From classic 50s sci-fi B-movies to today’s blockbusters like Marvel’s Ant-Man, which has just opened on Sky Premiere (Sky 301/314, Virgin 401/431), when it comes to movies about people getting shrunk to the size of bugs, there’s some awfully big adventures out there
Here are 12 microscopic-movie marvels that journey into inner space…
THE DEVIL DOLL (1936) Lionel Barrymore’s wrongly convicted prisoner used a secret miniaturisation serum to take vengeance on his enemies in this wonderfully batty special effects chiller from Freaks director Tod Browning. The camera trickery, which used the traveling matte process to ‘cut out’ the actors and insert them at reduced size into the live action, was regarded as brilliant for its time.
DR CYCLOPS (1940) This thrilling Technicolor shocker saw a group of scientists fighting off giant insects, birds and a cat after being shrunk by a sinister scientist (Albert Dekker) in the Peruvian jungle. Employing great optical illusions and oversized sets and giant props – including a mechanically operated hand – this film was a huge influence on Irwin Allen’s 1960s TV sci-fi Land of the Giants.
ALICE IN WONDERLAND (1951) Lewis Carroll's classic fantasy about Alice, who falls asleep and wakes up in a bizarre world, was transformed into one of Disney’s oddest feature films. While it was a box-office flop, its beautiful, surreal imagery found the studios animators in top form, which has only helped its reputation to grow over the years. Plus, the catchy tunes are everlasting.
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING MAN (1957) Classy special effects turned an ordinary household into a giant arena of menace and fear in this brilliant adaptation of Richard Matheson’s classic novel in which an ordinary family man (Grant Williams) starts shrinking after being exposed to a radioactive mist. Directed by the king of 1950s monster movies, Jack Arnold, it’s a surprisingly intelligent and serious sci-fi movie, while the fight between a tiny Grant Williams and a common house spider is still a chilling standout.
THE 7TH VOYAGE OF SINBAD (1958) This remains one of the best-ever Arabian Nights adventure movies and the one that started the craze for Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion monsters. And they're used to great effect as Kerwin Mathews' Sinbad battles a snake-woman, a dragon, a cyclops and a duelling skeleton in his bid to restore to normal size a princess (Kathryn Grant), who has been cursed by a wicked magician.
FANTASTIC VOYAGE (1966) Fantastic is the word for this seminal shrinking movie in which five scientists and their submarine are shrunk to microbe-size and injected into the bloodstream of a scientist to save his life. Not surprisingly, this imaginative sci-fi flick won Oscars for both special effects and production design for its colourful depiction of the inside of the human body. Giant corpuscle alert!
WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY (1971) Gene Wilder is by turns funny, endearing and sinister in this musical version of Roald Dahl's novel Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, which finds Peter Ostrum's poor but honest Charlie joining four greedy, spoilt kids on a tour of Wilder’s crazy confectioner’s factory. While Roald Dahl disowned the film which deviated from his novel, it's filled with some stand-out moments, including Mike Teevee succumbing to the lure of Wonkavision, which leaves him only six inches tall.
THE INCREDIBLE SHRINKING WOMAN (1981) Thanks to an overdose of a revolutionary new perfume housewife Lily Tomlin is getting smaller and smaller and ends up a national celebrity. This daft mix of satire and slapstick from future Batman director Joel Schumacher didn’t quite deliver, but the dodgy special effects were pretty fun and make-up expert Rick Baker certainly makes an impression dressed up in his own gorilla suit.
INNERSPACE (1987) Test pilot Dennis Quaid is miniaturised in a scientific experiment, but he accidentally ends up being injected into the backside of ineffectual hypochondriac Martin Short. Surely one of the oddest buddy movies ever made, this Steven Spielberg-produced sci-fi comedy seamlessly blended sci-fi, comedy and thrills, and earned the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic an Oscar for their imaginative effects.
HONEY, I SHRUNK THE KIDS (1989) The bottom of the garden never looked scarier than in this livewire Disney family comedy in which Rick Moranis’ absent-minded professor accidentally shrinks his children, forcing them to make the perilous journey back to the house. Special effects man-turned-director Joe Johnston scored with some terrific scenes including a hair-raising flight by a bumblebee and a terrifying battle with a giant scorpion. Disney made so much from this movie that it spawned two sequels.
DOLLS (1987) Doll-maker Guy Rolfe imprisoned immoral people into toys to pay for their crimes in this 1980s horror from director Stuart Gordon, who helmed the cult horror comedy hit Re-Animator, and Charles Band, who turned the idea into the successful Puppet Master franchise. Despite its low-budget effects, this is creepy modern fairy tale that still resonates.
BEETLEJUICE (1988) This visually-stunning live-action cartoon gave Michael Keaton one his most iconic roles, playing a raucous and repulsive 'bio-exorciser' Betelgeuse, who causes chaos for newly-deads Alec Baldwin and Geena Davis when they ask him to exorcise the horrid New York family who have taken over their New England home. The inventive SFX included a scene involving a miniature town landscape which served as Beetlejuice’s erstwhile prison, in which a fly become a tasty snack when he grabs it and pulls it under some artificial ground.
ANT-MAN (2015) This awesome Marvel Comics adventure brings miniaturisation to the big screen with some astonishing visual effects. Paul Rudd’s cat burglar Scott dons a special suit created by Michael Douglas's wary scientist, which causes him to shrink to near-microscopic proportions. He then faces a range of perils – from being sluiced down a bathtub plughole to getting sucked up by a vacuum cleaner – as he faces off with Douglas’s former protégé. The climactic battle, which takes place entirely in a little girl's bedroom, is ingenious…
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