'Fantastic Voyage' (1966)

Disclaimer: Films listed here may be terrible, but they must have at least one scientifically interesting idea, however badly they may exploit that concept.

~Dr. Who and the Daleks (1965)
Peter Cushing, Roy Castle, Jennie Linden, Roberta Tovey, Barrie Ingham
C-79 mins.
Based on the BBC-TV series; Daleks concept by Terry Nation

So there’s this dotty old professor type who invents a machine (called Tardis in this film) that can travel not only through space but also time and is bigger on the inside than on the outside. Got that? Good, because those are among the few original notions attributable to this awkward spin-off from the TV series. The bulk of the film plays like almost any Saturday matinee serial from the ’30s or ’40s: The writers are at pains to see how often they could get their characters into and out of various scrapes. If you’re anywhere from seven to seventeen, this one’ll have you enthralled, but adult concepts like nuclear war and genocide might go over your head. There is one more nifty notion, however: the Daleks themselves, who are not robots or even androids but mutated people scurrying around in travel machines that look a lot like salt shakers — a nice idea vitiated by giving them the clichéd Achilles heel of being controlled from a central location, making them vulnerable to destruction by the actions of only one individual. You could call it The James T. Kirk Plot Resolver.

~Daleks — Invasion Earth: 2150 A.D. (1966)
Peter Cushing, Bernard Cribbins, Ray Brooks, Andrew Keir, Jill Curzon, Roberta Tovey, Philip Madoc
C-81 mins.
Based on the BBC-TV serial The Dalek Invasion of Earth; Daleks concept by Terry Nation

"Your bomb is designed to slide down this shaft, strike a fracture in the Earth’s inner surface, and so release the magnetic core of our planet. But the fracture is near the meeting point of the magnetic influence of the North and South poles. One mistake, one deviation in the aiming of your bomb and enough magnetic energy will be released to destroy you."
"There will be no mistake! These prisoners are to be exterminated!"
"One moment. You must listen to me. If you spare us, I can help you. I can show you how to neutralize this magnetism, so that your plan can be carried out with no danger to yourselves."
"Speak quickly!"
"But I — I’ll show you. Look! … Attention, all Robomen! Attack the Daleks!"

Not much of an improvement over the earlier film: still a lot of running hither and yon, which was typical of the TV series as well. The Doctor travels into Earth’s future and finds the Daleks up to no good, as usual. They’ve conquered the planet: Human society has collapsed but the more unsavory aspects of human nature are still much in evidence. In fact, people are often a greater threat than the aliens. So how can the Doctor undo these events, particularly since the Daleks have by now developed nearly unlimited mobility (unlike the first movie)? As you might have guessed, the screenwriters unabashedly whip out the old James T. Kirk Plot Resolver and violate just about every known scientific law by having the Daleks — but, no, you need to see it for yourself. What this film says about human beings is sobering and perhaps a bit too adult for smaller children.

~Fahrenheit 451 (1966)
Julie Christie, Oskar Werner, Cyril Cusack, Anton Diffring, Jeremy Spenser, Bee Duffell, Alex Scott
C-112 mins.
Based on Ray Bradbury’s 1953 novel

"Fahrenheit four-five-one is the temperature at which book paper catches fire and starts to burn."
"Do you remember what you asked me the other day if I ever read the books I burn? Remember?"
"Last night I read one."
"Today’s figures for operations in the urban area alone account for the elimination of a total of 2,750 pounds of conventional editions, 836 pounds of first editions, and 17 pounds of manuscripts were also destroyed. Twenty-three anti-social elements were detained, pending re-education."
"You see, it’s … it’s no good, Montag. We’ve all got to be alike. The only way to be happy is for everyone to be made equal."

An amazingly unexciting version of Bradbury’s book — which, by the way, he always maintained wasn’t about censorship per se but the pernicious effects on reading and understanding that the then-new technology of television would have. (Bradbury once wrote that the aim of science fiction isn’t to predict the future but to prevent it.) Beautiful Julie Christie is this film’s main asset, but even she can’t overcome a sluggish script; Oskar Werner alternates between deadpan and slightly less deadpan. Only Cyril Cusack shows any life as a willing cog in a state-sponsored machine of oppression — he enjoys his job. Of all the books seen or mentioned in the film, one that appears in the novel is conspicuously absent from the movie: the Bible.

~Fantastic Voyage (1966)
Stephen Boyd, Raquel Welch, Edmond O’Brien, Donald Pleasance, Arthur O’Connell, William Redfield, Arthur Kennedy, James Brolin
C-100 mins.
Novelization (which corrects some of the film’s errors) by Isaac Asimov

"The medieval philosophers were right. Man is the center of the universe. We stand in the middle of infinity between outer and inner space, and there’s no limit to either."
"Yet all the suns that light the corridors of the universe shine dim before the blazing of a single thought — "
 "— proclaiming in incandescent glory the myriad mind of Man."
"Very poetic, gentlemen. Let me know when we pass the soul."
"The soul? The finite mind cannot comprehend infinity — and the soul, which comes from God, is infinite."
"Yes, well, our time isn’t."
"Wait a minute! They can’t shrink me."
"Our miniaturizer can shrink anything."
"But I don’t want to be miniaturized!"
"It’s just for an hour."
"Not even for a minute!"
"Any questions?"
"Yes. When can I catch the next train back to town?"

Scientist Jan Benes, who knows the secret to keeping soldiers shrunken for an indefinite period, escapes from behind the Iron Curtain with the help of CIA agent Grant [Boyd]. While being transferred, their motorcade is attacked. Benes strikes his head, causing a blood clot to form in his brain. Grant is ordered to accompany a group of scientists as they are miniaturized. The crew
has one hour to get in Benes’s brain, remove the clot and get out. —  Brian Washington on IMDb

Someone doesn’t want Jan Benes to live, and that someone is on the team of scientists who have boarded a submarine and been shrunk down to less than molecular size to save Benes. Lantern-jawed Stephen Boyd is the security guy who’s tasked with finding the would-be murderer. With its vivid, kaleidoscopic colors and flickering light levels, this movie must have been ideal for anyone buzzed on LSD back in the ’60s. While the film picked up an Academy Award for special technical achievement, we still think the best visual effect is Ms. Welch.


~Seconds (1966)
Rock Hudson, Salome Jens, John Randolph, Will Geer, Jeff Corey, Richard Anderson, Murray Hamilton, Karl Swenson, Khigh Dhiegh, Frances Reid, Wesley Addy
BW-100/107 mins.

"What kind of man is he? There’s grace in the line and color, but it doesn’t emerge pure. It pushes at the edge of something still tentative, unresolved — as if somewhere in the man there is still a key unturned."
"That’s quite an analysis."
"Not really. When you come to think of it — it sort of fits everybody, doesn’t it?"
"The good things always happen with the rain."
"The question of death selection may be the most important decision in your life."
"Relax, old friend … Cranial drill."

What if someone offered you the chance to begin again, with a new life that was organized to be exactly what you wanted it to be? That’s what the organization offers some wealthy people. They find a life that is what their clients would have wanted, artist, writer, politician — kill the person who is to be replaced and surgically alter their clients to take their places. We follow a new client from first contact, through his staged death, to surgery, recovery and replacement. Of course that’s when things become complicated. — John Vogel on IMDb

If you had the chance to change your life completely, would you take it? But what if it meant someone else would have to die? That’s the premise of this one. The acting is top-notch: Rock Hudson is surprisingly effective. The final fadeout scene is harrowing and steeped in sadness (even if, as some point out, it may not be logical).

Mike Gray