• Incredible Shrinking Woman, The

    Released by: Shout! Factory
    Released on: November 14, 2017
    Director: Joel Schumacher
    Cast: Lily Tomlin, Charles Grodin, Ned Beatty, Henry Gibson, Elizabeth Wilson, Mark Blankfield, John Glover, Rick Baker, and Mike Douglas as Himself
    Year: 1981
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    The Movie:

    Under the direction of the infamous Joel Schumacher, guided by the scripting brilliance of Moment by Moment writer/director Jane Wagner, Richard Matheson’s classic 1956 science-fiction novel The Shrinking Man (also the basis for Jack Arnold’s adaptation of the same name, released by Universal a year after the novel’s publication) became the delightfully daffy and disarming Lily Tomlin comedy vehicle The Incredible Shrinking Woman. Released by Universal Pictures in the dead of winter 1981, this pastel-coated genre lark and cult favorite makes its debut on Region A Blu-ray from Shout! Factory.

    Initially intended to be John Landis’ follow-up to his smash hit comedy The Blues Brothers, Shrinking Woman underwent a change in directors when a clash with the studio over his grand vision and a budget three times more than the Universal execs were prepared to allocate resulted in Landis’ departure. He went on to make his beloved horror-comedy classic An American Werewolf in London (another Universal release, albeit one financed by the now-defunct Polygram Pictures), a project that had been nurturing for more than a decade, while former costume designer Schumacher took the helm after having written the screenplays for the Universal productions Car Wash and The Wiz.

    Scripting duties for Shrinking Woman were taken on by Jane Wagner, Tomlin’s longtime writing collaborator (the two started working together on the popular TV sketch comedy series Laugh-In) and future wife who had previously directed her in the ill-conceived love story Moment by Moment, another Universal release and a film notorious in its awfulness primarily due to Tomlin’s lack of romantic chemistry with her poorly chosen leading man John Travolta. Despite Moment’s disastrous reception with audiences and critics, Tomlin had earned critical raves (and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Supporting Actress) for her standout performance in Robert Altman’s epic ensemble comedy-drama masterpiece Nashville.

    Before taking on the title role in Shrinking Woman, Tomlin had co-starred alongside Jane Fonda and Dolly Parton in the memorable workplace farce 9 to 5, and that had been a huge box office hit during the 1980 Christmas movie season. Shrinking Woman was originally scheduled to open theatrically around the same time, but Universal delayed its release so they could open their film in the wake of 9 to 5’s financial success and hope to ride its coattails and reap a little of that reward themselves. The gamble proved very profitable in the end as post-holiday audiences in need of a little escapist fun to deal with the winter doldrums helped make Shrinking Woman a $20 million hit.

    Schumacher and Wagner conceived of their gender-swapped variation on Matheson’s as less of a frightening B-horror and more of an ambling, lighthearted satire of the consumerist culture that had taken an iron-gripped hold on the soul of America in the years following the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal that had ended the presidency of Richard Nixon. Tomlin plays Pat Kramer, a housewife who lives with her family in an idealized suburb cheekily dubbed Tasty Meadows. She doesn’t have the perfect life, but it’s a good life; she has a lovely home kept up by her dutiful Mexican housekeeper named Concepcion (Maria Smith), well-behaved children, and her husband Vance (Charles Grodin) is a successful executive for an advertising firm who is always bringing home samples of the products for which his company is paid handsomely to shill the non-threatening inhabitants of the Lower 48.

    An inhalant created from a combination of the household chemicals Pat uses on a daily basis starts to have a troubling effect on her physical being. One day she wakes up and discovers that her height has decreased by a few inches. But hey, that happens with age for a lot of people, right? You might think so, but unfortunately for Pat, the worst is yet to come. Soon she finds herself shrinking to the size of a small child, and it doesn’t stop there. Before long she’s moving into a doll house and trying to make small talk with a bunch of inanimate action figures while her real family becomes alienated and begins to forget about her. Pat achieves the status of overnight celebrity, appearing on the covers of People and Time, and exchanging pleasantries on national television with talk show host Mike Douglas (played by the man himself).

    Pat lives in a world of instant celebrity, where her friends and neighbors are obsessed with the latest affordable products and everyone dresses in the most eye-scorching fashions this side of a John Waters film. Advertising jingles are heard so much in The Incredible Shrinking Woman that they act as both a nightmarish Greek chorus and a cackling mad mockery of the degradation of the American way of life. The central concept of an average housewife with an idyllic family and life who begins to feel the emotional and physical effects of prolonged exposure to the world around her was explored with lacerating insight and tragic humanity in Todd Haynes’ brilliant 1995 arthouse drama Safe.

    The film could possibly have become a cinematic comedy all-timer had it embraced this subtle savagery of Me Decade consumerism and taken it even further, but its aspirations for greatness are treated to a pillow-over-the-face snuffing in the form of a third act descent into sitcom buffoonery, involving slapstick chases, a nefarious plot for world domination overseen by Tomlin’s Laugh-In co-star and fellow Robert Altman repertory player Henry Gibson, Robin Hood: Men in Tights’ Mark Blankfield as a goofy janitor, and a sweet gorilla named Sidney (played by special effects make-up legend Rick Baker) who has terrific comedic instinct and knows the exact right moment to give someone the middle finger.

