Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Incredible Shrinking Man

The Incredible Shrinking Man
seen on TV @ TCM

So Richard Matheson, who died last month at the age of 87, wrote The Incredible Shrinking Man (adapted from his own book) as well as a whole lotta other sci-fi stories. I wasn't as aware of who he was until recent years, though I had heard the name - it's hard to travel within sci-fi fandom and be unfamiliar with his name. As a Star Trek fan, I know he wrote one of the show's best episodes, "The Enemy Within" - that's the one where Kirk gets split into good Kirk and bad Kirk through a transporter accident - and as a Twilight Zone fan, I know he wrote plenty of episodes for that show.

What I've always found most fascinating about ISM is the ending. To that point, we've seen the horror of story's premise play out as Scott, the protagonist, gets so small that he can't communicate to his wife and brother, and how ordinary household objects become serious obstacles to be overcome. In the end, however, despite all that, he's able to not only come to terms with his situation, but to find a kind of peace, even as he shrinks into infinity. As a result, the ending is less scary than one would expect, especially given the fact that Scott never finds a cure for his condition, an ending a lesser writer might've gone with. 

Matheson's ending is more contemplative. "I still exist!" - Scott's final words in the film - affirm his place in the universe, no matter how minuscule. On a cosmic scale, our place in the universe seems pretty small too, yet we exist - and just as we struggle to survive in a hostile world, so too does Scott within his microscopic world. I think it's this attitude that elevates ISM above the level of B-grade horror movie into something more profound - but then again, Matheson, like many of his peers, took science fiction seriously. 

The special effects weren't bad for 1957. Oversized props were a given, but the scenes where you see pint-sized Scott in the same room as his wife looked very convincing. You'll never fool me, though, into thinking that "carnival midget" lady was an actual midget. Pity they didn't bother trying to find an actual midget.

Now why do you suppose that a movie like this was considered unsuitable for kids, as seen on the poster above? It's not that violent. Scary? Perhaps by 1957 standards. I dunno. Ironic, perhaps then, that TCM showed it as part of their "Essentials Jr." series, which I take to mean is meant for younger viewers. At least that's the way the introduction came off; the host certainly seemed like he was addressing a younger audience, anyway.

I remember seeing Lily Tomlin's remake, The Incredible Shrinking Woman, as a kid. It's been a long time since I've seen it, but I remember enough about it to know that its humor has a satirical edge to it, and that it's very different than the original. I'd like to see it again one day to see if it holds up.


  1. I remember the first time I saw "The Incredible Shrinking Man". I was only in it for the effects. Wanted to see the cat attack, the fight with the "giant" spider. The ending hit me like a ton of bricks. It was one of my most memorable movie experiences, to be so surprised and moved.

  2. While writing this, I read that there was talk of a possible sequel where he explores the sub-atomic realm, but I'm glad that didn't happen. Of course, if this had been made today...

  3. I saw the Lily Tomlin version as a kid, too. I remember liking it, but the only thing I remember with clarity is the song. "Galaxy Gluuuue, Galaxy Gluuue...What would we do without Galaxy Glue?" :)


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