Why ‘Prometheus’ gets it all wrong, and why it matters

There were a lot of things wrong with Prometheus (daft dialogue, ridiculous character behaviour, odd-pacing, odd-editing and incongruous music), but I’m only going to focus on the greatest error the film made: its ridiculous distain for scientific fact. I’m going to explain just how badly the writers got it wrong and why it matters. I almost laughed before I realised how tragic the tale is.

If you’re telling a fantasy story you can pretty much get away with anything. With science fiction, depending on how “hard” or “soft” you want it: you can get away with a lot less or a bit less respectively. Prometheus fails as science fiction because there is nothing more scientific about its premise than the Never Ending Story’s. But even if you want to say that Prometheus is a bit of fantasy fun set in space, it still fails because it contradicts some of the most important and established knowledge we have, just as any fantasy story that depicted the earth as being the fourth planet from the sun would instantly lose all credibility and connection with the audience. Similarly, even a fantasy about humans must depict them as creatures with two arms, two legs, and not, for example, 100 tentacles.  We know that the earth is not the fourth planet from the sun, so whatever planet “earth” we are told is the fourth from its sun, it’s not ours, and it’s not our earth, and it’s not us, just like we might connect with a 100-limbed fantasy species and even empathise with them, but if you call them “human” you’re just being silly. But imagine that a large politically-powerful group of people had a vested interest in perpetuating a myth that our earth is in fact the fourth planet from the sun. All the evidence notwithstanding, Mars is the third planet and Earth is the fourth. What seems like a scientific faux pas and bit of fantasy fun takes on a darker and worrying shade. Well that is the problem with Prometheus.

The basic plot of Prometheus is: an alien race dropped their DNA in the oceans of earth long ago and so created humans. This is about as scientific as saying that you can take a drop of blood from a dog, inject it into a giraffe, and expect the giraffe to give birth to dogs or giraffe-dog hybrids. The very definition of “species” in fact is a community that can only breed successfully with itself.

During the film, it’s discovered that these aliens called “Engineers” have a 100% DNA match with humans. This is either rubbish or meaningless, take your pick. If the writers were trying to say that the Engineers are genetically similar to humans, the match is trivial: every living thing that lives or has ever lived on this planet shares the same DNA. A lot of DNA is arguably junk anyway, but “there is more than 95% to 98% similarity between related genes in humans and apes in general. (Just as in the mouse, quite a few genes probably are not common to humans and apes, and these may influence uniquely human or ape traits.) Similarities between mouse and human genes range from about 70% to 90%, with an average of 85% similarity but a lot of variation from gene to gene…” [source] So if they have the same DNA code as us, so what? That only proves that they evolved on earth. But if the insinuation is that they are a 100% DNA match with humans, despite being aliens, that is nonsense because…they aren’t human! That would be like a forensic detective placing you at a murder scene 5000 miles away and 5000 years in the past, because your DNA was a 100% match to a criminal in the past, which is impossible, or matching you because you both happen to be human beings…

But, even if aliens could drop something in earth’s primordial oceans that could somehow mingle with DNA…even that doesn’t make sense because evolution simply doesn’t work that way. A few Star Trek episodes tried to do something similar with evolution and failed for the same reasons. In those stories, the premise was that evolution could be sped up and the results observed in hours or days instead of millions of years. This is such a spectacular misunderstanding of evolution that it makes me depressed just thinking about it. But before I explain that, let’s start at the beginning:

All living things on this planet are the product of common descent. We all share the same DNA and metabolise energy in the same way because those fundamental parts of life happened once, billions of years ago, and not again. All life is descended from very simple self-replicating molecules. On this planet, DNA eventually got this job and the code used is the same today as it was 3 billion years ago. (If life exists on another planet, it too almost certainly started with very simple self-replicating molecules, but it’s overwhelmingly improbable that it would evolve the same DNA code as Earth’s, if it even used DNA at all.) Today, there are thousands of computer programming languages because each was designed by a human computer programmer for a specific need. But in nature, there is only one programming language and it had to be modified and utilised only by trial-by-fire selection in the wild over a very long time. (Incidentally, the ubiquity of this one (and only one) natural language is another argument against intelligent design.)

The “Engineers” could not have any DNA similarity with us unless they came from earth, which they clearly did not do. But we didn’t see the Engineers dropping DNA into the earth 3.5 billion years ago (unless the opening scene of the film was supposed to be earth at that time…in which case I suggest History of the Earth 101 for the writers to give them an idea of what this planet was like so early in its life. Let’s just say Hell would’ve been more hospitable.)  But suppose the engineers got DNA started in the first place (which isn’t implied in the film) all those aeons ago. Is that any better? Nope. Which brings us to:

Humans look the way we do because on this planet we are a member of the primate family. We share a common ancestor with all apes alive today, and our nearest relatives are chimpanzees. The modern human being as we know it today is only about 150,000 years old. But, we didn’t have to evolve this way. On earth, countless unpurposed events directed life in different directions. To name just two: the great oxygen catastrophe and the Cretaceous–Paleogene event (which wiped out the dinosaurs) – two events which forever shifted the course of evolution on Earth, and which were unplanned and devastating in their own right. The oxygen catastrophe didn’t have to happen, but it did. A meteor didn’t have to hit the earth and wipe out the dinosaurs, but it did. On this planet in the past, creatures that we would call primates today found it advantageous to walk upright thus freeing their hands for manipulating the world. On this world, that gave them an advantage over their competitors in the wild. Those creatures which would become us developed higher intelligence as tool-using thinkers. But as Chuck from sfdesbris.com says: “it’s not enough to be smarter, smarter has to give you a distinct advantage.” It’s not a foregone conclusion that evolution will lead to intelligent life, although given time and the right conditions one might expect it to. One might also expect that intelligent life on other worlds would be analogous to humans as tool-using thinkers, using their appendages to manipulate the world and freeing up their bodies to evolve larger brains. But that is not to say at all that such life would also evolve from creatures that would look anything like primates – they could just as easily look like walking octopuses. Again, on earth – we look the way we do, not because some alien dropped some DNA in a pool 3 billion years ago (and most certainly no sooner), but because we evolved from similar looking creatures who evolved from similar looking creatures, all of whom can call themselves descendants of apes, who in turn can call themselves descendants of whatever small mammals remained (or evolved) after the mass destruction of the dinosaurs left niches in nature for new creatures to fill.

To say that aliens created humans is absolutely stupid because we already know how life developed on this planet and everything we know and have ever learned in biology, genetics and geology confirms it – just like we know the Earth is the third planet from the sun. And this makes the entire premise of the film pointless, (much like the Answers in Genesis website). It’s like a great mystery novel akin to the space equivalent of Angels and Demons, but the final startling revelation being: the earth is flat and the sun orbits it.

No matter how wild your story premise is, there must be a part of the audience that thinks “this could happen, this is how things might’ve have been, even if they weren’t.” For example, imagine a story where aliens brainwash Hitler to invade Poland. Silly, yes, but at least it can’t be disproved. (Of course, something isn’t proven true just because it can’t be disproved.) But with Prometheus, it simply can’t be true, because we didn’t pop into existence with unique DNA 150,000 years ago – we evolved from other species very slowly and share our DNA with all other life on earth. The story is not reflective or metaphorical, it’s dumb.

The only way to have Prometheus’s story make any sense as regards its DNA claim is to say that aliens created DNA itself and put it on earth 3 billion years ago, but even that doesn’t explain why the aliens are almost identical to humans: you cannot predict which path evolution will take because evolution, by very definition, is simply the change of gene frequencies in generations responding to the pressure of natural selection. Natural selection can be caused by sexuality and/or environment, but it’s location specific. The millions of varieties of life you see on earth today are only possible because it takes evolution that long to produce any noticeable change at all, especially speciation (although evolution on every meaningful level is an observed documented fact.) To illustrate this by contrast: if a species were already perfectly suited to its environment and its surroundings never changed, that species would never change (and evolve), not in ten million years.

But why does it matter? It matters because Prometheus is a major international release that completely abuses a wondrous field of science. It’s rubbish at best and slander at worst. It matters because there are people in positions of power who deny evolution because it contradicts their ignorant beliefs about the universe, and they want to push those beliefs on you and your children, by law, in the classroom. It matters because evolution is as established and beautiful a scientific fact as anything the human race has ever discovered, and it’s a travesty that it’s so badly misunderstood in the 21st century, so much so that most people who see Prometheus won’t even notice anything wrong with its “science”.

And the moral of Prometheus the film? Our protagonist Elizabeth Shaw regains her faith in god (of course, the personal choice of god of the writer, which is the Christian version). At one point she is teased about her faith with the claim “I guess creating life is easy…anyone can do it…you just need some DNA.” But that’s the kind of nonsense strawman of evolution that no evolutionist ever claimed! Life didn’t happen on earth because of some DNA in an ocean…DNA is only a coding language. It is genes that allow characteristics to pass from generation to generation, and NATURAL (or sexual) SELECTION is the only method by why nature can pass on some genes and withhold others. So no, you need more than just a bit of DNA…and that fact is totally ignored (deliberately?) by the writer(s) of Prometheus. Is there any other scientific field that could be so grossly disfigured and butchered by a film writer in this day and age and still get approved? I don’t think so. What do you think?

The irony here is sadly amusing: if the moral of the story was to have the protagonist reclaim her faith in god and challenge the notion that life on earth evolved naturally…it speaks volumes that such a notion was only possible in a fantasy land where the real world can be ignored and the movie script can make the impossible possible, just like the bible has the sun stand still in the sky. Most people don’t take those stories seriously, with good reason. But some do unfortunately, and they even try to re-write scientific fact to suit their beliefs. Some even use their big chance writing a Hollywood screenplay to push their creationist agenda on a worldwide audience. The sad thing? Many people don’t know any better.

