The Incredible Shrinking Man
Who made it: Directed by Jack Arnold. With Grant Williams.
Audience appeal: 10 and up.
Once upon a time: When he powers his motorboat through a strange, sparkly mist Scott Carey doesn’t think much of it — at the time. But six months later, Scott notices his pants don’t fit. His weight is down, and he isn’t as tall as he used to be. Scott is shrinking — and the smaller he gets, the bigger (and more alien, and more dangerous) everything around him becomes.
Inappropriate material: There are some scary moments with a spider, and kids may never quite look at their cute little kitty in quite the same way again.
Why kids will like it: Of course there are the special effects — a bit retro now, and all in black-and-white, but still thrilling as Scott flees that now-titanic tabby, or has to improvise weapons to battle a gigantic spider. But there are deeper themes here, and it’s easy for children to relate to them, too — particularly the sometimes fearful feelings of helplessness that come from being a small, unimposing creature in a huge, distracted and often unfriendly world.
Why adults will like it: Director Jack Arnold had one of the more adult voices in ’50s fantasy filmmaking, and the late Richard Matheson — who wrote the screenplay, based on his own novel – was already on his way to becoming one of the genre’s most respected leaders. So it should be no surprise that, beyond the thrills, their movie also provides some moments of increasingly dark introspection. Because although Scott (played by the appropriately drab Grant Williams) may be facing a singularly fantastic crisis, his daily problems are depressingly real — from pondering his diminished role in his marriage (can the “man of the house” be 18 inches tall?) to questions about the meaning of life.
Fast forward/freeze frame: At just over 80 minutes, there aren’t too many slow patches, and it’s all pretty easy to follow.
Fun trivia: The movie was such a hit the studio hired Matheson to write a sequel featuring Scott’s wife, but it was never made. Seeing yet-unexploited opportunities though, B-movie mogul Bert I. Gordon immediately rushed out “The Amazing Colossal Man,” about a person with the opposite problem. It’s schlocky — but not nearly as disappointing as Lily Tomlin’s awkward 1981 satire, “The Incredible Shrinking Woman.”
Teachable moments: Matheson, who was born in Allendale, was a wildly prolific author whose work ranged from westerns to noir, and inspired everything from “Twilight Zone” episodes to Steven Spielberg’s “Duel.” Point slightly older readers at his “I Am Legend,” “The Shrinking Man” or any of his terrific collections of short stories.
Double features: For an even trippier — and somewhat more gruesome — journey into body modification, rent “X: The Man With X-Ray Eyes,” with snobby scientist Ray Milland developing superior vision — and a raging God complex.