Published on August 16th, 2019 | by Rob Mammone
The Fantastic Journey DVD review
Summary: A crew of scientists vanish into The Bermuda Scientists and before you can say Holy Smokes, aliens, androids, brains in jars and telepathic cats are exploding all over your screens!
70s sci-fi fun!
UFOs, aliens, time travel, Atlantis, reincarnation, telepathy, demonic possession, spontaneous combustion, black masses, and frogs falling from the sky. I could go on. If the 1970s was the bad reaction to the acid trip of the late 60s, at least it more than made up for it in embracing the weird and the wonderful.
And it showed in the television landscape. Shows like The Land of the Lost, Kolchak, The Man from Atlantis et al were all willing to embrace the strange and the bizarre and the weird and the downright creepy, all with deadly seriousness. Where else can you see the Six Million Dollar Man go toe to toe with Bigfoot (no, seriously) on your television? The Brits were deep into it as well, with series like Dead of Night, or Shadows et al willing to embrace the strange depths of the world and human belief.
So, given all that, when I came across The Fantastic Journey, I confused it with a movie with a similar name, The Fantastic Voyage. Why hadn’t I heard about this bizarre little oddity that graced US screens somewhat haphazardly for only ten episodes? That co-starred Planet of the Apes and Fright Night’s Roddy McDowall? That went from a historical time travel series in its pilot episode, to embracing the full on weirdness of telepathic brains in jars, Atlantean half breeds, and alien named Varian and a concept so wild it deserved five seasons instead of being merely a failed mid-season replacement?
Television is a funny beast and sustained success is hard. Not everything that deserves long lasting success (cough Firefly cough) gets it. I’m not entirely sure The Fantastic Journey deserved more than it got, but it was an intriguing little series that seemed to build itself as it motored on down the highway.
A group of scientists hire a charter boat for an expedition, venturing into the Caribbean Sea, or more specifically, the region bounded by The Bermuda Triangle. After we get a chance to meet each of the team, the boat disappears into a strange phenomenon, dumping the survivors onto an uncharted island. It soon becomes apparent, after the writer has killed off a couple of people who are surplus to plot requirements, that the on this island, past, present and future co-exist.
It’s a solid premise that holds much promise for future episodes. After Scott (Ike Eisenmann) meets 23rd century traveller Varian (Jared Martin) we encounter a group of marooned Elizabethan privateers. After some more of the crew are killed, the survivors escape to the next story.
Sometimes serendipity comes along and changes the premise of the show. While the historical action adventure with science fiction elements appeared to be the base premise of the show, the writers decided to bolt on more science fiction elements as the episodes were written. Several of the actors who were intended to be regulars were dropped by the second episode, including Scott’s father, Doctor Paul Jordan. Jared Martin takes the lead role, and new actors, including Katie Saylor (a telepath, with an Atlantean father and an alien mother, no less!) and Roddy MacDowall (computer/robotic expert Dr Jonathan Willoway) are added. The episodes become more overtly science fiction or just plain weird (androids, alien dictators, an ancient Greek sorcerer are among some of the elements that appear) with the writers taking full advantage of the premise to pull ideas and plots from disparate sources.
Constantly shifted around in the schedules and beset by instances such as Katie Saylor falling ill and absent from the last televised episode, The Fantastic Journey was quickly cancelled and disappeared from the schedules. Given this was released at the height of the 70s craze for aliens and aliens masquerading as Gods (von Daniken’s Chariot of the Gods book is a definite inspiration here) it’s a pity the series was never given the chance to capitalize on the interest and be allowed a second series.
Overall, The Fantastic Journey is a lot of fun. Given the era it is made in, don’t expect any great character depth like you would expect in something like The Sopranos or Breaking Bad. What you will get are solid character actors giving their all to bring really odd stories to life. The Fantastic Journey is very much of its time, which means the fashions are wrong, women generally get short shrift in terms of the plots and everyone has way too much hair.
But if you’re willing to put aside all that, this is a fun little series, almost a curio, which thankfully hasn’t been relegated to the great archive in the sky. Shot on film, frequently on location, the series has an expansive look and doesn’t suffer from its videotaped cousins.
Now, given this is a definite curio, nothing has been spent on restoration, particularly the visual element of it. It’s easy to understand why – you wouldn’t expect this release to shift huge numbers, so margins are slim, and any effort to restore the film elements would quickly eat away any profits. It’s a pity though as the episodes released here are all marred by scratches and spots that a bit of love and care (yes, and a wad of cash) would have fixed.
Overall though, it’s the ability to see the series that is the main selling point. Hopefully if it is successful enough, other long forgotten series will be allowed to see the light of day.
Film Genre – TV Sci-Fi
Label – Via Vision Entertainment
Audio – English (Dolby 2.0)
Running Time – 508
Aspect ratio – 1.33:1
Region Coding – 4
TV Standard – PAL
Rating – PG
Consumer Advice – Mild themes and violence
Year of Release – 1977
Primary Format – Movies/TV – DVD