***

Further reading:

The Greatest Show on Earth by Richard Dawkins. Not arguments, no debate. Read this if you doubt the facts.

Evolution at Wikipedia (if I were ever to endorse compulsory education this would be the second thing on my list.)

Other good critical reviews:

http://www.skepticalraptor.com/skepticalraptorblog.php/ridley-scotts-prometheus-anti-science/

Privileged Planet? Yeah right…

Imagine receiving a gift from a long-lost relative: a great mansion; on the outside the most beautiful house you could conceive. Unfortunately, over 80% of the mansion is uninhabitable, partly due to flooding, partly due to mould or razor sharp rocks. Other parts of the mansion are closed off from collapsed roofs and other areas have dangerous animals infesting them. Of the 20% of the mansion that you can actually live in, most of that is too cold in the night and too hot during the day – you have to wear protective gear most of the time. There are insects carrying diseases around it and invisible viruses and bacteria that can make you very sick, if not kill you. Worse, parts of the mansion are prone to structural collapse at any moment with harmful or even fatal results. Even this 20% of the house that can you get by in was only re-conditioned that way by countless previous owners, each struggling to improve it over the course of their entire lives; the work even costing many their lives. Outside the house is an unbreathable expanse, entering which even for a split second means certain death.

Now imagine being told that the state of this mansion is no accident, but a wonderful gift that hasn’t simply fallen into disrepair – no, this great house was designed specifically for you, and its current condition is exactly how the designer wanted you to receive it! This is just the look he was going for! This is the best house that could possibly be imagined! There is simply no improving this building, you are told. More so, the designer expects you to be eternally grateful for this gift every day – but if something goes wrong with the house, it’s your fault. Worse, if you can’t understand why on earth anyone would specifically design a house like this, you aren’t intelligent or spiritual enough to grasp his higher motives. Finally, imagine being told that the designer was the most intelligent individual who’s ever lived, the greatest structural engineer of them all, the master of building design, an expert in human biology, and someone who truly cares about his work and the people who live in his homes…

How many people on earth today accept creationism?

The ‘good of The Game’ and other ‘Higher Purpose’ fallacies

One of the most common pieces of rhetoric I hear is what I’ll call the “greater good” fallacy – though it comes in many forms. You even hear it in football circles when people refer to this mysterious and supernatural force called “the good of the game”. Outside of football it’s “the good of society”, but it’s all variations on a theme: some transcendent higher cause external and beyond us. “Us” of course can only mean some limited number of individuals, you and me.

Here’s an example of this nonsense in action. The details are irrelevant here and I’m paraphrasing: a football manager recently was denied permission to speak to another club who wanted to hire him, which they had every right to do. He resigned, but they rejected his resignation. One commenter essentially said: ‘yes he has a contract there and yes they have the right to reject approaches for him under contract, but at some point you have to think about what the manager wants and what’s best for the game.’ What does that even mean? What is this “game” being referred to? Football. Ok…so what does “football” want? What does “football” like and dislike? What is its favourite meal? Does it like music?

Absurd? Yes I think so too. But notice how this “good of football” rhetoric can be applied to just about anything and make as much sense. In the example above let’s flip the comment to: “yes the manager wants to leave and yes he has a right to resign and accept another job if he wants to, but at some point you have to think about what the club wants and what’s best for the game.”

“A club can in theory pay as much as they like for a player and they can pay that player whatever wages they want…but at some point you have to think about what’s best for football”. Ok, so salary caps then. But hang on a second, couldn’t we just say: “You might not like to see such disproportions in salaries and exorbitant fees exchanging hands over one player…but at some point you have think about what’s best for football.”

Here’s another example: “yes a man has the right over his own mind and body, and yes he has a right over his own property and choices, but at some point you have to think about what’s best for society”, and you can justify taxation. But that exact same sentence could be used to justify conscription or anything else you can think of. (Hell, it could be used to justify cannibalism). And that’s why it’s fallacious: there is no logical connection, no necessarily chain of reasoning from the premise to the conclusion. The “greater good” fallacy rests on an unspoken assumption implicitly accepted by all parties (unless they are shrewd enough to reject the bankrupt ethics at work): that there is actually a higher purpose at work. Even if there were, it would still not necessarily follow that the Higher Purpose™ demanded this, that and the other from us – not without a sound argument. The examples above prove this: you can twist the “good of the game” or “best for football/society/community/whole” to mean whatever you want it to mean. I could say that I don’t expect you to buy beggars on the street meals for the rest of their lives, but at some point you need to think about what’s best for society.

As it happens, there’s no such force at work anyway: there is no Higher Purpose. There is no such thing as the “good of football” and don’t be taken in by the ignorant who spout this rubbish on TV to justify their particular subjective opinion. In football, there are only fans, players and owners, each of whom are individual human beings with their own values. But there is no such thing as a value disconnected from an individual person – and whenever you hear anyone imply differently the alarm bells should be going immediately! Only living entities have values, so when you hear someone talk about a “good” above and beyond any individuals, what they’re really saying is that this thing is value…but to no one in particular!

What do all these “good of the [insert higher purpose higher]” fallacies have in common? What do they play on? As I said above, they rest on the unspoken (and wrong) premise of a value external to us (which is a contradiction in terms). But this is really transparent when we break the assertions down: they all ask for a sacrifice; they work by saying ‘your personal interest might be this…but you must give it up’. And this works because it’s just assumed that a “higher purpose” is necessarily beyond our petty selfish individual values – and this is actually true, in the same way that no one has ever seen the Invisible Pink Unicorn – but it isn’t because she’s invisible! Everything that is a value in this reality is a value to someone. If it weren’t, it wouldn’t be a value! (Who would value it??) So the only way to get someone to accept this garbage concept of Higher Cause is to define it as being of no personal value. In other words: ‘it’s a Higher Value precisely because you don’t value it.’

Once you understand this fallacy you will see it everywhere, especially in politics. The reason it’s so popular is because if your audience accepts it, you can get them to do anything without any argument. It’s so simple: tell them it’s for a Value they don’t hold, and if they don’t see how that benefits them tell them that’s precisely the point! If it benefited you (i.e. any individual), well, it wouldn’t be “Higher” then would it?!

The Head versus the Heart – Is Love Rational?

In the words of Chris de Burgh, “it’s the classical dilemma, between the head and heart.” The head says one thing, the heart says another. The rational cold objective facts versus passion and senseless emotion. Is love irrational? Is there a necessary conflict between head and heart? I don’t think so.

Food and drink

But, there would seem to be. It’s quite obvious that love can make people do crazy things or act in irrational ways. In fact, on the face of it, there would seem to be an innate conflict in human nature between what we want and what’s best for us. A trivial example is one that I’m all too familiar with: a good curry. I could probably eat curry every day and never get bored with it; I love it. But my rational mind tells me that too much too often of the saturated-fat ridden delicacy is deleterious to my health, and waistline. Is this a conflict between head and heart, or mind and body? Well, instead of curry let’s say it’s something far more pernicious: heroin. In the words of one user it’s “as if you are kissing the creator.” I really can’t imagine how psychologically and physically pleasurable it must be but let’s say that, again in the words of the user: “you will NEVER feel that way again, although you will certainly try.” It’s certain that whilst the body might crave the pleasurable (a perfectly natural desire), not every desire is good for us. And just as we are beings of body and mind, so there are things which are bad for our bodies, our minds, and both. Heroin might feel amazing, but it’s not good for either, if “good” is taken to mean “that which is proper to the life of a rational being” which is how the philosopher Ayn Rand described it. Conversely the bad is “all that which destroys it.

So if we desired heroin, our rationality should win over and say “no”; we’d have to say that the desire is bad. Knowing that, we shouldn’t even want it. I’m not talking about addicts going through withdrawal here, as their rational judgement is indeed comprised, but it’s to illustrate that there’s a reason that the 99.99% of the planet who aren’t addicts aren’t smacking up every day, and it’s not just because the drug is illegal; it’s because most of us realise that it’s not in our selfish best interest to get high, despite any transitory euphoria. So the “conflict” isn’t really a conflict at all.

That might not sound very convincing so far. That might sound like word play, trying to define the contradiction away. ‘The conflict still exists’ some might say. That would be true, if human beings were slaves to emotions and had no way to control them. Fortunately, we do. Ayn Rand saidEmotions are produced by man’s premises, held consciously or subconsciously, explicitly or implicitly.” What this means essentially, and quite elegantly, is that our emotions are properly the results of our actions (or of events, of course). Just because it’s true on principle that pleasure feels good and human beings seek pleasure, it does not therefore follow that we should seek all forms of pleasure, as if the desire for pleasure was a primary. Otherwise we would think ‘I like to feel physical pleasure. Heroin gives physical pleasure. Therefore I should take heroin.’ Of course we want physical pleasure (or any pleasure) but we choose how to obtain it. How do we choose? By reference to our standard of “good” and “bad” of course, as described above: that which is proper to our lives.

To continue the heroin example just a bit longer: as rational beings we have identified this drug as not proper to our lives well-lived. We have programmed our emotions to react accordingly, just as I have programmed myself to not over-indulge on unhealthy food. One of the benefits of forming our value judgements so that they correspond to what is actually proper for us is that we don’t feel guilty when indulging in something we shouldn’t – and for the same reason we don’t indulge in that which will make us feel guilty. For example, we all know the “guilty” pleasure of having a double helping of ice-cream for example, or an extra curry, or another bag of crisps, or one-too-many drinks; we feel guilt, to ourselves, because we are (in an admittedly trivial sense) betraying our principles. We know it’s not good for us, but we’re doing it anyway – we are (again, in a rather trivial example of a much grander principle) acting contrary to our well-being and our lives. But whilst this is a conflict, it’s not a necessary one. Juxtaposed to the guilt, how much better does a “well earned” curry or glass of wine feel when it’s consonant with our life, when it takes its proper place as a treat, something to be savoured in our diet, and not us ‘pigging out’ because we can’t help ourselves? And why does it feel better? Because we’ve programmed (consciously and subconsciously) our emotional response to appreciate pleasure more when it serves our rational interests. That is, emotions should serve us, not the other way around. Or to put it in scientific terms: cause should precede effect.

