Bantam Books obtained the rights for a paperback novelization based on the screenplay and approached Isaac Asimov to write it. Because the novelization was released six months before the movie, many people mistakenly believed the film was based on Asimov's book.
The movie inspired an animated television series.
The United States and the Soviet Union have both developed technology that can miniaturize matter by shrinking individual atoms, but only for a limited amount of time, depending on how small the item is miniaturized.
The scientist Dr. Jan Benes (Jean Del Val), working behind the Iron Curtain, has figured out how to make the process work indefinitely. With the help of the CIA, he escapes to the West, but an attempted assassination leaves him comatose with a blood clot in his brain.
To save his life, agent Charles Grant (Stephen Boyd), pilot Captain Bill Owens (William Redfield), Dr. Michaels (Donald Pleasence), surgeon Dr. Peter Duval (Arthur Kennedy), and his assistant Cora Peterson (Raquel Welch) are placed aboard a specially designed submarine at the C.M.D.F. (Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces) facilities. The submarine, named the Proteus, is then miniaturized and injected into Benes. The ship is reduced to one micrometer, giving the team one hour (60 minutes) to remove the clot. After the 60 minutes have elapsed, the Proteus and its crew will begin to revert to its normal size, become vulnerable to Benes's immune system, and (in the words of Asimov's novelization) "kill Benes regardless of the success of the surgery."
The crew faces many obstacles during the mission. An arteriovenous fistula forces them to detour through the heart, where cardiac arrest must be induced to avoid turbulence. They must replenish their supply of oxygen in the lungs, and then pass through the inner ear (all outside personnel have to remain silent to prevent turbulence). When the surgical laser needed to destroy the clot is damaged, it becomes obvious there is a saboteur on the mission. They are forced to cannibalize their wireless telegraph to repair the device. By the time they finally reach the clot, they have only six minutes remaining to operate and then exit the body.
Before the mission, Grant had been briefed that Duval was the prime suspect as a potential surgical assassin. But as the mission progresses, he pieces the evidence together and instead begins to suspect Michaels. During the critical phase of the operation, Dr. Michaels knocks Owens out and takes control of the Proteus while the rest of the crew is outside for the operation. Duval successfully removes the clot with the laser, but Michaels tries to crash the sub into the clot area to kill Benes. Grant fires the laser at the ship, causing it to veer away and crash. Michaels is trapped in the wreckage and killed when white blood cells attack and destroy the Proteus. Grant saves Owens from the ship and they all swim desperately to one of Benes's eyes, where they escape through a tear duct seconds before returning to normal size. The film fails to explain how the Proteus failed to return to normal size.
The original screenplay included a follow-up scene in which it is disclosed that, because of brain damage caused by the submarine, Benes no longer remembers the formula for unlimited miniaturization. Surviving stills suggest that this scene was filmed but never used.Stephen Boyd as Charles Grant
Raquel Welch as Cora Peterson
Edmond O'Brien as General Carter
Donald Pleasence as Dr. Michaels
Arthur O'Connell as Colonel Donald Reid
William Redfield as Captain Bill Owens
Arthur Kennedy as Dr. Peter Duval
Jean Del Val as Dr. Jan Benes
Barry Coe as communications aide
Ken Scott as a Secret Service agent
Shelby Grant as nurse
James Brolin as technician
Director Richard Fleischer had originally studied medicine and human anatomy in college before choosing to be a movie director.
For the technical and artistic elaboration of the subject, Richard Fleischer asked for the collaboration of two people of the crew he had worked with on the production of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the film he directed for Walt Disney in 1954. The designer of the Nautilus from the Jules Verne adaptation, Harper Goff, also designed the Proteus; the same technical advisor, Fred Zendar, collaborated on both productions.
The military headquarters is 100×30 metres, the Proteus 14×8. The artery, in resin and fiberglass, is 33 metres long and 7 metres wide; the heart is 45×10; the brain 70×33. The plasma effect is produced by chief operator Ernest Laszlo via the use of multicolored turning lights, placed on the outside translucent decors.
Frederick Schodt's book The Astro Boy Essays: Osamu Tezuka, Mighty Atom, and the Manga/Anime Revolution claims that FOX had wanted to use ideas from an episode of Japanese animator Osamu Tezuka's Astro Boy in the film, but it never credited him.
Isaac Asimov, asked to write the novelization from the script, declared that the script was full of plot holes, and received permission to write the book the way he wanted. The novel came out first because he wrote quickly and because of delays in filming.
In the film, the crew (apart from the saboteur) manage to leave Benes's body safely before reverting to normal size, but the Proteus remains inside, as do the remains of the saboteur's body (albeit digested by a white blood cell), and several gallons (full scale) of a carrier solution (presumably saline) used in the injection syringe. Isaac Asimov pointed out that this was a serious logical flaw in the plot, since the submarine (even if reduced to bits of debris) would also revert to normal size, killing Benes in the process. Therefore, in his novelization Asimov had the crew provoke the white cell into following them, so that it drags the submarine to the tear duct, and its wreckage expands outside Benes's body. Asimov solved the problem of the syringe fluid by having the staff inject only a very small amount of miniaturized fluid into Benes, minimizing its effect on him when it expands.
The score was composed and conducted by Leonard Rosenman. The composer deliberately wrote no music for the first four reels of the film, before the protagonists enter the human body. Rosenman wrote that "the harmony for the entire score is almost completely atonal except for the very end when our heroes grow to normality".
The film received mostly positive reviews and a few criticisms. The weekly entertainment-trade magazine Variety gave the film a positive pre-release review, stating, "The lavish production, boasting some brilliant special effects and superior creative efforts, is an entertaining, enlightening excursion through inner space—the body of a man."
Bosley Crowther of the New York Times summarized, "Yessir, for straight science-fiction, this is quite a film—the most colorful and imaginative since Destination Moon" (1950).
Richard Schickel of Life Magazine wrote that the rewards would be "plentiful" to audiences who get over the "real whopper" of suspended disbelief required. He found that though the excellent special effects and sets could distract from the scenery's scientific purpose in the story, the "old familiar music of science fiction" in lush new arrangements was a "true delight," and the seriousness with which screenwriter Kleiner and director Fleischer treated the story made it more believable and fun. Schickel made note of, but dismissed, other critics's allegations of "camp."
As of 2012, the film holds a 92% approval rating at the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, with the consensus being: "The special effects may be a bit dated today, but Fantastic Voyage still holds up well as an imaginative journey into the human body."
The film won two Academy Awards and was nominated for three more:Academy Awards (1966)
Best Art Direction – Color (Art Direction: Jack Martin Smith and Dale Hennesy; Set Decoration: Walter M. Scott and Stuart A. Reiss)
Best Special Visual Effects (Art Cruickshank)
Best Cinematography (Ernest Laszlo)
Best Film Editing (William B. Murphy)
Best Sound Effects (Walter Rossi)
American Film Institute lists
AFI's 100 Years...100 Movies – Nominated
AFI's 100 Years of Film Scores – Nominated
AFI's 10 Top 10 – Nominated Science Fiction Film
After acquiring the film's paperback novelization rights, Bantam Books approached Isaac Asimov to write the novelization, offering him a flat sum of $5,000 with no royalties involved. In his autobiography In Joy Still Felt, Asimov writes, "I turned down the proposal out of hand. Hackwork, I said. Beneath my dignity." However, Bantam Books persisted, and at a meeting with Marc Jaffe and Marcia Nassiter on April 21, 1965, Asimov agreed to read the screenplay.
In the novelization's introduction, Asimov states that he was rather reluctant to write the book because he believed that the miniaturization of matter was physically impossible. But he decided that it was still good fodder for story-telling and that it could still make for some intelligent reading. In addition, 20th Century Fox was known to want someone with some science-fiction clout to help promote the film. To his credit, aside from the initial "impossibility" of the shrinking machine, Asimov made extensive use of his background in hard science and went to great lengths to portray with great accuracy what it would actually be like to be shrunk to that scale, such as the lights on the sub being highly penetrating to normal matter, time distortion, and other side effects that are completely ignored in the movie.
As noted above, Asimov was bothered by the way the Proteus was left in Benes, and in a subsequent meeting with Jaffe he insisted that he would have to change the ending so that the submarine was brought out. Asimov also felt the need to gain permission from his usual science fiction publisher, Doubleday, to write the novel. Doubleday did not object, and had suggested his name to Bantam in the first place. Asimov began work on the novel on May 31, and completed it on July 23.
Asimov did not want any of his books, even a film novelization, to appear only in paperback, so in August he persuaded Austin Olney of Houghton Mifflin to publish a hardcover edition, assuring him that the book would sell at least eight thousand copies, which it did. However, since the rights to the story were held by Otto Klement, who had co-written the original story treatment, Asimov would not be entitled to any royalties. By the time the hardcover edition was published in March 1966, Houghton Mifflin had persuaded Klement to allow Asimov to have a quarter of the royalties. Klement also negotiated for The Saturday Evening Post to serialize an abridged version of the novel, and he agreed to give Asimov half the payment for it. Fantastic Voyage appeared in the February 26 and March 12, 1966 issues of the Post.
Bantam Books released the paperback edition of the novel in September 1966 to coincide with the release of the film.