    No animals were harmed in the making of this film, but several Colombian drug mules confessed under the condition of anonymity that they were personally tackled by members of the cast and crew on several occasions.

    The Incredible Shrinking Woman is an intermittently funny film with some interesting ideas and barely enough talent to pull them off. Skillfully straddling the line between dramatic depth and broad comic performance, Tomlin prevents the film from complete mediocrity with her charming and sympathetic portrayal of Pat Kramer. She also plays Pat’s inquisitive, beauty product-shilling neighbor Judith and even resurrects her famous character Ernestine the Telephone Operator for a brief but welcome bit during the hectic finale. Tomlin could have mugged up a storm the moment she started shrinking, and yet she always keeps the performance real and at times heartbreaking.

    The rest of the cast can do little but keep up with her greatness, but Charles Grodin’s trademark stone-faced underplaying worked well for the role of Pat’s concerned husband Vance, even during the moments in the film’s promising midsection where the character comes off as a bit of a selfish douchebag and ineffectual nebbish. Ned Beatty (Network) has some funny moments as Vance’s conniving boss, a slithering charlatan who turns out to have something resembling a soul towards the end.

    Schumacher’s special effects department headed up by the great Roy Arbogast (John Carpenter’s The Thing) forewent forced perspective in-camera shots and instead relied on green screen compositing and a series of oversized sets and props to create the illusion of Pat’s shrinking, and the combination of innovative and old school FX tricks just about convinces with the help of cinematographer Bruce Logan, a photographic effects veteran from 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Wars: A New Hope who would go on to shoot the original Tron and in 1995 return to work with Schumacher as the visual effects director of photographer on Batman Forever.


    Shout! Factory presents The Incredible Shrinking Woman in its Region A Blu-ray premiere with a 1080p high-definition transfer encoded in MPEG-4 AVC and correctly framed in the film’s original 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The packaging makes no mention of including a fresh 2K/4K HD scan of original materials, but a disclaimer prior to the main menu states that the transfer was sourced from the best available video and audio elements. The film has never really looked better than passable on prior VHS and DVD editions, and though Shout’s effort still leaves much room for improvement, it’s miles better than Shrinking Woman has ever looked on video. At least in its proper aspect ratio there is no longer a loss of visual information, and the gaudy pastel colors in the costuming and production design really pop like never before. The cinematography has an intentional soft-focus quality to it and grain and print damage are minimal except when it comes to the effects compositing sequences, which is where the materials used for the transfer show the most aging with flecks of dirt and other spots notably visible.

    The film’s original mono sound mix has been faithfully recreated through the 24-bit English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, an active but pleasing track that provides an uncluttered and balanced integration of the dialogue, music, and sound effects. Every element comes through both channels with clarity (if not much depth) and one never threatens to drown out the others in the process. English subtitles have also been provided.

    Shout has supplied this latest entry in their Shout Select line with a healthy array of new and archival supplements. Surprisingly, Schumacher did not contribute an audio commentary as he has done in the past for his films (even Batman & Robin, which was a feature-length Mea culpa), but at least he did return for a new interview (28 minutes) in which he discusses the early days of his career designing costumes for films like Play It As It Lays, breaking into directing, replacing John Landis on The Incredible Shrinking Woman, adding more wacky humor to Jane Wagner’s script, the rigors of the visual effects, and more. Unflappable and insightful as always, Schumacher makes for a great interview subject.

    Tomlin and Wagner hold court in their own featurette (26 minutes), starting off with a quick reflection on a recent viewing of Shrinking Woman before segueing into a warm and honest talk that covers the script development, political commentary that was removed through rewrites, Landis’ brief involvement with the project, Tomlin playing multiple characters (one of which hit the cutting room floor but made it into the television broadcast cut – more on that below), and working with Schumacher and Rick Baker. I enjoyed watching these two brilliant ladies revisit a film that remains special to them after all these years.

    Next up is an interview with cinematographer/visual effects supervisor Bruce Logan (23 minutes) that offers up plenty of interesting anecdotes related to the technical challenges in the making of Shrinking Woman. The creation of the bouncy music score is covered in an audio interview with composer Suzanne Ciani (25 minutes). In the short featurette “On Location: Then and Now” (3 minutes), several of the original filming locations in California are revisited and proven to not have changed much since 1980. Wrapping up the supplements are the “Edith Ann” deleted scene (1 minute) which is presented in 1.33:1 full frame, the original theatrical trailer (2 minutes), and a photo gallery (5 minutes) that compiles a sizable amount of color production stills and B&W press kit materials.

    The Final Word:

    Despite a goofy third act that completely dispenses with its immense satirical possibilities, The Incredible Shrinking Woman remains a mostly colorful and spirited comic fantasy with an indelible lead performance from comedy icon Lily Tomlin and some terrific in-camera visual effects that hold up well after nearly four decades. Shout! Factory’s Blu-ray release suffers when it comes to the transfer, but more than makes up for it with solid audio and a great selection of supplements. Recommended if you’re in the mood for a fun little cult favorite comedy with a lot more on its mind than a typical entry in the genre usually sports.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!