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Memorable Movie Tech: Szalinski’s Shrinking Machine

by Brandon Russell | February 14, 2015February 14, 2015 10:00 am PDT

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Honey, I Shrunk the Kids came out when I was only four-years-old, and because my young mind was so hilariously impressionable, the movie had me utterly convinced those kids were actually shrunk down into itty bitty specs of dust. Maybe it was the blend of practical and special effects that did it. I’m just glad the motley crew of tiny teens didn’t wind up running into a spider. Oh how I loathe spiders. That would have turned a fun family film into a horror flick of Halloween proportions.

Taking inspiration from good old 1950s cheese, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was a movie about an eccentric goofball named Wayne Szalinski (played by the whimsical Rick Moranis) whose creative inventions made him a DIY icon. His entire house was one big Rube Goldberg machine—I’m still waiting for that remote-controlled lawn mower. But, as most geniuses are, Szalinski is misunderstood by the scientific community. Little do they know his latest creation, a shrinking machine, would change the world forever. Ok, not really, but it did make for one hilarious movie.

The thing is is Szalinski’s shrink machine doesn’t work—not at first. When it’s first introduced, we see it carefully being tested on a delicious red Apple. But instead of making the Apple smaller, Szalinski has simply found the quickest way to make apple sauce. This sets of a fortuitous chain of events that involves an ant, bees, magnifying glasses, scorpions, LEGO and an adventure of a lifetime.

Even though he knows his machine sucks, Szalinski bravely leaves to give a presentation on his research, where he’s quickly laughed out of the building after admitting he has yet to prove his theory works. Come to find out, all Szalinski needed was a little luck.

Back at home, a snotty neighbor kid—Ron Thompson—hits a baseball through the attic window where the shrink machine is being stored, serendipitously blocking its targeting laser. This actually allows the invention to work exactly as intended, shrinking the four kids (and some thinking couches) before conveniently turning itself off. You had a long day, machine. Take a break.

When Szalinski returns home from a disappointing presentation, frustrated and dejected, he proceeded to beat the living hell out of the sleeping shrink ray, believing it to be a hunk of junk. Unbeknownst to him, the kids are watching on in horror, their tiny little voices too quiet to get Szalinski’s attention.

In the aftermath of the destruction, Szalinski picks up the machine’s broken parts, sweeping up the kids in the process. It’s one of those moments where you want to shout at the screen, “DON’T DO IT!” But Szalinski doesn’t know. He’s too heartbroken to even notice his couches, let alone his kids, have been shrunk down to miniature size.

Once they’re taken outside to the trash, the kids then must make it back to the house by traversing through towering vegetation, titanic bugs and one very angry scorpion. It’s a classic Disney adventure, one about acceptance and family. But it’s that wonderful shrinking machine that makes the film so memorable. I asked my mom for one after seeing the movie, to which she responded, “That’s not real.” I interpreted that as, Dreams, meet foot.

The shrink machine itself looks almost like a mutated gatling gun, with a long, extended barrel and various wires connected to nearby computers. It seems to pivot on a motor, allowing the machine to freely aim at objects both large and small. A bulky Sony viewfinder is also attached to the top, which was commonly used on larger television cameras to shoot sitcoms.

It’s a quirky, triumphant, glorious invention, and the kind of thing you’d expect in an 80s film. The shrinking machine obviously played a major role in Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and it eventually evolved into something that could make objects larger as well. I’ll always remember it as a horrifying contraption that shrank four helpless kids. Luckily they made it out alive. But RIP loyal ant helper.

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...

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