Film discussion

Throwback 30: Innerspace

Audience members can’t be blamed for coming out of modern science fiction movies dazed with tension headaches and anti-depressants. The faithful author of this piece counted eight walkouts during his screening of Blade Runner 2049 (2017). Even the patient girlfriend of the author declared while stepping out of the movie theatre “I don’t want to talk about movies anymore.”

Science fiction adventure has wallowed in nihilistic visions of the future for far too long, Blade Runner (1982), Children of Men (2006) and Interstellar (2014) fine examples of alienating casual audience members with scientific realism over more innocent escapist fare. There was a time when cinema didn’t clamour for existential dread; the time was the 1980’s. The movie was Innerspace (1987), an energetic science fiction comedy about test pilot Lieutenant Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) who after shrunk inside a high-tech pod is inadvertently injected inside the body of unwitting store clerk Jack Putter (Martin Short).

With a microphone attached to the inner ear, Tuck is able to coach the hypochondriac Jack to overcome his fears and take back the re-enlargement microchip stolen by the crooked Victor Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy) and ensure the safety of Tuck’s journalist ex-girlfriend Lydia Maxwell (Meg Ryan) caught up in Scrimshaw’s criminal dealings. To add further complication, Tuck has to watch Jack fall in love with Lydia while his limited oxygen supply in his pod begins to run out.

Innerspace at heart is an unconventional buddy road movie about two very different men in life thrown together. Jack is a loser rattled with anxiety and social awkwardness, a frequent visitor to his doctor with constant complaints of nausea, headaches and nightmares, unable to catch a break in life. Tuck on the other hand is courageous but selfish and a hard drinker who pushed Lydia away after he lost out on a naval aviation program. Ambition ruined Tuck’s personal life while a lack of ambition cursed Jack, but together and face their fears head on and learn to put the interests of others ahead of their own.

Innerspace speaks that universal message to strive to become better people. This trait has been lost in cinema of late with the purging of Superman’s innate charming identity in Man of Steel (2013) and dehumanisation of Bond’s sense of humour in Spectre (2015). Existential dread is nowhere to be found in Innerspace. It’s from a simpler time when movies could live up to the promise of it’s premise. There’s no attempt to misdirect the audience or blunder them with unnecessarily deep philosophical questions about existence, *cough* Transcendence (2014) *cough*

Innerspace is a from a time when cinema loved audience, owing a debt to science fiction classic Fantastic Voyage (1966) that shares a similar plot of explorers miniaturised into the body of a dying scientist to save his life.Every blood cell and nerve ending in Innerspace has impressive attention to detail, scientifically accurate and sheds a light on the unsung awe and wonder of genetic evolution. It’s no surprise Innerspace won the Best Visual Effects at the 60th Academy Awards in 1988, headed by special effects maestro Dennis Muren responsible for Star Wars (1977) and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). 

Innerspace director Joe Dante, no stranger to hyper stylised filmmaking with previous experience anarchic Gremlins (1984) and kooky Explorers (1985) moves the film along in a bombastic style is akin to an episode Looney Tunes. Make no mistake, Innerspace is a batshit crazy movie acting a precursor for the balls-to-the-wall, no brakes required madness that was Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) released three years later. 

Innerspace flirts with barmy James Bond espionage when Tuck tries retrieve the stolen microchip by controlling Jack’s facial muscles to make him look like Scrimshaw’s henchman ‘The Cowboy’ (an always welcome Robert Picardo). Disbelief is suspended when Tuck’s fights the vicious henchman Mr Igoe (Vernon Welles) in a dual pod battle in Jack’s stomach while Jack himself faces off with Scrimshaw who has accidentally shrunk to half his size. Martin Short is the standout of Innerspace, nailing his physical and comic timing while simultaneously carrying the sweetness of a man at odds with the world. Dennis Quaid is stuck in his pod for most of the film, but his winning smile of bastard makes his Tuck one of the most likeable performances of his career. Meg Ryan is dependable as ever as Lydia reminding the world why she would become a Hollywood icon. 

Innerspace is from an era where they could take a big idea and make it small. There’s a beauty to that simplicity. So if Blade Runner 2049 left you deflated, put Innerspace on after. The worst thing it will do is leave a smile on your face.

Are you a fan of Innerspace? Let us know.

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