Apr 16 2010

Article XXII – In Which A Second Shrinking May or May Not Occur

The original title for this column was “In Which I Apologize for Publishing this Column Three Weeks After It Was Supposed to Go Live,” but I figured if I start apologizing now, it could start a dangerous trend in which you gradually come to expect more and more from me until the pressure makes my head explode.  In fact, I’m going to go on record and say that me not updating for almost three weeks was a purposeful act of defiance to keep you (the readers and my faithful mildly apathetic followers) in line and on your toes.  Yes.  An exercise of my own considerable power, if you will.  Turning your expectations to dust.  I spent the last three weeks (is it four weeks now?) laughing at your misfortune.

Please don’t quit reading now, my ego still needs to be fed.

This week’s two weeks Three weeks ago’s movie was The Incredible Shrinking Man, made in 1957, adapted from a novel written by science fiction juggernaut Richard Matheson.  It’s 81 minutes long.  Can anyone tell me what else is 81 minutes long?  That’s the amount of time I spend in the bathroom in front of the mirror psyching myself up to write this column.  Alternating yelling “WHO’S THE BEST?!” and “YOU’RE THE BEST!!”

It doesn’t work.

The movie begins with the main character, Scott Carey on vacation with his wife.  A strange mist radioactive cloud rolls in and bathes him in that rampant catastrophe-causing material that was all over the place in the 50’s.  Six months later, he recognizes his shirt is a little too big for him.  And that’s the end of the film.  Perfect twist ending, the audience gets a laugh, and you totally don’t see it coming, even though it gives it away in the title.

For those of you who are not so gullible (I know I lost like half my audience there…you guys are so dumb), this is obviously not the end of the film.  He continues to shrink, and has to deal with the psychological side effects that come with his strange condition.  The media hounds him, people make fun of him, and his relationship with his wife is incredibly strained.  Eventually he turns into a tiny jerk who has to live in a dollhouse, then a matchbox.  He gets smaller and smaller dealing with things like cats and giant spiders and floods.

I realize this is the second article in a row on shrinking people – so should I copy/paste all the info from the last article on visual effects and forced perspective and blah blah blah?  No, I don’t think anyone wants to hear that.  This movie pioneered a lot of the effects you see in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.  Oversized props, recreated to look exactly like their smaller counterparts, look amazing.  I’ve always said that when I become an eccentric millionaire billionaire I would create a bunch of props to make me feel like I was a tiny person.  But to be honest, the best effects in the movie are the subtler aspects.  Since his shrinking is going so slow, simple things like the shirt being a couple of sizes too big or him having to adjust his belt, or noticing that he’s always been taller than someone he is now a couple inches shorter than.  Subtle uses that eventually build into the grand set pieces and forced perspective shots are incredibly effective.

Not a no. 2 pencil

So –  the writing.  I would like to tell you all now: I believe that Richard Matheson is a god.  Among the science fiction greats – this guy is probably in my top 3 writers.  To give you a sample of his work – What Dreams May Come, Somewhere in Time, I am Legend, The Box, and quite a few of the more famous Twilight Zone episodes – are all credits to his name.  The key to his writing is that he is able to create believable, conflicted characters with realistic dialogue and motivations,  more so than almost any other science fiction author. Matheson’s characters are people dealing with extraordinary situations.

Such is true with this film.  A huge focus for the majority of the first part of the film is Scott’s relationship with his wife.  Although it has almost nothing to do with his physical height, the fact that he’s going through such a tremendous change is reminiscent of a couple in which one person has a debilitating disease.  Scott is moody, irritable, and snappy.  We all know that’s no fun (amirite fellas?)  Obviously, this puts strain on their relationship.  Although she tries to be supportive, it’s just not easy.

Another huge weight on his tiny shoulders (see what I did there?) is the media and the common man’s reaction to it.  Unlike most “freakshow” movies of the time, the ramifications of his condition pry their way into his life.  He is hounded by reporters, made fun of by people he walks by on the street, and even feels like a freak when he goes to a carnival.  That’s right, folks, the CARNIES are more at ease in this movie than Scott is.  What kind of sick, twisted world is this?

Once he gets to a certain height, Scott is chased into the basement by their household cat.  At this point, his wife gives up looking for him because she thinks the cat has gotten him, and he is on his own.  There is a lingering hope that maybe she’ll come downstairs and he’ll be able to get her attention.   The fact that the film doesn’t resolve this plotline happily is something that sets it apart.  There is no part of this film that feels like Scott is getting it easy.  There is nothing cool or “hip” about shrinking in this film.  It’s strictly a negative effect.  It’s a fight for survival.

The last bit of the film deals with his being trapped in the basement and his fight for some old cake crumbs with a “giant” spider. Although the effects may not be the best, this is one of the most interesting conflicts in the film.  Scott struggles with nature for survival.

SHIIIIIIIIIIIIITTT

Now.  The absolute best thing about this film is the end.  Not because the movie is over (smartass).  But because in the last minute or so, this above average 1950’s science fiction gimmick film grows into a philosophical examination of the universe and life.

IF YOU CAN’T TAKE THE SPOILERS – GET THE HELL OUT RIGHT NOW.

The film ends with Scott shrinking down into a subatomic size, his hunger and fight for survival gone.  He grows beyond fear.  He has a sense of wonder at the universe, musing on how being small is a completely different world.  We’re left with a single shot of the grass outside his basement and his narration.  Originally, I put the entire quote in here – but I think it’s better that you see the film for yourself.  With a movie that acts like the typical 50’s sci-fi feature, the ending is a philosophical musing that really brings everything together.  We cover the meaning of life, the idea that there are other worlds beyond our own, and a circular view of life: that nothing ever ends.

It’s incredibly effective.  I really enjoyed it.

Does anything more really need to be said?  No.

But I’m going to say it anyways: Next week’s movie is Jurassic Park.  Now, I don’t want to get anyone’s expectations up, but it’s going to be the greatest review ever.  This website will become famous for my 28 part open discourse and examination of this film.  I also expect to be hired by any one of a million different newspapers after they see the brilliance.

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