I don’t think this is anything special or unusual. Most of us do this every day without thinking. For example: the alarm goes off and you’re in bed. It’s cold and dark outside, you’re nice and warm in bed. You’re tired. You’d love an extra hour of sleep. But you have work. The senseless pleasure-only creature would think “stuff work” and turn the alarm off. But no rational person, no matter how tired or comfortable, could possibly enjoy that lie-in knowing they were jeopardising their job (and therefore well-being). To flog this dead horse one more time: a conflict between mind and body, head and start, only exists if one is irrational to begin with. The rational person sees no conflict because his emotions serve him, not the other way around. In fact it’s quite easy to project what would happen to a person who served his or her emotions; living a proper life would be impossible.

Friendship

We will get to love but before then it’s necessary to lay the groundwork for all the elements of it. Let’s take friendship, which also involves a form of love. Friendship is undoubtedly one of the most rational endeavours one could ever engage in. With platonic friendships this seems a no-brainer: no one is friends with someone they hate. Nobody wishes to not be friends with someone they deeply admire. Friendship is probably the best example of the head and heart working together (as they should) because all the psychological and physical benefits we get from friendship are a naturally and rational consequence of the objective and “cold” truth that another human being is a value in our lives. (Friendship is better than family in a sense since we cannot choose our family, which may or may not be a good thing – fortunately for me it is). Friendships don’t happen by accident. They happen because we encounter people who share values with us. The more our values align the easier it is to form bonds, and the more fundamental and life-affirming the values being shared the deeper the friendship. For example, one pair of friends might get on well because they support the same football team, but would their bond be as profound and deep as another pair who are passionate about individualism and human freedom, about life-affirming values as such whether they agree on any particular optional values (like football clubs)? In other words, which bond would be easier (or possible) to break, the former or the latter?

We simply don’t make friends with people we dislike. We don’t like to help them or support them or even associate with them. We get no pleasure from them and might even feel displeasure at the thought of them flourishing. Again, this is a perfectly rational response – the emotion logically flows from the objective value judgement in our head; the head and heart sing from the same hymn sheet. We love our friends and we hate our enemies.

Sex

Before we discuss romantic love, there’s another mind/body issue: sex. Like a good curry, sex is pleasurable. Of course, not everyone likes curry, and not everyone likes the same thing in sex. In the words of Phoebe Buffet “sometimes men love women, sometimes men love men”. It’s obvious that simply say “sex is good” is far too lacking in context: a gay person, although he or she likes sex, doesn’t want it with a member of the opposite sex; they have no desire for that and would gain no pleasure from it. I always find it laughable when people say that “sex is just sex” when even by the loosest of any standards it’s not: there is always a psychological and emotional factor at work, no matter how shallow. If there weren’t, it wouldn’t matter if you were gay or straight, it quite literally wouldn’t matter who the other person was – and obviously this is never the case. And if anyone says ‘I’ll sleep with anyone’ I’d reply ‘so you wouldn’t mind being raped?’ Crude, I know – but it does hammer the point home: sex, like every other ‘physical’ aspect of our emotions is still a programmed response to our values. On a lighter note, one might’ve had the experience to feel a gentle lady run their fingers through your hair only to turn around and realise it was your big hairy male best friend. “Ooh that’s nice that” turns into “get off me you fag!” All in good humour of course. But the point is: our bodies respond to pleasure automatically and naturally – but even then in context. Without giving this blog an adult-rating, I’m sure the reader can discern what I mean when I say that “a good feeling” is a good feeling is a good feeling, right? Well, not quite. We might like something sexual, but not when performed by say, a family member or, depending on your preference, the same sex – even though the physical action would be the same. To illustrate: if a genderless and sexless alien visited earth it might not be able to comprehend that if you enjoy some particular physical contact, why it matters who is causing it! To the alien it might be just as incomprehensible as a human not enjoying a curry just because it’s on a different coloured plate!

Of course, to us humans it does matter, which is the only point I wanted to make: our values are a factor in sex. Even if the values are shallow, poorly chosen, contradictory or ignored, they are present. We can question our motivating factors and values, often rightly so, but very rarely (if ever) will our sexual response be inharmonious with our values.

But this all seems rather tautological doesn’t it? Isn’t this just another way of saying: we don’t want what we don’t want; we don’t desire what we don’t desire; we don’t get turned on by that which doesn’t turn us on? We want what we want and we get turned on by that which turns us on? Hardly a ground-breaking philosophical discussion so far.

But actually, that is my whole point: if our emotional response is programmed by our rational values, if our heart is led by our head and not the other way around, that is indeed the case! It is logical and obvious, and even redundant to say, that we like what is good for us and don’t like what is bad for us (or in a broader ethical sense, that which furthers the life we want to life as we want to live it, or that which does the opposite).

Love

So then why the popular notion that romantic love causes a split between the head and the heart – a conflict between what we want and what is good for us, between the sensible and the crazy? Reflecting on this article so far, assuming we accept the conclusions reached, this notion doesn’t seem to make much sense anymore: this is where the three elements covered so far all come together in harmony: pleasure (psychological and emotional), friendship and sex. If all three are present with romantic love (incidentally when I say sex I don’t necessarily mean the physical act, just as long as there is sexual attraction, otherwise the relationship is indistinguishable from friendship), and we’ve seen that all three as emotional responses are logical results of our rational values, why should it be any different when they’re all together with someone you’re in love with? In other words, is there a necessary conflict between the head and heart where being in love is concerned? Clearly, no.

Why then does it seem this way a lot of time? The answer, or at least my answer, goes back to what I said above and is based on the philosophy of Ayn Rand: if there is a conflict it’s because one is putting the heart above the head; trying to serve emotions or chase consequences instead of acting rationally to achieve values. To be sure, achieving values (like love) gives emotional pleasure, our body’s “success” response. But it doesn’t mean that one can “shortcut” their way to success without going through the rational steps. Actually, this is precisely what “whim worshipping” and emotion-chasing is: trying to cheat your way to the finish line without running the race; pretending that if one can only feel good it doesn’t matter how or why. As we saw above, of course these conflicts exist, but are they necessary – does it have to be this way? Definitely not.

There are physical factors at work with love. It’s well documented that being in love produces hormones and endorphins that cause a “high”. These feelings can be profound and can cloud judgement, especially in the young who might be overcome for the first time and have a ‘brain overload’. Only recently I heard the story of a friend of a friend who killed herself because her boyfriend finished her. I don’t think we can totally blame love for this but it does show how crazy it can make people act. Like an addict chasing a high, someone in love might act rather odd or lose inhibitions or their sense of judgement. As the Merovingian from the Matrix says: “it is curious how similar the pattern of love is to the pattern of insanity.” Whether this is true or not is open to opinion and it depends on the context: as I’ve said if one listens to the ‘senseless’ heart and ignores the rational, that is almost by definition insane. But not every apparently “crazy” act might really be crazy: someone in love might be acting very logically and rationally to pursue that value: their actions are consistent with their rational objectives; to them it does make sense. For example, throwing oneself in front of a train would be considered mad, but we might not think so if that action saved a lover’s life. And to those who suggest that giving up one’s life for a lover is an act of emotion, not reason, well that person has very sadly missed the point. Pursuing love is totally a rational course of action: it’s the attempt to gain or keep a value – and who in their right mind would suggest it’s rational to NOT pursue values?! (By extension: who would throw themselves in front of a vehicle to save a stranger but NOT to save their lover?) (Incidentally, in that scene from the Matrix Trinity is prepared to die killing all her enemies because of her love for Neo. That sounds perfectly rational to me.)

So if our emotions and psychological measures of “success” or “failure” are the result of the values we hold and if our values are harmonious with our life then our emotions will respond accordingly. As I said above, we already do this most of the time anyway. This proves that a conflict between our head and our hearts doesn’t have to be; it is not fate, bad luck or some unavoidable incomprehensible existential labyrinth which manifests itself with that “lost” feeling I’m sure all of us experience at one point in life.

So is love rational? Yes. If one defines what love is, why it is, and how we respond to it – it is almost rational by definition. In fact, it is frankly ludicrous to suggest otherwise. Show me someone to whom, in Ayn Rand’s wordsit makes no difference whether one deals with a genius or a fool, whether one meets a hero or a thug, whether one marries an ideal woman or a slut.” The person you want to fall in love with should be your ideal of what a human being should be. Who on earth would seek out the most despicable dishonest cruel careless lazy cowardly thug and fall in love with them? And what could we say about the values of the person who wanted to find such a person? Would we call them life-affirming?

The emotions of love are so powerful because they are the highest possible response to the deepest and most fundamental values in life. Just as one feels more heartache when one loses a spouse or parent to death than say, a dog – so the emotional “success” rating in our souls (a term to nicely encapsulate the human essence as a being of body and mind, not one or the other), is at its highest or lowest when the core of our being is at stake – and since with love it is that very thing we expose and invest in another person, the intense emotions in play are perfectly natural and understandable. In fact, it would be irrational if they weren’t! It would be crazy to not expect them to be as strong and compelling given the values involved. It would be like shrugging off the death of a parent but having your heart smashed over discovering a dead goldfish. Surely that would be a disparity between value and response!

