Let’s step back in time to watch this strange 1957 movie, The Incredible Shrinking Man, from the novel of the same name by the great Richard Matheson.
It all begins with what could be the genesis of a superhero; that is, with the protagonist, Scott Carey, accidentally being exposed to a strange radioactive cloud.
The incident occurs while he’s on a boat with his wife, yet it’s not until several months later that the man notices some changes.
Indeed, none of his clothes seem to fit him anymore, as if they were always too loose; and he also notices he is losing weight at a steady and worrying rate.
When he visits a doctor, examinations find his height also decreased, a few inches shorter than when he called for insurance the year before.
Month after month, this strange phenomenon continues nonstop, and he lives in a panic of shrinking until he disappears, although his wife Louise and brother Charlie try to assist and reassure him.
The media also take an interest in his strange story, and he becomes a national figure, getting even more attention from the medical community, which, unfortunately, continues not to know what to do to reverse or at least stop the shrinking.
His size becomes that of a toy, and his wife buys a dollhouse for him where he can live more conveniently, albeit humiliatingly.
However, one morning she goes out for her usual business, and the house cat tries to eat him, so he plummets down the stairs to the basement below, trying to flee.
Getting back upstairs is as impossible as climbing a mountain. While everyone thinks he is missing, poor Scott must fight for his life inside his own home, now a jungle of death threats to him at every turn.
The Art of Old-School Sci-Fi
Fans of cutting-edge special effects may have to compromise with The Incredible Shrinking Man, considering that the movie dates back to 1957.
However, for lovers of the genre, there is no director better suited to immerse themselves in the era’s science fiction than Jack Arnold.
Indeed, his talent spawned such masterpieces and cult films as Tarantula and Creature from the Black Lagoon; the latter, for example, openly paid homage to Guillermo del Toro in the celebrated and award-winning The Shape of Water.
The director achieves most of the scenes in which the protagonist shrinks with traditional techniques, such as modeling, overlays, and skillful use of perspective.
But the overall visual impression does not suffer from old age, just as the narrative pacing is impeccable and concedes no moments of futility, balancing explanations of events with moments of family drama.
The film manages to mix the tension of the setting with a touch of irony, showing the character gradually shrinking from the size of a child to that of a toy.
Finally, the last part, adventurous and eventful, is the perfect close with the final confrontation against a terrible spider that inevitably recalls the Tarantula monster.
Undoubtedly, much of the credit must be given to the original novel by Richard Matheson, the mythical author of such works as I Am Legend, the bible of the horror/sci-fi genre, and numerous other works and screenplays.
Of these, the one I remember most fondly is the movie that marked Steven Spielberg‘s phenomenal debut in film history: the uncanny Duel.
The writer’s great ability is to take ordinary everyday experiences and situations well known to everyone, constantly turning them into incredible adventures where our humdrum reality becomes a wondrous fantasy world to be discovered in every detail.
Talent is greater than CGI
Without a doubt, Grant Williams plays the central role in the plot, playing Scott Carey.
Initially, his character appears as the archetypal strong, attractive American with no worries. However, it is only a short time before his perspective on life changes dramatically.
As Scott loses height, his understanding of the fragility of the human condition grows. Soon, he finds himself forced to set aside family and friends, focusing all his energy on the struggle for survival.
Randy Stuart delivers an equally convincing performance as Louise, Scott’s wife.
Her performance highlights the drama of a bewildered woman, unable to help the man she loves and lacking answers from the doctors and scientists involved in the case.
Finally, the character of Paul Langton, who plays Charlie, Scott’s brother, has a more limited but significant presence in the plot.
Coming and going in very brief scenes, he emerges mainly in the film’s final part, when everyone believes Scott is dead or missing.
In an ironic twist, Charlie will be the unintentional cause of Scott’s isolation in the flooded basement, where he will have to face the terrible spider monster he was trying to escape.
The Incredible Shrinking Man is an extraordinary movie that goes beyond the technical restrictions of 1957, demonstrating how creativity and ingenuity can overcome the obstacles of those times.
Indeed, the narrative skill of the author, combined with the visual brilliance and artistry of the director, turns this science fiction gem into a shining beacon of the genre, attracting and captivating audiences then and now.
That beacon continues to guide future generations of filmmakers, who draw inspiration from that era when you could not hide a lack of talent behind easy and expensive digital effects.