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Incredible Shrinking Woman, The

Shout Factory // PG // November 14, 2017
List Price: $20.59 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Francis Rizzo III | posted December 13, 2017 | E-mail the Author
In 10 Words or Less
Lily Tomlin in a special effects-laden environmental comedy

Reviewer's Bias*
Loves: ‘80s movies, Henry Gibson
Likes: Lily Tomlin
Dislikes: message movies
Hates: missed opportunities, blunted satire

The Movie
Once upon a time, Lily Tomlin was a seriously big deal (rather than simply the beloved comedian she is now.) Following her run on Laugh-In, which introduced America to her collection of oddball characters, and success with albums, live shows and critically-acclaimed roles in Nashville and The Late Show, Tomlin could take the lead on the silver-screen in the ‘80s, resulting in the wonderful 9 to 5 and the less-memorable The Incredible Shrinking Woman, a satire of consumerism inspired by Twilight Zone master Richard Matheson's novel The Incredible Shrinking Man. The film exists mainly as a showcase for Tomlin's likability, going so far as including four roles for her (three of which made the final cut.)

Pat (Tomlin) is a harried suburban housewife, tending to her two kids and marketing-executive husband Vance (Charles Grodin), aided by a never-ending parade of products intended to make her life better and easier. The focus of the world around her is consumption, and that eventually consumes Pat herself, as a mix of the chemicals in the products she uses everyday start causing her to slowly shrink, much to the world's fascination. As Vance's company attempts to keep the public from knowing the cause of her newfound celebrity (which is part of something more nefarious than thought), she becomes the ultimate product, with everyone wanting a piece of her, while she just wants life to return to normal.

Tomlin is amusing as the frustrated Pat, and her playing off giant props and larger-than-life sets (a la her famous Edith Ann character) is always amusing, but the film feels like it's straddling a line between cute comedy and smart satire, and can't commit to the more interesting side, without being funny enough to make up the difference. Though she certainly tries to carry the film, playing three characters--including her signature phone operator Ernestine--but she doesn't get a lot of help in getting laughs, as Grodin, Ned Beatty and the wonderful Henry Gibson don't have a lot to add to the proceedings, mainly ensuring the plot moves forward, rather than enhancing the comedy or the commentary. The only person who really steps up comedically is slapstick expert Mark Blankfield (Fridays), who brings his extreme physical humor to a small role as a lab tech.

Directed by Joel Schumacher, in his first time behind the camera, the film has plenty of visual flair, with brightly-colored sets that play off the film's anti-consumerism message, and attempts bold comedy through sped-up action and cartoonish sound effects and music, but in the end the special effects are really the star of the show, including a role for effects whiz Rock Baker, who plays a giant gorilla in a suit that's impressive for the era. The same can be said for the visual effects, most of which were achieved in the camera, through process photography. Though certainly not seamless (and one scene set in a garbage disposal misses the mark completely) the effects don't distract greatly from Tomlin's work, unless intentionally so, as is the case with a few of the more over-the-top gags.

The Disc
The Incredible Shrinking Woman arrives on Blu-ray as part of the Shout Select line in a standard Blu-ray keepcase with text-heavy cover art. The disc features a static menu with options to watch the film, adjust languages, select scenes and check out the extras, as well as a loop of the Galaxy Glue jingle from the film. Whomever at Shout! decided to do this: I hate you with the fire of a thousand suns. There are no audio options, while subtitles are available in English.

The Quality
The 1.85:1, AVC-encoded 1080p transfer is not going to impress anyone. Part of it is the general shape of the image, which has some visible dirt and damage throughout, but a lot of the problem lies with the original film. The special effects shots required the film to be shot in layers, and the result messes with contrast and introduces more grain than a traditional film would have. As a result, much of the film is hazy and dull, while outdoor light frequently blows out the image. Color (though slightly washed out) and fine detail are both good, but the black levels fall short in their depth (again, the result of the contrast issues.) All together, it's hardly the most pleasant viewing experience.

The original mono audio is delivered via a center-balanced DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track, and it does the job, ensuring the dialogue is clear and there's appropriate separation between the music and voices. Noting about this trac stands out, but it doesn't lead to any complaints either.

The Extras
After some questionably thin releases, this title puts some of the meat back on the Shout! Select bone, thanks to the inclusion of several hefty featurettes, starting with a conversation between Tomlin and the film's writer/executive producer, Jane Wager. This 26:29 chat covers a lot of ground, including changes that were made from the original script, issues with the budget, the film's political subtext, the cast and the special effects. After sharing some stories from the production, they also get into their long-running partnership and how they work together, in an enjoyably informal discussion.

Up next is a 28:17 interview with Schumacher, who covers the experience of making the film, but goes far beyond that, to discuss his own early career (which only makes sense since this is his first directing gig.) In addition to talk about the editing process and the art of the montage, he shares lessons he learned from Woody Allen and Stanley Kubrick, and his praise for his first cast.

Cinematographer and Visual Effects Supervisor Bruce Logan sits down for a 23:31 featurette on his experience with the film, which makes for a piece with plenty of detail about technique, how to shoot process, working with Baker and his opportunity to shoot with the rare Introvision camera. This is candy for camera tech-heads.

Suzanne Ciani--the jingle writer responsible for that horrifically-catchy Galaxy Glue song--is on hand for an audio interview that's laid over stills (24:53). She talks about her historic role as composer on the film, the music and cues she created and the struggle for work she experienced. Also in this piece are a few moments of score-only footage from the movie, allowing you to appreciate the music a bit more.

A very brief (3:06) entry from SetJetter offers then and now views of many of the filn's locations, showing how little things can change over 37 years.

A 1:03 deleted scene is available to check out, which features Tomlin as her Edith Ann character, an unnecessary bone for her fans that was wisely cut.

Wrapping things up are a 5:!3 automatic stills gallery, and the 2:30 trailer, which is blurry as sin.

The Bottom Line
As likeable as Tomlin is, she can't overcome the film's very simple construction and limited premise, and the pioneering anti-consumerism message takes a backseat to gags about big bowls of spaghetti. That doesn't make it bad film--just a disappointing use of her talents and those of her castmates. Shout! looks to have done a decent job in bringing this film to Blu-ray, supplementing an OK presentation with a nice spread of informative and interesting featurettes that touch on a number of areas related to the movie (and some that aren't.) If you have good memories of a tiny Tomlin this disc is worth a look, but there are way better ways to enjoy her.

Francis Rizzo III is a native Long Islander, where he works in academia. In his spare time, he enjoys watching hockey, writing and spending time with his wife, daughter and puppy.

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*The Reviewer's Bias section is an attempt to help readers use the review to its best effect. By knowing where the reviewer's biases lie on the film's subject matter, one can read the review with the right mindset.

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