To love that much means to invest that much and feel as much. So again, is this a conflict between reason and emotion, between the head and the heart? It can’t be. I’ll let Ayn Rand have the last word:

“Love is a response to values. It is with a person’s sense of life that one falls in love—with that essential sum, that fundamental stand or way of facing existence, which is the essence of a personality. One falls in love with the embodiment of the values that formed a person’s character, which are reflected in his widest goals or smallest gestures, which create the style of his soul—the individual style of a unique, unrepeatable, irreplaceable consciousness. It is one’s own sense of life that acts as the selector, and responds to what it recognizes as one’s own basic values in the person of another. It is not a matter of professed convictions (though these are not irrelevant); it is a matter of much more profound, conscious and subconscious harmony.”

Who watches the Watchers?

I recently wrote about 21 year old Liam Stacey, a man who was arrested for making racist comments on Twitter. Well, he’s now been imprisoned for 56 days. To be fair to our current justice system, when politician Diane Abbott make racist remarks on Twitter, she too was arrested and thrown in prison for 56 days. Oh no wait, that didn’t happen in this universe – my mistake. She apologised without an arrest, trial or sentence.

Let’s remind ourselves what Abbott said: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’“. Nice. A disgustingly generalised brush to tar all white people with an innate love of slavery and conquest.  These comments are horrifically offensive to me, not least because I despise slavery and racism, but here is a black woman (who seems to assume she has a right to comment as a supposed victim of racism simply because she is black) insulting all white people (simply because, as white people, they are supposed perpetrators of slavery and imperialism, simply because they are white.)

Why is one white man imprisoned for making racist remarks on Twitter about a black person, but a black person isn’t so much as arrested for making racist remarks about all white people on Twitter? And Diane Abbott has a history of making racist remarks! Why has she gotten away with it in the past? Why did she get away with it on Twitter? Would her comments have been met with jail-time if she was white making comments about blacks?

About Abbott’s comments, Met police said: “We reviewed the circumstances of the comments and having considered all of those circumstances and the information available to us, we do not believe a criminal offence has been committed.”  I agree. No criminal offence was committed – because voicing an opinion, no matter how stupid, no matter how wrong, no matter how evil, no matter how publically, is not a crime! (The only exception to this is slander, because you are not free to lie about someone else.) Why were Abbott’s comments not a criminal offence, but Liam Stacey’s were?

And of course at face value, and you can call me cynical, Diane Abbott is a black female politician, and Liam Stacey is a white male civilian – the demographic with probably the fewest “rights” in this country.

Of course there will be the “me-tooers” and politically-correct crowd, eager to high-five themselves that a free citizen who made racist remarks has gone to prison, blissfully ignoring the real issues going on around them: our freedoms and liberties are being eroded month after month, year after year, sometimes behind closed doors (like with the European Union) and sometimes right before our eyes amidst cheers of multiculturalism and zero-tolerance.

But the laughable irony here is one which is blatantly staring people in the face: they want zero-tolerance…but only for the things they don’t like. They want inappropriate speech to be banned, as long as they get to decide what is inappropriate. In short, everyone wants to play King and rule the kingdom. Am I saying that everything should be allowed? No. But the very idea of a free society, the thing we should all be most proud our species has voluntarily established, is the recognition that we can’t just get our own way by magic just by stamping our feet like spoilt brats. So we all agree to recognise the freedoms of each other to believe, say, speak and do whatever we want – with one common stipulation: don’t harm me and I won’t harm you. Sadly, in this pathetic celebrity-obsessed postmodern philosophically-bankrupt guilt-ridden eco-crazy mentally-stunted irresponsible socialist cesspool called the modern Western world, everybody thinks everyone else’s stuff is up for grabs to the one who shouts loudest; so everyone points the finger, everyone compares wallet sizes, everyone claims that “the other guy” is offending him, and the slightest disagreement means someone goes running to teacher. And teacher, oooh… teacher is only too happy to lay down the law. After all, he’s only dealing with children…

But then in the playground, who watches the Watchers?

After thoughts: a friend made the statement “Freedom of speech does not cover incitement and obscenity”. Obviously I disagree with this. In fact, by definition freedom of speech should most certainly cover such things. Here is the Wikipedia article on freedom of speech in the UK based on current law. I must point out that am not challenging the criminalising of racist comments based on the current law, but that is precisely my point: the law regarding freedom of speech is phrased in such a way as to ban that which is deemed socially unacceptable. In this sense, the law is simply circular: “you are free to speak, unless it’s illegal”, which really means “you are free to say anything legally acceptable”, which just re-defines free speech to be that which is not illegal. In other words, if you say something which is now deemed illegal, it couldn’t have been “free” in the first place. So what then is free speech? Whatever the government decides it is.

There is a place for a restriction on speech by law but only when it is objectively shown to infringe the rights of another. Objective law isn’t based on the latest mood of society, referendum, moral outrage, an over-powered and bored police force, or a politician looking for votes.

Links: “What you can and can’t say on Twitter” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17530450

Racism more important than Fascism

In another demonstration of how your freedom of speech extends only as far as the State allows it, a 21 year old man has been arrested for alleged racist remarks on Twitter. Story. It’s incredible the depths we’ve sunk to when this is just reported as being perfectly acceptable, with Swansea University and Treorchy RFC distancing themselves from the man, as if this were just an everyday regular police investigation of a crime. Everyone is quick to play the “me too” card, as if not expressly declaring “I’m not a racist!” might make you a suspect.

Racism is not a crime. A crime requires the violation of an individual’s Rights by another. Having a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Vocalising a racist opinion doesn’t make you a criminal. Initiating violence against someone does make you a criminal, whether you do it because your victim is black, white, yellow, fat, thin, tall or short.

Yes, racism is anti-human and as well as that is just plain stupid. But you could say that about any irrational ideas that people hold. Some fundamentalist Christians and Muslims hold extremely offensive and evil beliefs related to race, gender and sexual orientation. Astrology might not be as viciously anti-human but is still irrational. Those who claim to be psychics and talk to the dead are frauds, duping the gullible or emotionally-vulnerable to make money. I find that offensive. I also find socialism and communism offensive: two variations on the same theme that the individual must defer to the State and sacrifice his interests to the “greater good”. For that matter, I find modern “art” and postmodernism offensive. I also don’t like R&B music and would rather listen to nails down a blackboard than hip-hop.

But, I can accept that other people don’t agree with me and I’m fine with that, because no one is putting a gun to my head and telling me to hold a particular opinion, or not hold the one that I do. The idea of individual freedom is that you can like whatever you want, choose whatever you want, do whatever you want, as long as you don’t infringe on the freedom of others to do the same. In fact, it’s inevitable that human beings won’t always agree – which is precisely why individual rights enshrine this principle of freedom! Some will believe this, some will believe that, some will be right, some will be wrong, some will be moral and some will be evil – but that’s the point! You can’t pick and choose what opinions to allow in society because then nothing would ever change; whatever the status quo or popular opinion of the time was, that would be the unchangeable “truth”, and heresy against the Accepted and Allowed would be a crime. Ironically, that’s exactly the case in other parts of the world like Iran, a totalitarian religious dictatorship where freedom of speech is a concept as foreign as sexual preference. But isn’t that what makes us better than them?

You can’t pick and choose politically acceptable speech because no one has the right to make that decision. Sure, you can give it to the government and leave the State as moral arbiter of acceptable speech (and behaviour), if you’re a fascist. But the idea of freedom of speech is that…you might not always agree with it! It’s not freedom to speak…unless you don’t like or agree with it. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s wrong. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s socially frowned upon. It’s not freedom to speak…unless it’s evil. In fact, the principle of free speech exists precisely to protect the unpopular and marginal viewpoints from being banned by the majority. Saying “ah, but racism really is evil and we as a society have decided to outlaw the expressing of such opinions by force”, is defeating the very principle upon which anyone is allowed to voice any opinion anyway! Tomorrow, it could be your opinion that clashes with that of the majority of society, and should you be silenced? So then, the only way to never have a clash of opinions and find yourself on the “wrong” side of the State is to conform to whatever the collective opinion is at the time. In the words of Bill Hicks: “you are FREE…to do as we tell you.” But since the collective opinions of a society at varying points in recent history have been xenophobic, homophobic, sexist and more – you’d be taking your chances even by being a sheep.

Look, this isn’t about racism. The issue is not whether racism is acceptable or not, or what “we” do about it – as if the State were a true reflection of the will of the people – as if such a collective entity existed in the first place. The matter at hand is: do we want a society with freedom of speech, or not? There are no half-measures. You can’t have it both ways. If speech should not be politically endorsed or condemned, and if force shouldn’t be used by the government against civilians for holding an unpopular opinion (whatever it is), then it is unconscionable to arrest someone for a racist remark. And yet here we are in the United Kingdom, where saying something offensive is a crime. But not just anything offensive: only particular speech is a crime (you can insult someone for being fat, but not of a different colour), which means the government makes a decision about what is acceptable speech (and conduct) and what isn’t. You might say “well I’m ok with that”, which is honest at least – but you’re a fascist.

Speech is a natural form of human expression. Human expression is a result of individual choices and motives. Choices are a product of thinking or believing. Thinking and believing are mental activities inextricable to human nature. Banning speech is like banning thought. That is why the State restricting speech is anti-human.

There is a great hypocrisy going on here though: an ounce of rationality will tell you that banning unpopular opinions (even morally reprehensible ones) doesn’t eliminate anything. All it does is leave the belief to fester, unspoken. People who are truly racist won’t be “cured” by being treated like criminals, they will just feel aggrieved and even more hostile. But the fascists who support banning “hate speech” don’t care about curing irrational ideas, they just care about not offending people – and that’s the critical issue. There are countless ways to offend someone and the people in charge of deciding what is acceptable or not are the same ones whose sole purpose in life is to curry favour by winning votes and appealing to the masses. Hardly a great combination.

