Title: Innerspace (1987)
Director: Joe Dante
Cast: Martin Short, Dennis Quaid, Meg Ryan, Robert Picardo, Kevin McCarthy
Innerspace is a film directed by Joe Dante, the guy behind Gremlins (1984), Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990) and Explorers (1985). Here’s a guy who loves sci-fi and horror films and on top of that, he loves his Warner Bros. cartoons. You can tell the guy loves old genre films, all of his films are filled with little homage’s and nudges to his favorite films, for example in Explorers, one of the kids falls asleep watching War of the Worlds (1953), in Gremlins 2 he uses horror icon Christopher Lee to play a mad scientist, and in Matinee (1993), he paid a loving homage to genre director William Castle and his films. It’s no surprise then that Innerspace also serves as a homage to a classic science fiction film from the 60’s: Richard Fleischer’s Fantastic Voyage (1966), a film in which a group of scientists have to miniaturize themselves in order to enter a another scientist’s body so they can eliminate a blood clot from his brain. You see, this comatose scientist knows how to make the miniaturization process last indefinitely instead of a limited amount of time and if he dies, the secret is lost forever. Innerspace works with these ideas, but in a slightly more exciting and modern fashion.
In Innerspace we meet Lt. Tuck Pendleton, a pilot for the U.S. air force and a class A drunkard, yet in spite of his drinking problem, Lt. Pendleton takes part in a history changing experiment that will miniaturize him and have him injected into a test bunny in order to conduct a series of experiments from within the bunny. Unfortunately, the minute Tuck is miniaturized and inserted into a syringe, terrorists attack the lab before he is injected into the test rabbit! Somebody wants to steal the top secret miniaturization technology! But, fear not, one of the scientists takes the syringe that has the miniaturized Tuck in it and runs away with it! The scientist ends up hiding in a mall, where he stumbles upon supermarket employee called Jack Putter. In an attempt to save Tucks life, the scientist injects Tuck into Jacks left butt cheek! Now Tuck is inside of a complete stranger! Tucks mission is now to find a way to communicate with Jack and inform him of what’s happened. Oh, he also has to get back to the lab before his oxygen supply runs out! Will he make it on time before he dies inside of Jack?
While Innerspace shares the same basic premise seen in Fantastic Voyage, that of conducting experiments dealing with miniaturization, it is also a very different movie in many ways. First off, in the first film the main characters are inserted into the body of a comatose scientist, which immediately makes the film a bit slower in pace. In Innerspace the main character is injected into a hyper active, paranoid supermarket employee/nerdy guy called Jack Putter. Putter is played by the one and only Martin Short, who makes this film even more entertaining than it already is. I mean, for me, Martin Short has always been this incredibly funny comedian. In the right movie the guy can really shine. Ever seen him play Ned Nederlander in Three Amigos! (1986)? Do yourself a favor, hilarious! Innerspace was the first film he ever starred in as the main character, and he really took the opportunity to show what he’s made off. He plays this paranoid nerdy guy who gets extremely agitated, he lives in constant fear, basically, he’s afraid of life. The interesting part comes when Lt. Tuck Pendleton is injected into his body. Pendleton finds a way to communicate with Jack, who at first thinks he is possessed by demons when he hears Tucks voice inside his head. But once Jack understands what’s going on, Tuck becomes sort of this driving force inside of Jack, a force that gives him the push necessary to do things he would have never done before. Through Tuck, Jack gains an inner strength he never had, he evolves into someone who will go up against life instead of shrivel in fear of it, this is a character that we see evolve and grow through the course of the film.
And that’s one of the best things this film has, characters played by a great cast. True, Short steals the show here, but Dennis Quaid as Tuck also does a fantastic job, especially when we take in consideration that he acts 90% of the film while inside of this small pod; still he pulls it off majestically. Joe Dante uses a series of actors in all of his movies; for example he always uses Dick Miller in one form or another. Miller is sort of Dante’s good luck charm; on Innerspace he plays a cab driver. He also uses Kevin McCarthy a lot; on this one McCarthy plays the villainous Crimshaw, the guy after the miniaturization chip. By the way, the villains in this film are cartoony in nature, so the film has that sort of fun vibe going for it. It’s like a Warner Bros. cartoon at times, I love that about this one and of course, this cartoonish vibe goes perfectly within the context of a Joe Dante film, he being the WB cartoon lover he is. Look out for various WB cartoon references throughout the entire film, both visual and auditory. For example, when the miniaturization machine stars spinning, it makes the sound the Tazmanian devil would make when he spun like a tornado. So yeah, this is a Dante film through and through; he brings his love for old cartoons, genre films and his usual gang of actors.
Of course, something has to be said about the special effects work on this movie, which is simply amazing. So much so that the film won an Academy Award for it. First up, when Lt. Tuck is miniaturized, we’re there with him the whole way, we see the interior of Jacks body and here’s where this film is different from Fantastic Voyage, the interior of Jacks body doesn’t look like a set the way they looked on Fantastic Voyage, sorry to hit on the classic, but it’s true. When I watched Fantastic Voyage, I couldn’t help getting this vibe like these actors where just floating on wires in a campy set, this is a problem that they fixed on Innerspace. There’s this amazing sequence when Tuck gets close to entering Jacks wildly pumping heart! That shot was amazingly well achieved, so much so that in his review for the film, Roger Ebert thought they had used real life footage of a heart! Dante had to let him know that it was all achieved through effects work. The guys at ILM where awarded the best visual effects award for their work on Innerspace. In the film, Lt. Tuck Pendleton can use this face altering technology; basically he pushes a few buttons on his pod and Jack’s face begins to convulse and twitch wildly until it changes completely. This is one of the most jaw dropping effects sequences in the whole film, achieved by makeup effects genius/guru Rob Bottin. Dante and Bottin had previously worked together on the groundbreaking effects work for The Howling (1981) and later again in Explorers (1985), two films that also excelled in the make up effects department. I personally had to freeze frame these sequences, I was so amazed by them, flawless work. So, all around great effects work on this show.
The comedy element is also fantastic on this one; the combination of Martin Short, Robert Picardo, and Kevin McCarthy was the perfect amalgamation necessary for a truly funny film, Dante knows that in order to get a funny picture, you need truly funny actors, and this combination of actors was the perfect comedy storm. So my friends, as you can see, this is one of those movies where everything just clicked to perfection. I mean, how funny is Robert Picardo as ‘The Cowboy’? Really funny, that’s how funny! By the way, Picardo is also one of those actors that Dante has used on more than one occasion, Picardo played the aliens on Explorers and he did that show stopping werewolf transformation sequence in The Howling as well. Across his career, Picardo has had extensive experience collaborating with make up effects artists, for example, he was also that water witch 'Meg Mucklebones' in Ridley Scott's Legend (1986), Innerspace is just another of the films where he participated in a make up effects heavy sequence. In closing I’ll say that this film is a true joy to watch. It is fast paced, extremely funny, has fantastic visual effects and a great cast, what’s not to like about this one? Dante was one of those directors who defined the 80’s for me, he had a great sense of humor and a love for the genre that is palpable in all of his films, that’s why his films are still watched and talked about after all these years. What? You haven’t seen Innerspace? Now that I don’t like! Do yourself a favor and rent/buy this one and have yourself a fantastic voyage of the Joe Dante kind, thank me by leaving a message below after you’ve seen it!
Rating: 5 out of 5