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Film / The Incredible Shrinking Man

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The Incredible Shrinking Man is a 1957 sci-fi movie directed by Jack Arnold, based on the novel The Shrinking Man by Richard Matheson.

Grant Williams stars as Scott Carey, an ordinary man who is exposed to some type of dust cloud (generally assumed to be radioactive) and subsequently begins to slowly shrink, soon growing so miniscule that his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) is unable to see or hear him. Scott finds himself battling for his life against his pet cat and a spider, and confronting the possibility of eventually shrinking to nothing.

This is considered one of the better sci-fi movies of The '50s, thanks to an intelligent script and above-average special effects that lift it above the standard B-Movie fare of the era.

In 2015, the book had a comic adaptation from IDW Publishing (Creator), which was distributed in a 4 issue miniseries from July to October. It shares the title with the book and is closer in terms of story detail. Though the variant cover to Issue 3 uses the movie title.


The movie provides examples of:

  • Adaptation Distillation: In the novel, Scott had a daughter. A couple other omissions from the movie:
    • At 42 inches, Scott has some trouble with his car and hitches a ride with a guy. Problem is that the guy believes Scott is a preteen kid and tries to hit on him.
    • Scott has shrunken to about three feet tall when he encounters a group of boys. When they realize he's that "Shrinking Man" they want to take his pants off to see if EVERY part of him had shrunk.
  • Adaptational Species Change: Because black widows are too small (and too deadly) to be used, a tarantula from Panama named Tamara in the press book played the role of the spider.
  • Alas, Poor Villain: During his monologue at the end of the film, Scott says that he understands that the spider was also just trying to survive.
  • Bittersweet Ending/Downer Ending: Mileage will vary on which one this is. Scott's voice-over monologue at the end has him accepting the inevitable and reaffirming that no matter how small he is, he will still matter in this universe. That doesn't change the fact that he will eventually shrink to atomic size or worse, that his wife assumes that their cat had eaten him.
    • In the book, his family packs up and moves out of the house the day before he finally shrinks for what he thinks is the final time. But it turns out much happier for Scott, as he finds he's now in a new microscopic world, still existing but smaller than anything any normal person could perceive. Excited by the implications of all this, he happily runs off to explore his new surroundings.
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  • Cats Are Mean: You just knew that the cat was going to try to eat poor Scott when he got small enough.
  • Giant Spider: Technically, the spider is normal sized, it's Scott that's small, but from his POV, it is giant.
  • Hollywood Science: Due to the Square-Cube Law but may have been mildly averted; see below. Of course, as he gets smaller and smaller there are other issues not related to the Square/Cube law that would become very problematic and eventually kill him, but like most films of this nature these issues are ignored. As he gets extremely small he'd freeze to death because his body would lose heat faster than it produces it (this is why birds have feathers and small mammals have fur), his lungs would not work properly when he is insect-sized (insects don't have lungs and rely on air pressure to force oxygen into their bodies through special openings), food would become impossible to find or digest, and once he shrinks small enough the air molecules would be too big for him to breathe.
  • Hope Spot: An antidote is found that stops his shrinking at three feet, and a friendship with a midget helps him realize that it's possible to live happily even at that size. Then the antidote stops working. Matheson wrote a sequel — unfortunately never filmed — where it turned out the antidote has long-delayed effects that will eventually return him to normal. Scott's wife catches on as she begins to shrink herself. She sets out to find Scott, then they have more adventures trying to get back to the house.
  • I Love Nuclear Power: As stated in the summary, the cloud is generally assumed to be radioactive.
  • Incredible Shrinking Man: The trope namer of course.
  • Magic Pants: Completely averted. Scott's physical body gets smaller while his clothes don't. As a result, he is forced to wear children's clothes, doll clothes and the rags from his doll clothes.
  • Mouse World: From the scenes in the dollhouse to being chased by the cat, and finally being trapped in the cellar. In the cellar, this is the epitome of the Mouse World. Scott is forced to eat crumbs from a stale cake, live inside a match box and fight off a spider.
  • Narrating the Present: One interesting this is that Scott's voice remains the same pitch despite his getting smaller as the film progresses, unless we're reading his mind...
  • Square-Cube Law: Quite possibly averted because Scott slowly shrinks, thus giving his body a chance to adapt.

All this vast majesty of creation, it had to mean something. And then I meant something, too. Yes, smaller than the smallest, I meant something, too. To God, there is no zero. I still exist!


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