The way to defeat an opinion is intellectually. Truly false beliefs of years past didn’t disappear because the government banned them, but because they were shown to be simply wrong. Racism should not be treated like a taboo, as something hush, hush “we don’t talk about”. It needs to be discussed openly and objectively to lay it to rest once and for all. Let the racist have his opinion…and then destroy it. If he continues to hold it, he’s declared himself to be foolish and irrational in front of the world, along with his opinions. If he changes his mind, the world has one fewer cretin and the case for the truth is made all the stronger.

I’ll give you another illustration based on a true story: someone I know is homophobic (actually due to their religion a lot of people I know are). Some of the opinions this person has stated have been anything from “it’s unnatural” to “it’s disgusting” to “I think they get bored with the opposite sex and go after the same sex” to “it’s a perversion” to “it’s a conscious choice.” Now, I know if people like this were put in a room with others and voiced these opinions they’d probably be shouted down. They might fall silent or feel oppressed. Imagine if they were imprisoned for their opinions! But they’d still hold them. But this could be an otherwise kind well-intentioned person labouring under a false belief (God knows there are plenty of them in the world). Similarly, in the past as well as today, there are those who genuinely believe that race is a factor with human intelligence, ability and morality. The Hitler Youth were shown “scientific proof” that blacks were inferior; what were they to believe? If you want to get rid of irrational and immoral ideas, do you merely silence them with a gun, or do you prove in front of the world exactly how and why they are wrong?

Where does curtailing free speech end? If the government gets to decide what is offensive “enough” to be banned, how long before any potential opinion or speech of yours crosses the line? Will you be able to insult anyone, for anything? What is an acceptable topic for humour? What about “racist” friendly banter? What if you voice an opinion about say, the Euro or inflation or taxation, and it’s deemed harmful to the common good? Some British citizens have already been told what flags they can or cannot display (on their own property!) in case it offends others. These issues aren’t new; they are as old as dirt: a government with the power to dictate lifestyles to its people will inevitably use that power to do just that. And it happens because the people let it, because they believe it’s well-intentioned.

Fascism is different in approach today than it was in the dictatorships of the 20th century. Fascism doesn’t come to you and say “don’t you think your speech and behaviour should be sacrificed to the collective good of society, with politicians deciding what is acceptable for you to say, or what food and drink you’re allowed to consume?” No, modern fascism, nicey-nice Left-wing fascism today says “don’t you hate racism? Isn’t it just bad? Don’t you think we as a society should take steps to get rid of it? Don’t you think the rightfully elected ruling body of a society should outlaw such behaviour?” It also says “isn’t alcohol bad for you? Don’t you hate the number of alcohol-related violent crimes? Aren’t saturated fats bad for you? Wouldn’t it be easier and safer if certain foods were just banned to save you having to decide for yourself? Don’t you think it’s only fair to tax the naughty food and drink more than the stuff we decide is ok?”

Forget the content of the words, look at it like this: a private citizen, using his own computer, to post his comments on another privately-owned website (however visible) to make bad words appear on the screens of other people – is officially a criminal, an enemy of the State. Now consider on principle: if the State can pass judgement on what’s acceptable or not on any private property but simply because it’s visible (popular with free admission doesn’t make it “public”), then where does the future of Facebook, Twitter, blogs and the entire internet lie? You don’t need to try hard to imagine, there is already a place today where freedom to say whatever we want with whomever we want is forbidden by law: Communist China.

Fantastic Voyage – Review [film]

About reviewing

Since this blog is about my opinions I recently realised that one area I haven’t really commented on much is entertainment media. This is because it’s really hard to say anything original; not least of all because someone working full time on this sort of thing already says it. It’s also because all I can do is give my opinion, which may or may do justice to the matter since I don’t claim to be an expert on, well anything. But at least I’m not afraid to voice my opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

See here goes with hopefully the first of many of my opinions on something that isn’t our fascist governments.

Overview of the film

Fantastic Voyage is a 1966 science fiction film and if you want any more general summations you can check out the Wikipedia page for it.

I remember seeing this film when I was very young, though I can’t remember exactly my age. At the time, I had no idea it was as old as it was. When I first saw it FV was already 20 years old, but in the 80s I really don’t think the special effects could be criticised too much. I was totally captivated and my imagination was inspired.

The film opens with CIA agent Grant, played by Stephen Boyd, disembarking a plane with an old guy. The old guy is Benes (pronounced Benesh) and Grant is delivering him back to the United States after getting the defector out from Soviet Russia – and who can blame anyone for wanting to leave there; it’s like Everton FC, only with Everton the torture only lasts 90 minutes and the occupants can at least remember being useful. Grant leaves Benes in the “safe” hands of fellow agents after a wordless man-hug initiated by the former. In the book based on this film a lot of backstory is given: Grant went to great personal risk (as per his job as a secret agent) to get Benes out from behind the Iron Curtain, and the two men exchange some words on the final flight into America, on board a plane so rickety and shed-like it will later be used as the blueprint for shuttles in Star Trek. Except this plane actually lands safely.

We soon see the CIA motorcade being ambushed by “the other side” who will be unnamed in the entire film, although there’s no doubt who the two Powers at work really are. The ambush is rather brief on screen and doesn’t really carry the sense of excitement or danger presented in the novel. In the novel one of the enemy agents happily sacrifices himself just to collide with one of the limousines, but in the film we see Benes bump his head and get escorted to another car which promptly speeds off.

As this point I should mention that the film is not based on the novel. The producers wanted to give the film some scientific credibility and approached the famous Isaac Asimov to write a novel based on the script. Asimov pointed out just how ridiculous the script was as regards scientific credibility and also some very reasonable plot holes, which we’ll get onto later. Asimov got permission to write his own take on the story which deviates from the film in some noticeable ways, especially towards the end. The book is only 186 pages long and I’d strongly recommend giving it a read. The chapters flow naturally and quickly into each other with each scene essential and fascinating, even minimalist to the exclusive of anything that doesn’t advance the plot.

Back to the movie and next up are the opening credits being typed over images of Benes in hospital being treated by doctors. The credits don’t have music, something I’ll comment on soon, but rather a series of sound effects to represent Benes’s vital signs and medical equipment at work, but they are presented in such a way as to almost be musical accompaniment, at the same time unnerving and tense.

Next, we are back in a limousine seeing Grant being escorted somewhere. He knows as much about it as we do. His escorts refuse to give him any details and finally the car stops in a back-alley and Grant is told to wait inside as the other men get out. Next moment the car sinks underground and comes to a stop as a guy in military police uniform pulls up in a buggy. Grant hops in and is driven around a bit. This scene establishes a huge underground government complex with hundreds of employees, and everywhere the initials CMDF are plastered. A General Carter finally meets Grant and explains that this organisation is the Combined Miniature Deterrent Forces, a super-secret organisation with a technology that can reduce any object, living or not, to any size. Grant naturally has a hard time believing this, but his doubt only lasts a few seconds as he can tell that Carter is dead serious.

“Consolidated Mobilisation of Deliquent Females” – Grant

Miniaturisation has featured in science fiction almost since the genre began. It’s a really interesting idea and also terrifying at the same time. If you actually think about what it would be like to be shrunk to such a size that the entire world you know changes, the rules go out the window – the entire universe that you evolved to deal with isn’t the same, and the challenges and enemies you face are of an order and nature that quite frankly are beyond what can be imagined, then you can see why sci-fi has gotten such good purchase out the idea. The problem is, like most science fiction, how do you present it in a realistic and plausible way, if you bother to do so? If it’s a film like Inner Space which isn’t really meant to be taken seriously then it doesn’t matter. But if you’re going to call your work science fiction, as opposed to fantasy, and want to have some suspense, it has to have some scientific credibility. For example in Star Trek they have “warp drive” because faster-than-light travel is impossible. That isn’t to say that you always have to explain everything. In Star Wars, technology is never explained, with the artefacts and spaceships just happening, like how your imaginary games as a child might work: million ton starships just float and weave across the planet without any apparent thrusters or engines, like gravity doesn’t apply to them. Tiny fighters cross hundreds of light-years by themselves. It doesn’t matter in Star Wars because, let’s face it, it’s just a fantasy drama which happens to be set in space. They don’t bother to explain anything because they don’t care and similarly we as the audience are told that it doesn’t matter. It’s just for fun. Star Trek always took itself far more seriously which turned out to be a curse just as much as a blessing.

In Fantastic Voyage (the film) the science behind miniaturisation isn’t explained, and I think it’s better off for it. In the book adaptation, Doctor Michaels explains that “hyperspace” can be manipulated (probably with frikkin “lasers”) and despite it seeming not to make sense, the maths works. In the book we are given about as much explanation as we need or could understand, just like our protagonist. In the film, because the story is a race against time, no scientific explanation is given and I don’t think it affects the movie. We are told it works and we see it happen, and that’s enough. Of course, if I was being totally critical, I don’t think it’s possible. At all. The idea of hyperspace, of another dimension being manipulated through the laws of physics to alter an object so that all its dimensions change, as if it were superimposed over this reality – is interesting. It’s like taking a photograph or hologram of something, shrinking it, then bringing it to life in its new form in this world. It’s still “itself” but in a different “phase” of reality if you will, co-existing with this one. At least that’s how I read the explanation in the book but I admit that was several Pinio Grigios ago.

Grant is taken to a briefing where we meet the rest of the cast. Obviously I’ve got to mention the magnificent Raquel Welch here. Her presence in this movie is so well known, despite being a caricature of fictional female helplessness, that a Google search for images of Fantastic Voyage yields, as the third choice, a picture of her sitting naked (alas cross-legged) in beauty makeup. Even the DVD copy I own has a thumbnail of her on the side, a large picture of her on the cover and even larger one on the back! I’m not complaining per se; she was a rather fine looking woman, and still is if you like that sort of thing, but the movie is not about her. It’s not even a tiny bit about her! The book does much more justice to the character of Cora Peterson, but even before Grant (and we) are introduced to her in the film, we have Doctor Reid complaining to the neurosurgeon Doctor Duval that “a woman has no place on a mission of this importance!” Ah, God bless the 60s.

