Review: Atomic-Age Thriller 'The Incredible Shrinking Man' Gets Great New Blu-ray from Criterion

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Monday October 18, 2021

The terror brought on by the possibility of nuclear warfare took the center stage in a lot of sci-fi films in the 1950s, but the genre rarely achieved the existential dread of "The Incredible Shrinking Man."

A lot of the sci-fi B movies from that era had the genre trappings that we still see a lot of today — specifically, an overwhelming sense of destruction and inability to stop said destruction — but few had the resources or craft to create the scale needed. This effects-driven showcase has that craft, and the drama to boot, which should come as no surprise since the film is based upon a novel written by Richard Matheson.

The Criterion Collection brings "The Incredible Shrinking Man" to Blu-ray with a stunning new presentation sourced from a 4K digital restoration by Universal Pictures from the original camera negative. The result is a pleasing presentation with terrific contrast, especially in the optical effects-laden sequences that can look clunky with too much contrast. The film grain is offered in a nice, organic layer here, although you'll notice some thicker grain during those effects shots. Criterion adds a ton of special features to this edition as well, including a terrific feature by special effects experts about the techniques used in the film.

Robert Scott Carey (Grant Williams) is enveloped in a waking nightmare when a strange fog engulfs him and his boat while at sea. Six months later, Scott's clothes start getting too big, and he finds himself shrinking to the point of needing medical attention. This naturally causes tension in Scott's relationship with his wife, Louise (Randy Stuart), pushing them apart as Scott grows progressively smaller. Medical science fails him, Scott eventually finds himself in grave danger when he's too small to be heard.

Even with a brisk 81-minute runtime, "The Incredible Shrinking Man" feels like an opus, but one that does not exist entirely at face value. Grant Williams provides the lead foil with the kind of fatalism we've come to expect from similar characters, yet it's how the character interacts with the world around him as it grows bigger and bigger that stands out. Scott turns from tyrannical man burdened with being small into a man content with his very small place in the universe, ultimately succumbing to its persistent flow.

As far as these atomic-age dramas go, you'd be hard-pressed to find a version of "The Incredible Shrinking Man" that emphasizes as much focus on the internal life of its characters rather than the effects sequences. Luckily, that internal life provides the kind of melancholy, existential feeling that comes with exploring one's very small place in the universe.

Other special features include:

• New conversation between filmmaker Joe Dante and comedian and writer Dana Gould
• Auteur on the Campus: Jack Arnold at Universal (Director's Cut) (2021)
• Interview from 2016 with Richard Christian Matheson, novelist and screenwriter Richard Matheson's son
• Interview from 1983 with director Jack Arnold
• 8 mm home-cinema version from 1969
• The Lost Music of "The Incredible Shrinking Man"
• Trailer and teaser narrated by filmmaker Orson Welles
• PLUS: An essay by critic Geoffrey O'Brien

"The Incredible Shrinking Man" is now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection.