The Nostalgia Files: ‘Innerspace’ (1987)

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Written by Chip Proser and Jeffrey Boam
Directed by Joe Dante
USA, 1987

innerspaceScience fiction is a genre in which anything is possible. Films in particular take advantage of this opportunity to transport its audience to new worlds and new ideas. In 1987, director Joe Dante and executive producer Steven Spielberg took us on a “big” adventure with the zany sci-fi comedy Innerspace. The film stars Martin Short, Dennis Quaid, and a young Meg Ryan, who all get involved with a scientific mission gone wrong. With an Oscar win for Best Visual Effects and a comic tone full of energy and fun, Innerspace is one ride from the 80s you might want to check out.

Lt. Tuck Pendleton (Quaid) is a brash Navy pilot who isn’t exactly looked upon as a military hero. He drinks, he fights, and he’s actually kind of a douche. His fellow pilots want nothing to do with him and he’s struggling to keep his girlfriend Lydia (Ryan) from dumping him. Things aren’t going so well for Tuck. That is, until a top secret government experiment gives him the opportunity to relive the glory days. The experiment involves miniaturizing a man and injecting said man into a bunny for scientific exploration.

Tuck volunteers to be shrunk down to microscopic proportions and things get complicated when a shady scientist and her goons break into the lab where the experiment is being conducted and attempt to steal the miniaturization technology. Tuck, now trapped in a syringe, is taken on a chase along with one of the good escaped scientists. Enter Jack Putter (Short), a nebbish grocery store clerk. Tuck then gets injected into Jack and gets Jack involved in a crazy adventure complete with cartoony villains, dazzling special effects, and some truly offbeat humor.

Released in a time when computer-generated special effects were still slightly primitive, Innerpsace took advantage of advanced techniques at the time courtesy of Industrial Light & Magic. Inspired by Fantastic Voyage, a good chunk of the film takes place inside the human body and since Tuck is shrunk down to microscopic size and injected into Jack, Tuck gets a first-person view of Jack’s inner space. Through carefully place mini-microphones and cameras, Tuck sees what Jack sees and hears what he hears. They can even talk to one another. The majority of the film has Jack, Lydia, and Tuck trying to evade deranged businessman Victor Scrimshaw (Kevin McCarthy), sinister scientist Dr. Canker (Fiona Lewis), slightly cybernetic Mr. Igoe (Vernon Wells), and the ridiculously weird “Cowboy”, played to perfection by Robert Picardo.


Innerspace is not your average film, and didn’t really garner the praise it deserved back when it was released; however, the innovative special effects did draw attention. The team over at ILM won the Academy Award in 1988 for their work on this underrated film and deservedly so. Tuck’s journey inside Jack’s body looks real! Piloting through various blood streams and passing various organs, it really is quite a trip.

As for the acting, it’s over-the-top, wacky, and downright fun. Quaid’s Tuck is a macho doofus antihero with Short providing terrific comic relief as hapless hypochondriac Jack. They are total opposites but throughout the film, they both inhabit the same body and the banter they share plus the occasional argument make for a pretty solid and hilarious relationship. During their adventure, Tuck and Jack bond and it is actually kind of sweet. Ryan’s Lydia goes along for the ride and since she is a journalist, she is forever curious. Unfortunately, that curiosity puts her right in the middle of the miniaturization fiasco, where she and her two cohorts end up risking their lives running away from the evil bad guys.

Speaking of bad guys, the villains are absolutely ridiculous. Victor Scrimshaw is played wonderfully demented by 60s B-actor  McCarthy (Invasion of the Body Snatchers). Wells (Commando) plays Mr. Igoe, an assassin with a multi-purpose robotic hand. Then there’s the Cowboy, a very bizarre and sleazy henchman played by Picardo (Star Trek: Voyager). These colorful characters provide for a truly memorable film experience.

There are many positives in Innerspace. One highlight would have to be Jerry Goldsmith’s brilliant orchestral score. The late composer was known for tackling many film genres, most notably: science fiction. His scores for Star Trek: The Motion Picture and Alien are just two of his many famous works. He also had a longstanding collaboration with Dante, with whom he scored nine of his films. Innerspace was the duo’s fourth collaboration and the score combined a full orchestra with synthesized sound effects. In a scene where Tuck is floating by Jack’s heart, the score unleashes a very deep and bassy sound which was supposed to simulate Jack’s beating heat, cool stuff. There’s that and there’s also the triumphant hero theme which both Tuck and Jack share along with the human body they both occupy. Lastly, there’s a sweet romantic theme between Tuck and Lydia which is reminiscent of many of Goldsmith’s later dramatic scores like Rudy and Powder.

Joe Dante is a filmmaker who was on fire in the 80s. His science fiction and horror films are some of the decade’s most memorable cinematic offerings. Innerspace came out 3 years after his more memorable Gremlins, a quirky horror-esque film that helped  inspired the PG-13 rating. Because of that, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and Poltergeist, the PG-13 rating was born. During this time, Dante and Spielberg had formed a strong collaboration, similar to that of the Spielberg/George Lucas collaboration. These movie geniuses ruled the 1980s and their films were beautiful, fun, and highly imaginative. Innerspace is no exception.

— Randall Unger

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