A science fiction adventure drama coming soon to a cinema near you!

Captain Bill Owens is introduced as pilot of an experimental submarine (do you see where this is going?), and Doctor Michaels (played by the English Donald Pleasence – do you see where this is going?) starts the briefing. What we’ve already been told is that Benes has a clot in his brain and the only way to reach it is via the arterial system. Carter told Grant earlier that the plan is to shrink a submarine and surgical team to microscopic level and inject them into Benes’s body. Doctor Michaels now explains they’ll be injected into the carotid artery where they’ll make their way to the brain, dissolve the clot with a frikkin laser, and return via the venous system where they’ll be removed from the jugular vein. Simple as that, eh? They only have to: avoid turbulence, for example going through heart, avoid white cells, not get attacked by antibodies, and be out within 60 minutes or they’ll grow to normal size inside Benes.

Miss Cora Peterson, Doctor Duval’s assistance, is going along anyway because he said so. And because this movie has to live up to titillating trailer artwork.

Grant doesn’t really get the choice to back out or the chance to stop and think. The crew are ushered to the sterilisation section where we see them in skin-tight white swim suits, which are slightly more flattering on Raquel Welch than some of the male occupants.

The next scene shows up the vessel we’ll be making this adventure in: the Proteus, a small bubble-topped submarine sitting on what is either the floor section of the miniaturiser, or a prototype for the Blockbusters’s screen. Inside the sub, Captain Owens explains that the sub is powered by a microscopic radioactive particle, or rather it will be once it’s miniaturised. This particle will also allow them to be tracked from the outside.

Now the four-stage miniaturisation job begins. Some of these effects look dated, even today, and some of them are passable. I have mixed feelings about a modern remake of this film, but one of the massive pros in making a new version would be what special effects today could do with this concept. The thought of it really excites me, even if Ronald Emmerich directs it. My problem with “phase one” of the miniaturising is that we don’t get to see a lot of the shrinking. The normal-size ship begins to shrink, then the next time we see it it’s the size of a matchbox. It would’ve been nice to see more external shots. By comparison, in “phase four”, after the shrunken Proteus (about an inch in length) is put into a huge hypodermic which is then also shrunk, the exterior shot of the hypodermic is much finer and smoother and we have a good few seconds of seeing miniaturisation in action.

Finally the already tiny Proteus inside the container is reduced so that the huge hypodermic is now the size of a regular one, and the crew is informed that they “are at full reduction.” One of the interesting things in this film is that communication is only possible via wireless, and honestly I think it’s a superb touch. It really gives the sense of being out of touch with the real world and disconnected, with only Morse code tones for external help. In the book it’s explained that this is the only sort of communication that can cross the “miniaturisation gap”, and given that we’ve previously seen video calling in this film, I think it would’ve been worth mentioning here too.

The Proteus prepares for miniaturisation

Via some delicate contraption the hypodermic is taken to the operating room and injected into Benes’s neck. At over 36 minutes into the film we finally hear incidental music for the first time. Leonard Rosenman, who also scored Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, deliberately wrote no music for the film until this point, and it’s an unusual but highly effective choice. In my opinion the music for this film is perfect. It’s dramatic and often abrasive and from a modern perspective perhaps dated. If the film is (ever) greenlit to be recreated in the near future, I can’t imagine it having a score anything like this. But that doesn’t mean it’s corny, cheesy or old-fashioned. The score is one of suspense and threat all the way through. Even the main theme theme itself, heard for the first time as the crew enters the human body (all the time being one of wonder and awe), has an ominous undertone to it. Nothing about this film, which the music reflects so well, says “this is just an exciting trip! Let’s relax and enjoy it!” There isn’t a single relaxing moment in this adventure, to the credit of the film once it finally gets going after an admittedly slow start. The music mirrors this wonderfully in my opinion.

The Proteus crew encounters a seemingly endless sea of red with shapeless balloons streaming by. The effects are certainly a great attempt at presenting the human blood stream from within, albeit lacking in anything resembling reality. Asimov explains it best in the book where he says that if you were the size of a microbe, the walls of the artery would be miles off to your eyes, and the red blood cells (erythrocytes) would be huge compared to you. Also, it’s only oxygenated (or deoxygenated) erythrocytes that given blood its colour. The rest of the blood is made up of plasma, platelets and other types of cells. I’m not a doctor, despite what I told my first girlfriend, but if you were microscopic size I’d have thought the blood would actually be quite transparent given its straw colour. It’s not a problem for me as far as the story goes, but it’s one of those things I’d love to see remastered with modern day effects, not to improve the movie itself, but as a fan of science I like to see the universe presented to me in realistic ways. That is after all one of the reasons I loved this movie so much in my life and why I can keep coming back to watch it every few years – because the concept is great, and seeing the human body (which has always fascinated me) shown in this way should be awe-inspiring for anyone. To a modern audience this aspect of the film would certainly be lost, because our standards for what we accept of realism are so high that special effects have to be impeccable to fool our eyes, and even then the best CGI doesn’t always get it right.

A great effect

There is one effect I must mention; it’s so short but fantastic. As the Proteus is being injected into the carotid artery we see the ship hurtling towards the end of the syringe. It looks a vast distance off with only a red glow growing menacingly towards them. It’s cool. But as they pass into the bloodstream the Proteus emerges from the end of the syringe itself, and you can clearly see the shape of the needle and how it’s so wide compared to the Proteus. It’s a little shot but it really establishes how tiny they are.

There’s some dialogue where Doctor Duval waxes lyrically about the wonder of the human body and it’s clear he is a man of god. Michaels on the other hand, being a damn dirty atheist, merely points out that end-to-end the circulatory system is a hundred-thousand miles long. Grant just looks on like the dumb college football jock he’s initially made out to be in the novelisation.

Before long though there’s trouble a-brewing. Despite the woman not driving, the Proteus starts to veer towards the arterial wall and Owens reports that it’s unresponsive. It seems that damage to Benes caused the carotid artery and jugular vein in the neck together into something called a fistula. (I typed “fistula” into Google and…let’s just say that whilst what I got back was related to the human body, I don’t think it’s the cardiovascular anomaly the film writers had in mind…) The micro fistula caused a whirlpool in the bloodstream and the Proteus, having been sent out of control, smashes through the wall of the artery into the vein and can’t go back.

The mission is now in failure: they can’t go back into the artery and they can’t reach the clot from the venous system, and continuing on in the direction of the flow would take them to the superior vena cava which, as we all know, ends in the penis. But before then it goes through the heart, and that would smash the tiny Proteus in a million pieces.

This is where the first major plot hole appears: it’s never explained why, since they were planning to extract them from the jugular at the end of the mission anyway, they can’t just extract them now…and re-inject them into the carotid artery at a point beyond the fistula! It’s a shame this isn’t addressed in the film, or the book, because it’s so obvious a solution the story is weaker for failing to acknowledge it. If there were a particular reason why they had to be injected into a very particular place, fine. But that’s never stated. Absolutely no thought is given to taking them out and just putting them back in. It seems like a no-brainer to me. They should have said that the stress endured by the craft during, say, injection, is so great that it can’t be repeated due to micro-fractures in the hull, or something.

Anyway, since the scientific and medical geniusesss….genia…genies….people aren’t as smart as me we’re left with the only logical solution: stop Benes’s heart long enough for the Proteus to get through the right atrium, pass through the right ventricle and exit the semi-lunar valve. In true Hollywood style, the heart can only be stopped for exactly 60 seconds, but it will take 57 seconds for the Proteus’s dash, leaving only…three… seconds to revive Benes. These scenes are well done. The music is gripping as the technical staff in CMDF witness the ship moving closer, ever closer, to the heart itself. Perhaps what works for me in this movie, and of course this is just my opinion, is that the human body, our body, our ally – is actually the nemesis. We get to see just how inhospitable the human body is for something that doesn’t belong in it (well, not without a lot of lube anyway). The Proteus has become the bacteria that doesn’t belong and is afforded no special dispensation by a mindless environment that’s spent millions of years adapting itself to kill such things.

In Soviet CMDF, heart stops you!

They enter the valve and the heart just dies in the arms tonight. Painfully slowly, the Proteus glides through the huge chambers as the seconds tick away all too quickly. They approach the frozen semi-lunar valve and the Proteus speeds towards the huge gaping hole, (reminiscent of some of the images I got back from my Google “fistula” search.)

In the longest three seconds of movie history, Benes’s heart is revived in time and the Proteus, now in the pulmonary artery, continues on its way to the lungs. The arterial channel becomes narrower as they enter a capillary, one of the millions which pass within diffusion distance of the alveoli. Sure enough, before their very eyes, the deoxygenated erythrocytes (all cells in this film are called corpuscles) change from blue to red. This is a bit of a Hollywood touch keeping in line with the popular (though incorrect) notion that deoxygenated blood is blue and oxygenated is red. Of course, the former is simply a dark red and the latter scarlet.

Dr. Duval calls cell oxygenation one of the miracles of the universe, to which the unimpressed atheist Michaels retorts that’s it hardly a miracle and just “a simply exchange of gases…the end result of 400 million years of evolution.” I can get the film-makers wanting to stress the point that Michaels is an atheist and doesn’t buy Duval’s superstitious ramblings, but did they have to make him such a bore? I mean, atheist or not, you’re inside the human body seeing cellular oxygenation in action! Duval incredulously replies “you can’t believe that all that is accidental? That there isn’t a creative intelligence at work?” I was a Christian growing up and evolution was synonymous with “spawn of the devil” to me. It was so counter-intuitive I couldn’t believe how anyone, save through an act of sheer will, could bring themselves to believe that the incredible complexity in life was accidental, and how it all just works despite a billion intricacies. I admit, it is almost unfathomable to the ignorant. Now, the human body is an incredible machine, but it’s far from perfect. If I were omnipotent and omniscient, the human body would not be the apex of my creative ability, at least not on the inside anyway… For all the misconceptions and apparent inplausibilities, evolution of man is a fact as undeniable as heliocentrism or gravity. You can say that God got the ball rolling if you want, but it’s really impossible to argue for divine guidance given the fact of common descent and so many obvious design flaws in the human body.

