Innerspace (Joe Dante, 1987) Made in the midst of Joe Dante sardonic peak as a Hollywood filmmaker, Innerspace is a deeply bizarre science fiction/action/comedy that’s somehow both distinctly of its time and unlike anything else. It was Dante’s attempt to make something blatantly commercial after the failure of Explorers derailed his Gremlins success. Yet, as he amusingly recalls on the audio commentary track on this Blu-ray, over the course of making Innerspace, it became a Joe Dante movie by accident. Pitched somewhere between a Warner Brothers cartoon, Fantastic Voyage, and an 80s action, the flick is above all else a blast of pure entertainment from a filmmaker who is particularly gifted at delivering such things.
Dennis Quaid stars as a down on his luck pilot who agrees to take part in a secret experiment that would shrink him down to microscopic size in a strange submarine-esque ship that travels through animal and human bodies. Unfortunately things go horribly wrong when an evil group of so-and-sos (lead by Kevin McCarthy, since this is a Joe Dante flick) show up to try and steal the technology. One of the scientists runs off with a hypodermic needle containing Quaid’s tiny ship and while desperately trying to hide him from the baddies, injects the poor guy into Martin Short. To be more specific, Short plays a hopelessly repressed and socially stunted grocery store clerk. Given that one of his many ailments is hypochondria, no one believes Short’s claims that things are wrong once Quaid starts floating around in his body trying to communicate with him. But eventually Quaid and Short become simpatico and together need to chase after the baddies and rebuild Quaid’s relationship with Meg Ryan.
So, it’s an odd little story to say the least, but thankfully Dante specializes in odd little stories. The tone remains relentlessly, joyously goofy throughout. Action scenes might contain all the required 80s elements like guns, clunky cars driving fast, and impossibly evil dudes with a death wish, but Dante stages it all like slapstick. The best sequences (like one in which Short dangles off the back of a truck) feel more like a Wile E Coyote short than Lethal Weapon, yet are no less thrilling. The cast is stacked with all of Dante’s favourite character actors like Dick Miller and Robert Picardo with everyone finding the right level between manic insanity and Hollywood fantasy (the central trio of stars have never been more charmingly funny). Meanwhile, Dante got Industrial Light And Magic at the peak of their practical effect powers to design all of the microscopic body exploration sequences and the company deliver some of the finest work. It’s ultimately all pretty meaningless, but serves up so many varieties of entertainment so consistently (along with plenty of fourth wall breaking movie in-jokes, the Dante specialty) that it’s hard not to smile through it all with childish glee. Innerspace might not be Dante’s best or most complex movie, but it might be his most joyously entertaining…and that’s a pretty good title to earn.
The movie debuts on Blu-ray with a surprising amount of love from Warner Brothers given that it never did particularly well in theaters. Thankfully, the flick’s cult audience has grown over all the home video formats and now the company is willing to plug plenty of cash into Innerspace, ensuring this is one of their best looking catalogue titles from the 80s. In particular, the gorgeous ILM miniature effects work has never been more clearly presented and it’s astounding how well it holds up against modern CGI (Roger Ebert famously claimed it was medical stock footage in his review). Thanks to Dante’s trademark mobile camera, exaggerated cartoon framing, and love of distorted wide angle lenses, every scene benefits from the HD upgrade, popping off the screen and leaving the ancient Innerspace DVD in the dust.
There’s only one special feature ported over from the DVD era, but it’s a doosy: an audio commentary track from Dante, producer Michael Finnell, Kevin McCarthy, Robert Picardo, and ILM guru Dennis Muren. That’s a lot of voices for one track but Dante corals everyone well, diving into tales of the script, production, and effects work seamlessly while also tossing in plenty of wisecracks. From learning that they described the movie as “what if Dean Martin went inside Jerry Lewis” to the painstaking work necessary for the miniature effects, it’s a fantastic track that makes up for the lack of any new features. The bottom line is that you’re going to want to pick up Innerspace for the gloriously entertaining movie primarily anyways and you should probably go do that right now. If you’ve seen the movie before, you’ll understand why. If you haven’t seen it, then I’m jealous and you really need to rectify that horrible mistake immediately.