Friday 29 June 2012

Film: Innerspace (1987)

For some reason I hadn't seen this film before now. I suspect when I heard about the plot I confused it with the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, which I do recall watching several decades ago. Both films feature people in small submarines being miniaturised to such an extent that the submarines can be injected into a person and be navigated around the body. The main difference is that Innerspace is a comedy.

Tuck Pendleton (Dennis Quaid) is a gung-ho pilot who has volunteered to man the submarine on its first exploratory voyage, intended to be in an animal. However, a criminal organisation tries to seize the technology, as a result of which the submarine is randomly injected into a Jack Putter (Martin Short) a hypochondriac wimp. Pendleton is able to tap into Putter's vision and hearing, and to communicate with him. What follows is a protracted two-way chase, as Pendleton/Putter, aided by Pendleton's somewhat confused girlfriend Lydia Maxwell (Meg Ryan), try to recover the part of the technology stolen by the criminals in order to reverse Pendleton's miniaturisation, while the criminals are hunting Putter in order to obtain the submarine for themselves. Meanwhile, the air in the submarine is running out.

There is lots of humour, mostly resulting from Pendleton's efforts to stir the terrified Putter into bold action, and some rather mixed-up romance too. The "feel" of the film is somewhat old-fashioned, more like the 1960s than the 1980s and quite different from anything made today. All in all, it’s a couple of hours of pleasant if undemanding entertainment, and recommended if you've not seen it already.
I tried reading Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson over the past week or two. This was first published in 1992 and was well regarded, being nominated for two British SF awards, but I hadn't come across it before. It was very cutting edge in its subject matter, featuring a dystopian future in which democratic control in the USA has mainly been replaced by a patchwork of territories controlled by organised gangs linked to big business franchises. People spend a lot of time in the Metaverse, a virtual world in which interaction is by user-chosen avatars, and the two settings run in parallel in the novel. The title comes from a new computer virus which is causing havoc in the Metaverse.

The story is very clever and packed with good ideas, but I found it heavy going and each time I picked up the book found I had to flip back some pages to refresh my memory as to what had happened or who characters were - always a bad sign. I eventually made it past halfway, but then asked myself the three crucial questions: Am I really keen to find out what happens next? Do I really care what happens to the characters? Do I want to spend another week or so on this book? The answer to all three was "No", so I stopped reading. What put me off the book? I think it was the lack of both a coherent, gripping story and sympathetic characters. The author seems to have been so busy developing his ideas of life in his future world that he forgot the essential point of a novel in any genre: it should tell a story, one which seizes the imagination of readers and keeps them turning the pages to discover what happens next, while really caring about what happens to the characters.


Chimeradave said...

This does not bode well for our July discussions at the Yahoo group. I mean it's not even July yet and you're already done. I hope other people enjoy Snow Crash more then you did or it will be a quiet month.

On another note, Innerspace is a funny movie, one of those movies you can watch and then forget about and watch again a couple of years later and laugh again at all the jokes anew.

Anthony G Williams said...

Last month I was playing catch-up with the books I was reading, so I thought I'd make an early start on this one, especially considering its length.

I wanted to like the book but it just failed to grab me. No doubt others will have a different view.

Bill Garthright said...

Your comments make me glad I'm skipping Snow Crash, Tony. I just quit a book halfway through for very similar reasons.

Deryk said...

Science Fiction is often dismissed as non-literature because of its common failings in plot and characterisation; which misses the point that much of it is about ideas. Although I'd like to refute this stereotype of Snow Crash by pointing out that it does have a plot and some fun characterisation, I think the novel works best as Geek Porn.
Neal obviously knows a few things about sword fighting (indeed he is currently helping to fund the development of a sword fighting game I believe) and also the concepts of virtual spaces, but he brings many more ideas and facts in to play.
I understand that the density of the descriptions makes the reading a little protracted at times and entire tracts on the origins of wordless vocal communication can be skipped, being important only to the plot device of the broken glyph object.
On first reading I foregave much of the style because of the humour. The smimming pool incident gave me enough momentum to carry on in places where I might have otherwise paused, heavily. This is a book I can re-read and I'm sorry to hear that you didn't give it the chance I think it deserves. The people of amazon land are a little more forgiving. Surely you want to know how to stop a man with a booby-trapped H-bomb?

Anthony G Williams said...

Thanks for your comments, Deryk.

There was a time when I always read every book I picked up, all the way through. These days my problem is in finding the time to read all the new books I have stacked up in piles around my desk, as well as re-reading favourites I haven't looked at in decades. In fact, I know I'll never finish - if anything, this problem keeps getting bigger as I keep finding more books that look interesting.

As a result, I have become much more ruthless. If a story fails to grab me, I move on to the next one. I gave Snow Crash a good run and can well understand that others might enjoy it a lot more than I did, but it failed to make the cut.