Unfortunately Dr. Michaels doesn’t get to give us his response, as a warning alarm on the sub goes off. Captain Owens informs the crew that air pressure in the tanks is dropping, which Grant confirms. In the novelisation it was the breathable air the crew is losing but in the movie their breathable air isn’t the problem but presumably the air pressure to maintain ballast. Grant suggests that since they are so close to the lungs they use a snorkel to absorb air and replenish their supply. It’s dangerous but they have no choice. Because of the risk of missing the mark and exploding the tanks, Owens suggests everyone leaves the sub but him, leading to a slightly extended shot of Miss Peterson unzipping her onesie.

Before this however, as they prepare to depart, Grant notices the laser detached from its stand, partially unfastened, and obviously jarred by the action of the whirlpool. Cora swears she tied it down securely but Michaels and Grant exchange dubious looks.

Deep breath…

Back to the air refuel job, and Asimov noticed the problem with this story element immediately: the air molecules in the alveoli are normal size – there is no way the miniaturised crew could breathe them. In the same way the ballast wouldn’t work either, if they could even get the huge molecules into the tanks in the first place. Asimov got around this by having a tiny miniaturiser on board the sub to shrink the air as it entered the snorkel, but in the film this whole aspect is ignored.

Unable to get a stable footing from the capillary side of the alveoli wall, Grant enters the air chamber itself with a safety line tied to the sub by Duval. But just as the Proteus’s tanks achieve capacity the safety line suddenly snaps and Grant is sent hurtling off out of sight. During the breathing lull he finally comes to rest on the floor of the alveolus and quickly scrambles his way back out. The alveolus is obviously a set, but it’s done quite well. No one knows what one looks like from the inside anyway but they imagine it well.

In the CMDF control room, Carter and Reid note the delay near the lungs and the passage of time. Grant was in too much of a rush to inform them via wireless but he does so now, then we get a shot of the Proteus cruising through a long, wide and shallow space of vivid colours – the pleural cavity. They’re now between the lungs and the wall of the chest.

Duval examines the laser and determines that it’s irreparable due to a broken trigger wire, but Grant suggests that they can cannibalise the wireless for the replacement wire (somewhat ironic). Of course, this will put them out of contact with the control tower, though they’ll still be traceable due to the radioactive fuel. As Duval observes, it’s either the wireless or Benes’s life. It’s not pleasant, but the choice seems clear.

“Is this your hair?”

As Duval and Cora get to work on the laser, Grant intimates to Dr. Michaels that there must be a saboteur onboard: the laser mysteriously unfastening itself and Grant’s safety line snapping all by itself. The logical choice is Duval but Dr. Michaels, despite their personal disagreements, believes that although Duval is “under a cloud” he is also dedicated to his profession. The conversation ends with Michaels essentially talking Grant down, and Owens shouts down from the bubble that the sub is approaching something. Michaels explains it’s reticular fibres lining a lymphatic duct. Grant, as it happens, has never heard of any other system apart from the circulatory system (which he takes to be the blood), although the lymphatic system is a part of the circulatory system.

They enter the lymphatic node, one of many situated in specific areas of the human body most noticeably under the jaw, armpits and the groin area. In what is apparently a redress of the heart set only with giant strings of snot, the Proteus makes its way through the node. (Funnily enough, as a kid I misheard “node” as “nose” and though the reticular fibres in this scene were actually huge snot strings.)  The Proteus starts to receive several bumps now due to turbulence from outside. Grant opines that “it’s like someone’s declared war” to which Michaels responds “that’s exactly what it is”; the lymphatic system is a vital part of the immune response and outside the Proteus antibodies are swarming over bacteria or any invader to the system. The effects here aren’t great, but it was the 60s. Having said that, despite being inaccurate they illustrate how antibodies essentially work: locking onto receptor patterns (antigens) of foreign objects and inhibiting vital functions or, if there are enough antibodies, essentially crushing them. This is a nice bit of foreshadowing and explanation which occurs naturally in the story. It will pay off soon.

Owens observes that the reticular fibres, as well as slowing them down, might clog the intake vents of the sub and render it immobile. Either way, the trip is taking too long and Duval says they’ll never make it to the clot as this rate. Grant asks if there’s an alternative route but Michaels immediately dismisses the suggestion. Duval insists that there is though: they can head to the inner ear and from there make their way to the injury site. Sounds simple enough, but Michaels explains that whilst in the ear any noise from the outside world would have a disastrous effect on them, possible destructive and fatal. They can’t inform the control tower of their intentions but the outside operatives should notice immediately the change of direction and act accordingly.

As it happens, in the control tower news of the change of course comes through and far from being surprised it seems the crew have already figured out the Proteus couldn’t make it in time and that the inner ear was their only chance. Reid heads to the intercom and announces to the operating theatre that absolute silence must be maintained whilst the Proteus is in the ear.

The eerie and otherwordly inner ear.

Another establishing shot as the Proteus floats through the inner ear, and again it’s a well-designed and realistic set. Some obvious re-uses aside, the producers do a good job making each area unlike any other. The lighting here is reduced and the area dark with lovely colours. Unfortunately, no sooner is the Proteus halfway through than it starts to drop slowly to the surface below. Sure enough, as Owens informs the crew, those reticular fibres have indeed clogged the vents and propulsion is impossible. Grant does the only thing he can do: put on a suit and try to unclog the vents.

In the operating theatre outside, the medical staff stand quietly and the CMDF control tower can only watch as the blip representing the Proteus on their tracking screens remains motionless.

It finally dawns on the rest of the Proteus crew that it would be faster if they all got off their asses and helped Grant, so they do – all except Duval who wants to remain behind to fix the laser, a statement that elicits a brief but very suspicious scowl from Dr. Michaels.

The tension here is good. We cut back and forth behind the inner ear, quiet and peaceful as the crew very slowly manage to unclog the vents, and the operating theatre. It’s getting anxious outside though, and the chief attending’s forehead is covered in sweat. Seeing this, one of the nurses (one with a vagina of course) gently picks up a towel from the nearby table, dragging a pair of scissors with it, which promptly drop to the floor in a loud clatter…

In the ear the world is turned upside down. The Proteus lurches up and down, side to side, and the crew are sent flying off in different directions. Cora is sent hurtling down towards Hensen’s Cells where she gets entwined in fibres. The vibrations finally abate and Michaels warns Grant that Cora is damaging the fibres and will be considered a threat by antibodies. They start out after her but the pressure is too great for Michaels who has to turn back. Being a frogman Grant carries on and reaches the panicking Cora who is well aware of the danger she’s in. Grant frees her and they start back to the Proteus just as antibodies show up.

“HEATHCLIFF!”

In a sequence which gives me scientific misgivings, the antibodies follow the trail and chase the two humans back to the sub, but the hatch takes time to open during which the antibodies attack Cora and begin to bind to her. (Who can blame them?)  Grant gets her inside the hatch but she is being choked and can’t breathe. The half-empty hatch is opened anyway as the other men pull her out, lay her down on the floor and start frantically grasping at her skin-tight suit to rip off the antibodies. The “crystallised” antibodies are ripped off and Cora is ok. This is another exciting scene and it’s well done, but I’m not sure how accurate it is: antibodies are nothing more than protein chains and I don’t think they could bind to the shape of the human body, at least not in the way they attach themselves to bacteria. And although they can “tag” a body for immune response once it’s been identified as hostile, I don’t think it works with them literally following the “scent” like hunter-killers shown here. It’s probably not realistic but it is good drama. (Interestingly, the actors ripping the antibodies off Racquel Welch were so concerned with being chivalrous and respecting her body that they avoided her breasts. In the end they had to be ordered to ignore their manners for the shot!)

With 8 minutes remaining the sub eventually leaves the inner ear and is on final approach to the brain. Reid informs the operating personnel that all is clear and they brief a huge collective sigh of relief, with the clumsy nurse remarking “I almost died when the scissors dropped”, to which Reid puts his cigar to his mouth and gives a small fond smile. It’s only a little thing and it’s very underplayed but it adds character. If this was a modern Hollywood movie he’d make some cheesy punch line with the camera obviously framed to tell us “this is funny”, since modern movies find it hard to go even five minutes without destroying their own mood and tension with dreadful comic relief. Fantastic Voyage is not a comedy and it’s not played like a comedy – there are no “light relief” scenes to give the audience a chance to relax between action. There are lulls between the action but the tension is never released throughout the hour and this adds to the oppressive tone of the movie. It’s quite literally one crisis after another and despite some plot holes and scientific inaccuracies, the effects and disasters contribute logically to the story.

In what is undoubtedly a re-use of the pleural cavity and lymphatic duct passage, the outside of the Proteus now shows a long channel lined with black narrow threads, unmistakably nerves, leading to the brain. In the distance is a mass of nerves lining an opening or nexus of sorts, no doubt the entrance to the brain itself. I think this is supposed to be the subarachnoid cavity. The reason I like this is because despite the obvious effort to dress this effect up as the passage to the brain, it’s just in the background outside the window. It’s understated, because the effects (despite being a massive selling point for the film at the time) are only there to further the story, not the other way around. Do you hear that, George?

The only glitch here is that as the conversation continues before the window the entrance to the brain looms ever closer, until one close-up of Grant produces a continuity error of the sub being almost at the end of the channel, and right back at the start of it. Blame the editor.

