Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989) & The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957)

Posted by on Dec 21, 2011 in Out of This World | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some mildly frightening moments involving ginormous bugs.

Ever since 1957, when sci-fi director Jack Arnold (Creature from the Black Lagoon and It Came from Outer Space) turned the cameras to an average Joe, who slowly becomes a Lilliputian after being exposed to a cloud of radiation, filmgoers have been fascinated with the shrinking/growing hero formula. Dozens of this kind have seen release since (a shrinking woman came along in 1981 and 1994), and a remake with Eddie Murphy is rumored, but none have enjoyed quite as much commercial success as Disney Studios, which started with a family-friendly shrinking movie and eventually turned it into a TV show, sequels (both cinema and made-for-TV), and a theme park playground.

For The Incredible Shrinking Man, Arnold took a tiny budget and some unknown actors to create a marriage of science fiction, horror, and camp. The story and its many subplots, from Richard Matheson’s novel and screenplay, leave little to be desired. The movie’s saving grace – and the item that viewers fell for – was the hero’s many adventures and hardships once he dwindled down to one-inch tall. Arnold uses blown-up set pieces, forced perspectives, and rear projection to accomplish these visual feats, which include a battle with a feral cat and spider. The former fight sends our hero into the depths of the basement, where his wife presumes that the cat devoured him, and his goal then becomes survival and escape. He rather enjoys his quest – in this world, he is a conqueror – and he sleeps in a matchbox, steals food from a mousetrap, uses a pin as a sword, and stays afloat during a flood.

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Honey, I Shrunk the Kids unfolds far differently, in terms of story, but the focus is once again placed on the visual spectacle and effects, this time updated and far more expensive. So it’s suitable that they turned to Star Wars effects guru Joe Johnston (in his directorial debut, moving on to make The Rocketeer and Jumanji) and the technological prowess of Industrial Light and Magic. The story is ludicrous and almost not worth mentioning, as two families of neighbors in suburbia think they’re equally weird. One household has inventor Wayne Szalinski (Rick Moranis), while the other has witless outdoorsman Russ Thompson (Matt Frewer). While both fathers are typical bumbling idiots, the mothers (Marcia Strassman and Kristine Sutherland) are expected to clean things up, have PMS, and get angry – generally, they keep order out of chaos. Surrounded by a home with more gadgets than Pee Wee Herman, young Nick Szalinski (Robert Oliveri) aspires to be his father, while Amy (Amy O’Neill) digs boys and long phone conversations. The other home is terribly similar. (What a surprise, I wonder if maybe the families will realize how much they have in common?) Young Ron (Jared Rushton) is an excited sportsman and Russ Jr. (Thomas Wilson Brown) is a typical horny, apathetic teen. Did I mention the cute dog Quark (a deus ex machina of sorts)?

Through the most convenient Shrunk3of placement, a stray baseball activates the new shrinking machine in the Szalinski attic and the kids find themselves a quarter-inch tall. When dad comes and sweeps up the place, he empties the kids in the garbage and they must venture across the now-expansive backyard and get home in time for mall sales. The film, like its predecessors, takes advantage of big set pieces, matte paintings, and some computer effects to create a jungle out of a backyard. The blades of grass tower to the scale of skyscrapers, puddles become lakes, and the sprinkler and lawnmower are some serious WMDs. The highlight moments of the movie include an exciting ride atop a gigantic bumblebee and a tragic encounter with a scorpion. Still, when they whimper and panic, it’s hard to empathize with the kids knowing that home is only a few miles away, and they have food or injuries.

It’s a fun little adventure (why else would they have so many follow-ups?), but as far as comedy goes, it falls a tad short. There’s a few clever plugs for To Have and Have Not and The Wizard of Oz, but there’s also ads for Little Debbie, Legos, and Cheerios, not to mention the blatant PSA about Camel Lights. Perhaps it would have seen a bit more pep if Wayne Szalinski had a bit more Bob McKenzie or Louis Tulley in him.

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