The Incredible Shrinking Man 1957 ****

shrinking man


Sci-fi gets a bad name; good sci-fi blows the mind; The Incredible Shrinking Man’s title suggests schlock, but Jack Arnold’s film is anything but. With a Richard Matheson script, it traces the law of diminishing returns as it applies in literal terms to Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams), a businessman who is enveloped in a radioactive cloud while on vacation. He begins to shrink, his clothes don’t fit but his wife Louise agrees to stick with him. He loses his job, his brother sells his story to the press, he becomes friends with a local dwarf; radioactivity seems like a one-way trip to Skid Row. But things get worse when Carey moves into a dolls house, and is terrorised by a cat and eventually a spider, which he battles after falling into the basement. The Incredible Shrinking Man was the kind of film the BBC would cheerfully show as family viewing after the 6pm news and local round up, back in the late 70’s, when anything sci-fi was thought to have audience appeal. Many tiny minds must have been expanded by the decidedly adult ending, in which Carey’s strength is reduced to a sub-atomic level, but he retains his consciousness and somehow accepts his place in the universe in a way that might have pleased Albert Camus. Simple storytelling, vivid effects and a disturbing premise which is followed through to the bitter end; Arnold and Matheson are cult figures now, and The Incredible Shrinking Man is reason enough for their canonisation.


Transcendence 2014 ***


While much of the technological tech-talk ends up adding up to one big pile of ‘who-cares?”, Wally Pfister’s debut as director has some interesting things to say about modern life, even if the plotting is as inconsistent as any B movie, and the actors offer little in the way of character. Transcendence is supposedly the story of Will Caster (Johnny Depp), a brainbox and philosopher who finds himself facing the grim reaper when shot with a toxic bullet. His loving pals, including Evelyn and Max (Rebecca Hall and Paul Bettany), upload him to the internet where Caster assumes the mantle and powers of a god, leading to infighting between terrorist forces and government agencies. Cillian Murphy and Morgan Freeman stand around looking at screens while the drama is refocused on a desert community where a virtual Caster is building a stronghold and healing the sick. This sinister locational aspect relates Transcendence to the 1950’s sci-fi dramas of Jack Arnold, where the interiors of Caster’s underground lair recall 70’s paranoia about machines-taking-over-the world such as Colossus: The Forbin Project. While Pfister’s film has elicited plenty of hate from audiences, perhaps because of the lack of sympathetic characters who a strong emotive through-line, there’s enough details to keep genre-fans watching; a spry reference to Alan Turing suggests a more articulate, better movie is fighting to get out.