advances in technology, there is always a question as to who would buy this set. Two groups – the adults who remember the original and want it as a piece of nostalgia, and grandparents the very young, for whom the lack of scientific accuracy is inconsequential. All the youngsters want is an exciting story.

Pauline Morgan

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