This review was first published, in audio form, on StarShipSofa Number 202. http://traffic.libsyn.com/starshipsofa/StarShipSofa_No_202_Geoffrey_A_Landis_Pt_2.mp3 and so, after a suitable pause, here is the text version.
The Incredible Shrinking Man – A Review From The Jacaranda City
Hello again from the depths of my Pretoria wardrobe. Breaking with my tradition of reviewing ‘end of the world’ movies, today I’m going to talk about a film that brought whole new worlds to the screen, worlds that we experience every day but either cannot see or ignore. Today I am going to talk about what was one of my favourite science fiction films as a child, 1957’s ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’; and I would suggest that, while this film has a PG rating, it is definitely something to be enjoyed by viewers of all ages.
The film stars Grant Williams as Robert Scott Carey, not a big star, in fact I can’t recall seeing any of his other movies.
The screenplay was written by Richard Matheson, from his own novel. Matheson is more famous for his novel ‘The Omega Man’; filmed as ‘The Last Man On Earth’ starring Vincent Price in 1964, as ‘The Omega Man’ starring Charlton Heston in 1971, and as ‘I Am Legend’ starring Will Smith in 2007. The Incredible Shrinking Man was Matheson’s breakout work, and he has since written numerous movie screenplays plus countless TV episodes, including 16 episodes of the original Twilight Zone series.
The movie was directed by Jack Arnold, who had previously directed ‘It Came From Outer Space’ and ‘Creature From The Black Lagoon’, and who later went on to become Director/Producer of Gilligan’s Island.
Many movies of the 1950’s explored the general fear of the Atomic Bomb; what would be the effects of fallout on the population? Another of my childhood favourites was 1954’s ‘Them!’ (I have to say it like that as I can’t see the title without picturing the little girl at the start who can only scream the word “Them!”) In that movie, radioactive fallout resulted in ants growing to gigantic proportions. In The Incredible Shrinking Man, a combination of a radioactive cloud (which Carey is exposed to while sunbathing on his brother’s boat) and a dose of insecticide (with which he is accidentally sprayed, months later) sends our hero in the opposite direction.
Once the change begins, the movie details Carey’s realisation that he is shrinking and his growing anger and frustration. He tells his wife Louise to start thinking about their relationship, because he is changing and she says “as long as you’ve got this ring on your finger you’ve got me” of course, that is the moment it drops off of his shrinking finger!
By the next scene he is the size of an 8 year old, then a 5 year old. By now Carey is a celebrity, but the attention is putting a great strain on both him and Louise.
Scientists find an ‘antitoxin’ and stop the shrinking but Carey, now three foot tall, leaves home and comes across a freak show. One of the little people, Clarice, convinces Carey that he still has a lot to live for, and he goes back home to continue his book. A couple of weeks later he is talking to Clarice, who seems to have taken over quite a big role in his life, he’s positive once more, until he realises that the shrinking has begun again.
Back home Carey lives in a dolls house. He’s treating Louise terribly and contemplates suicide, but still hopes that the scientists can cure him. One day, while Louise is out at the shops, the pet cat gets in and Carey has to fight it off, by pulling a lamp off of a table. He gets knocked down the stairs into the basement and, when Louise comes back, she thinks that he has been eaten by the cat.
Down in the basement, Carey has to overcome a range of obstacles, first there is getting around when one is only two inches tall. Then there’s finding food. The boiler bursts and nearly drowns him.
The scene that I remember the most is towards the end, where Carey fights a spider, finally managing to kill it with a pin thrust into its body from below.
That night, even smaller, Carey manages to get out of the grill in the basement wall and stares up at the stars, finally at peace with what he is becoming.
The whole transition from full-sized man to less than an inch is done pretty well. To 21st Century eyes the techniques are obvious but, the physical props really make the scenario almost believable. For example, when the boiler is dripping massive drops of water, the special effects people apparently filled condoms with water and dropped then from above the shot. I’ve certainly seen worse effects from far younger movies.
Apart from the special effects, I would like to recommend the movie in terms of the literary value of the dialogue. Much of the action of the film is commented upon by Carey in the form of a voiceover. Here’s an example “The cellar stretched before me like some vast primeval plain, empty of life, littered with the relics of a vanished race. No desert island castaway ever faced so bleak a prospect.”
The movie was but one in a tradition of ‘shrinking’ movies. It was preceded, for example, by Dr. Cyclops in 1940; and has been followed by numerous movies since; such as ‘Fantastic Voyage’ in 1966, ‘The Incredible Shrinking Woman’ in 1981, ‘Innerspace’ in 1987 and ‘Honey, I Shrunk The Kids’ in 1989. There was even a plan to produce ‘The Fantastic Shrinking Girl’ in the 50’s, where Carey’s wife Louise, was going to shrink too, but Universal dropped the project.
There are reports that there is to be a re-make of ‘The Incredible Shrinking Man’ in 2012. Unfortunately, it’s noted that it’s planned as an action/comedy. While it may turn out to be an enjoyable romp, I doubt that there would be much room for such a soliloquy as that of Carey at the end of the original, as he climbs out of the cellar and stares at the stars. “I was continuing to shrink, to become… what? The infinitesimal? What was I? Still a human being? Or was I the man of the future? If there were other bursts of radiation, other clouds drifting across seas and continents, would other beings follow me into this vast new world? So close – the infinitesimal and the infinite. But suddenly, I knew they were really the two ends of the same concept. The unbelievably small and the unbelievably vast eventually meet – like the closing of a gigantic circle. I looked up, as if somehow I would grasp the heavens. The universe, worlds beyond number, God’s silver tapestry spread across the night. And in that moment, I knew the answer to the riddle of the infinite. I had thought in terms of man’s own limited dimension. I had presumed upon nature. That existence begins and ends in man’s conception, not nature’s. And I felt my body dwindling, melting, becoming nothing. My fears melted away. And in their place came acceptance. All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!”
So, after all this talk of macroverses and microverses, I think I shall retire to my recliner to contemplate the nature of existence. But, before I do, there are a couple of spider webs in the bathroom. I think that I should clear them out first. Just in case…