The conversation going on here is whether Duval should test the laser before they reach the clot, since repairs are finished. Michaels insists that Duval test the laser before they waste their precious last few minutes getting to the clot, unloading, only to discover that it doesn’t work. The counter-argument from Duval is that he’s done all he can to fix it; if it doesn’t work there’s nothing he can do anyway, but if it does work there’s no way to know how long it will last, so every last joule of energy should be saved, which means testing it is wasteful. Both men make good arguments, and if I was on the crew I’d be highly tempted to side with Michaels since about now I’d be really panicking as the seconds tick by in this very dangerous confined space. But since there is still time left to perform the operation, even if the laser fails, Duval’s case is the stronger. Michaels and him end the argument quite heatedly with Michaels stating that as usual Duval just wants his own way.

Grey matter

Grant eyes them both curiously as we cut to the control tower where Reid remarks “just imagine, they’re in the human mind”, and the anatomical display in the background with the Proteus marked as entering the brain transitions to another establishing shot: the sub gliding through a dark region lined with what look like cobwebs, across which spots of light flash and jump. I really like this set too, because it’s probably the best that could’ve been done at the time. Another thing I like about this, and it’s true of almost all the sets actually, is that the blocking and camera work suggests vastness; you can’t really see a wall or edge to the environment which, at the Proteus’s scale, is how it would be. In the distance Duval points out the clot, the area of damage, a large black area which looks quite spooky. As Duval and Cora prepare to leave, Michaels says they can’t possibly operate and get out before time’s up, and instructs Owens to head to the removal point. Only six minutes remain, but it will take two to get to the removal point. Michaels warns that if they overstay they will deminiaturise in moments, growing large enough to endanger the brain after which white cells will destroy them. Owens continues the order to leave but Grant cuts his power and the Proteus slowly drops to the surface as the music ominously grows. Grant whispers “Dr. Duval, get the laser”, who doesn’t need telling twice. Michaels argues with Grant even as Duval and Cora leave the sub. Michaels flames at Grant, apparently having suddenly changed his mind about Duval, declaring him “an assassin, whose only motive is to kill Benes, and now you’ve made that possible.” Grant refutes this though, saying that he’s faced assassins before and Duval doesn’t fit the bill. He announces to Owens that he’s going to try and help the two surgeons and leaves the sub, leaving Michaels to quietly fume.

At the clot the laser works, and Duval starts to delicately slice away damaged tissue to relieve the pressure on the nerve. The operation goes well but time is ever running out. Back on board the Proteus doctor Michaels calls Owens’ attention to the escape hatch: fluid is leaking in. Owens comes to take a look but gets a spanner in the head for his troubles. Michaels was the saboteur all along! (He’s the English guy, how did you not see it coming?) He scrambles up to the bubble after restoring the power and starts the sub’s engine, speeding right for the nerve!

At the nerve, with the operation finished, the three look back and see the Proteus speeding towards them. This is another great model shot which captures distance and scale without limiting the environment in any way. Grant takes the laser from Duval and asks for full power as he fires at the Proteus and rips a hole along her hull. Out of the control the sub crashes into a nearby mass of (presumably) synapses and dendrites. It’d be hilarious is if this caused brain damage to Benes requiring another operation…

In the distance, white cells are spotted and Grant enters the hole in Proteus to rescue Michaels and Owens. In the ship the conscious Owens tells Grant what happened but the crash has jammed Michaels’s hands in the steering gear. Overhead through the glass dome a white cell slowly looms down on the Proteus, as Donald Pleasance really nails the panic and horror of a trapped man who knows he’s about to be slowly eaten. The white cell smashes through the glass and envelopes him. (The white cell covering Michaels’s head here were achieved essentially by soap-suds, and Donald Pleasance’s screams here are quite genuine!)

Pleasence nails this terrifying moment

Grant and Owens exit the Proteus and join Duval and Cora as the Proteus is ingested. A couple of final shots from the laser kills one white cell, but the laser is fried…so Duval just throws it aside. Remember that for later…

Grant asks “you said there was a quick way out?” Actually, no one said there was a quick way out. Grant earlier asked “is there a quick way out?” but doesn’t get a reply as Cora points out the white cells. It’s a tiny glitch but I always noticed it. Duval does confirm that there is though: “we can follow the optic nerve to the corner of the eye.” And so they do, the music builds to a crescendo and we cut to the control room as the timer turns to zero. Time up. Game over, apparently. Carter says to Reid that they’ll have to remove them even though it means killing Benes. Reid proceeds to the operating theatre and orders the physicians to remove the Proteus immediately, and an emergency trepanation is about to be started until Carter suddenly commands them to stop. He reasons to Reid, in a wonderfully whispered and chilling manner, that if he was running out of time in there he’d abandon ship and get out the fastest possible way. Reid pieces it together for himself: the eye! He races to the operating theatre…

“Light impulses, on the way to the brain…we’re nearing the eye…”

Meanwhile the three men and Raquel Welch are still swimming towards the eye. This is another scene well done; the music captures the other-worldliness wonderfully and the eerie score and sound effects reflect the organic environment they so desperately need to escape. They reach the eye and in another nicely understated scene we see them scrambling through an opening onto the roof of the eyeball; the effect is only about two seconds long but very realistic. It’s another example of how bigger and longer is not necessarily better.

In the operating theatre, Reid uses a super magnifying glass and sees four people in a drop of water. (And slowly, and surely, he draws his plans against them.) He calls for a glass slide and scoops them up. Despite the fact they’ve been growing all this time they are still not visible to the naked eye and this unspoken point proves (to me anyway) just how tiny they really have been. Reid carefully places the glass slide on the floor of the miniaturising chamber seen early and the music hangs on a note of suspense one last time…and then totally changes; for the first time in the entire film it now turns to one of hope and relief, and our protagonists become visible again. As Reid and the command staff watch on, four tiny people take form and revert to normal size. A silent nod from Reid to Carter is enough to convey the emotion of the moment between two military professionals. (Again, if this were remade today, Carter and Reid would be 30-something Calvin Klein models high-fiving each other and making inappropriate corny jokes to break up all the boring science stuff.)

I think you’ve got something in your eye…

An overhead shot of the four survivors ends the film as they’re joined by operations personnel and doctors all wanting to congratulate them on their fantastic voyage and safe return.

Unfortunately, everyone forgot about the injected saline from the original syringe, the discarded laser and oh yes, the frakking submarine which all remained inside Benes and would revert to normal size too, resulting, in Doctor Kelso’s words, of “a nasty case of…death”. Some claim that because the Proteus was digested, it was destroyed, and therefore wouldn’t revert to normal size. This is…err, wrong, to be polite. The ship was ingested, but the molecules and atoms that constituted it were miniaturised – they didn’t cease to exist. Given the whole premise of the film was the crew having 60 minutes, no longer, before they regrew, this is pretty glaring oversight. In his novel, Asimov got around this by having the crew tempt the white cell (which ingested the Proteus) into following them out through the eye too. Also, the physicians used as little saline as possible for the initial injection.

As regards the characters, none of them are particularly fleshed out but this is an adventure movie not a character-driven plot. With so little time and so much to get through, the film can’t afford divergences to let us see the mind and soul of Grant or Cora. The film also never explains why Michaels is the bad guy either. Again, in Asimov’s short version the characters are brought to life a lot better (albeit the dialogue is clunky) with Cora initially viewing Grant as just a dumb muscle man but coming to see that he has a brain indeed, is a good leader, and is obviously grateful for him saving her life a few times. Grant’s attraction to her is written with all the subtlety of a hammer in truth, and the men find it incredulous that a girl can be incredibly clever and also beautiful… “Instead of working as protégé for the best neurosurgeon on the planet, shouldn’t you be doing something worthwhile with your life and making the most of your important features, the physical ones of course – by, say, being a super-model or porn star?!” If this were a character arc like Battlestar Galactica, or a human story with a message which happens to have action, like Star Trek II, I’d criticise it. But it’s not.

De-miniaturisation

Review: I try to be as objective as possible, but the truth is this was an all-time classic for me and a favourite ever since I can remember. For that reason, it’s hard to not inject a bit of fondness into a review, whereas someone else might watch this and think “you can see the strings on the antibodies! That’s crap!” and promptly go back to watching Big Brother.

As far as the story goes, apart from the obvious plot holes it’s a really tight script, with the only question marks over the pacing at the start – and some of the scene transitions feel dated. Some of the special effects are clearly lacking by today’s standards but many of the sets also stand up quite well. The attention to detail is definitely there, for the most part. The film also doesn’t ram medical jargon down our throats but says what needs to be said as if professionals were saying it. It also does a pretty good job getting all the necessary information to the viewer without bad exposition. The sexism of the time is pretty evident, with the lady needing to be rescued a few times and it being the woman to drop the scissors on the floor, and Reid even saying that because this mission is so important we don’t need a woman on board, someone who’ll probably just menstruate all over the sub anyway.

The plot holes and dated attitude to women drop the score a little, but I’ll judge every work of art against what it’s claiming to be. This was a huge blockbuster which took years to make, had some big names stars, and took itself seriously as a science fiction adventure thriller. It was incredibly ambitious, and most of the elements come together superbly. The problem for the writers was that the concept of miniaturisation is so hard to translate into true sci-fi because the rules of physics themselves stand in the way – there are literally too many problems to overcome so you either: a. forget the idea, b. scientifically rationalise every single thing even if only on a very hypothetical level, or c. do what you can do to make a good movie and ignore the rest. I think the FV producers chose c and succeeded.

I’m tempted to be more generous with one of my favourites, but it has some tough competition in the sci-fi/fantasy genre. I’m going to give it 8/10. A true classic. I only hope that any modern remakes do the original justice.

Final score