Harry Harrison, reviewing the Asimov novelization, called it a "Jerry-built monstrosity", praising the descriptions of science-fiction events as "Asimov at his best" while condemning the narrative framework as "inane drivel".Gold Key: Fantastic Voyage (February 1967)
Fantastic Voyage II: Destination Brain was written by Isaac Asimov as an attempt to develop and present his own story apart from the 1966 screenplay. This novel is not a sequel to the original, but instead is a separate story taking place in the Soviet Union with an entirely different set of characters.
Fantastic Voyage: Microcosm is a third interpretation, written by Kevin J. Anderson, published in 2001. This version has the crew of the Proteus explore the body of a dead alien that crash-lands on earth, and updates the story with such modern concepts as nanotechnology (replacing killer white cells).
A comic book adaptation of the film was released by Gold Key Comics in 1967. Drawn by Wally Wood, the book followed the plot of the movie with general accuracy, but many scenes were depicted differently and/or outright dropped, and the ending was given an epilogue similar as that seen in some of the early draft scripts for the film.
A parody of the film titled Fantastecch Voyage was published in Mad Magazine. It was illustrated by Mort Drucker and written by Larry Siegel, two members of "The Usual Gang Of Idiots", in regular issue #110, April 1967. The advertising-business-themed spoof has the crew—from L.S.M.F.T. (Laboratory Sector for Making Folks Tiny)—sent to inject decongestant into a badly plugged-up nose.
Two years after the film was released, ABC aired an animated series of the same name on Saturday mornings. The series was produced by Filmation. Gold Key published a comic book based on the series.
In the series, a different team of experts performed their missions in a craft called the Voyager, a submarine which featured wedge-shaped wings and a large, swept T-tail, and was capable of flight. A model kit of the Voyager was offered by Aurora Model Company for several years, and has become a sought-after collectors' item since then.
As of June 2008, the Voyager kit has been re-released by the Moebius model company.
A japanese anime series which ran from April 16 to November 19, 1986 in Tokyo.
In 1987, director Joe Dante made Innerspace, which reworked the story of Fantastic Voyage, but remade it as a comedy starring Dennis Quaid, Martin Short, and Meg Ryan. A test miniaturized sub and pilot are injected into a grocery store clerk in error, instead of a test rabbit as planned. Now trapped in an unwitting human's body, the pilot needs to work with the clerk to escape and stop the bad guys from trying to steal the prototype technology.
Antibody, a movie closely based on Fantastic Voyage, was released on the SciFi channel in 2002. In this film a submarine with its crew is miniaturized and injected into the body of a terrorist, to prevent an attack on Washington D.C.
Plans for a sequel or remake have been in discussion since at least 1984, but as of the beginning of July 2015, the project remained stuck in development hell. In 1984, Isaac Asimov was approached to write Fantastic Voyage II, out of which a movie would be made. Asimov "was sent a suggested outline" that mirrored the movie Innerspace and "involved two vessels in the bloodstream, one American and one Soviet, and what followed was a kind of submicroscopic version of World War III." Asimov was against such an approach. Following a dispute between publishers, the original commissioners of the novel approached Philip José Farmer, who "wrote a novel and sent [in] the manuscript" that was rejected despite "stick[ing] tightly to the outline [that was sent to Asimov]." "It dealt with World War III in the bloodstream, and it was full of action and excitement." Although Asimov urged the publisher to accept Farmer's manuscript, it was insisted that Asimov write the novel. So, Asimov eventually wrote the book in his own way (completely different in plot from what [Farmer] had written), which was eventually published by Doubleday in 1987 as Fantastic Voyage II and "dealt not with competing submarines in the bloodstream, but with one submarine, with [an] American hero cooperating (not entirely voluntarily) with four Soviet crew members." The novel was not made into a movie, however.
James Cameron was also interested in directing a remake (since at least 1997), but decided to devote his efforts to his Avatar project. He still remained open to the idea of producing a feature based on his own screenplay, and in 2007, 20th Century Fox announced that pre-production on the project was finally underway. Roland Emmerich agreed to direct, but rejected the script written by Cameron. Marianne and Cormac Wibberley were hired to write a new script, but the 2007–2008 Writers Guild of America strike delayed filming, and Emmerich began working on 2012 instead.
In spring 2010, Paul Greengrass was considering directing the remake from a script written by Shane Salerno and produced by James Cameron, but later dropped out to be replaced by Shawn Levy. It is intended that the film be shot in native stereoscopic 3D.
In January 2016, The Hollywood Reporter reported that Guillermo del Toro is in talks to direct the reboot by reteaming with David S. Goyer, who is writing the film's script with Justin Rhodes with Cameron still on the film by his production company Lightstorm Entertainment.