Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment are going to remake the classic 1957 Incredible Shrinking Man as a comedy vehicle for Eddie Murphy . . .

If I were Eddie Murphy I would however think twice about signing on for this particular project.

Science fiction-related comedies don’t seem to be good for Murphy’s career. His Adventures of Pluto Nash was a huge box office disaster and Murphy’s latest movie, Meet Dave (previously called Starship Dave – a much better title to our mind), also bombed at the busy U.S. box office this summer.

It would seem that if Murphy doesn’t make fun of fat people (Norbit, The Nutty Professor movies) then he’s a dud at the box office and audiences simply don’t care. Maybe Murphy’s shrinking man should start off as an incredibly obese person then – who knows?

Interestingly enough the original movie on which Incredible Shrinking Man will be “based” wasn’t a comedy at all. In fact it was a rather deadly serious movie based on a novel by Richard Matheson (I Am Legend, Somewhere in Time). Matheson also wrote the screenplay for the movie. In it actor Grant Williams plays Scott Carey, an Aryan Everyman replete with blonde hair and bland ‘Fifties leading man looks.

The movie kicks off with Carey and his wife Louise (Randy Stuart) on a boating trip whilst on vacation. While she goes below decks to fetch him a beer, the boat passes through a mysterious mist. A few weeks later Carey finds that either his wife keeps on picking up the wrong clothes at the drycleaners – or that he is actually physically shrinking in size. Point is, his clothes no longer fit him. Carey’s GP is skeptical that Carey is actually getting smaller, but after a few more weeks the evidence is inescapable: Carey is indeed slowly shrinking.

It’s like a Kafkaesque nightmare for Carey. Soon the six foot five Carey is actually shorter than his petite blonde wife. Scientists come up with a possible cure – which seems to work for a while, but then Carey regresses again and keeps on shrinking until he is about the size of a toy soldier! One night after an argument – this turn of events has really sullied Carey’s general mood – Carey’s wife goes out to buy some stuff at the local supermarket. She however accidentally lets their pet cat in, who takes an immediate interest in Carey and tries to eat him. Carey manages to escape, but winds up in the basement of his house.

"Shrinking to miniscule size was apparently something to be taken very seriously back in the 1950s . . ."

His wife returns, and after looking for him everywhere (but the basement) gives him up for dead. Meanwhile Carey is shrinking even faster now and, as if being threatened by the house cat wasn’t bad enough, he now has to use a needle to protect himself from a tarantula spider! Life in the basement below becomes one long Darwinian struggle for survival as Carey not only battles household insects, but has to somehow find food, water and shelter. That the basement gets flooded at one point also doesn’t help. This last segment of Incredible Shrinking Man is a particularly grueling slog to sit through.

In later years Hollywood movies would treat the whole “shrinking” business as a plot device for fast-paced family comedies such as Innerspace and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. The last Hollywood flick to give the concept the serious treatment was the 1966 Fantastic Voyage movie starring Raquel Welch. It would seem that growing to miniscule sizes after being affected by a mysterious mist of unknown origin was something to be taken much more seriously back in the 1950s than it is today! Maybe one can view The Incredible Shrinking Man as a metaphor for alienation. After all, it shares several elements with Franz Kafka’s 1915 short story Metamorphosis about a man who awakes one morning to discover that he has turned into a giant cockroach overnight.

However whereas the protagonist of Kafka’s novella is scorned and rejected by his family and friends, Carey’s wife and brother never really desert him. Which is why if you’re nasty you can say that Incredible Shrinking Man is a metaphor for emasculated masculinity instead. Or a patriarchy threatened by encroaching feminism. Take your pick.

After all Carey becomes completely dependent on his wife for his survival, something that must have gnawed from the the ‘Fifties viewpoint of the husband as breadwinner and provider. At one point she even keeps Carey on in a doll’s house, dressing him in dolls’ clothes!

When Carey asked his wife to fetch him a beer at the beginning of the movie, she - unlike a good and obedient ‘Fifties housewife is supposed to do – actually refuses! Only after good-naturedly cajoling her, does she relent. In their relationship (they have no children) they come across as equals. It is almost as if the movie is saying “look what happens when you don’t keep women under your thumb!”

Ultimately Carey escapes into the garden outside, but he now shrinks into nothingness. The movie ends on a weird religious epilogue typical of movies of the era. It is somewhat similar to the whole “thank-God-for-creating-viruses-to-which-Martian- invaders-have-no-immunity” ending of the original 1953 movie version of H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds. It goes like: “God loves all His creatures no matter how small and no matter whom He caused to shrink to subatomic particle size.”

Of course no Hollywood exec in his (or her) right mind will make a straightforward remake of The Incredible Shrinking Man today; not a bad idea in itself as the special effects – even though they are cleverly done – are quite dated today. It is only obvious that they would want to turn it into a comedy especially when one considers the family-friendly box office success of Disney’s Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. In the Murphy project Carey will be a famous Las Vegas magician who is put under a spell that causes him to shrink. He must find a way to reverse the spell before he gets so small that he “disappears.”

By the way, if it is any indication of what kind of movie to expect, the remake once had Little Man / Scary Movie director Keenen Ivory Wayans attached, but now has X-Men 3 / Rush Hour director Brett Ratner sitting in the director’s chair . . .



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