A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the 1933 black-and-white sci-fi horror story The Invisible Man is from the 1897 H.G. Wells novel of the same name. Claude Rains (and his double), mostly wrapped in bandages throughout, plays the scientist who renders himself invisible before producing an antidote. He remains unaware that his formula has also turned him into a homicidal maniac with delusions of unlimited wealth and international power. Students of film may find the clever special effects amusing as the unwrapping bandages seemingly suspended in air reveal a transparent man. This is especially fun when presented as a pair of trousers running through the night, like a Dr. Seuss story. People are strangled, tossed off cliffs, and bludgeoned. A man is pushed down a ravine in a fiery car crash. Note that although the key character is said to be naked through much of the action, he is, in fact, invisible. The material also spawned a 1950s British TV series. A movie remake is scheduled for release in 2020.
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What's the story?
THE INVISIBLE MAN is based on the 1897 novel by H.G. Wells (The Time Machine, War of the Worlds). British actor Claude Rains (of Casablanca fame) plays Griffin, a scientist who has secretly worked on a formula to turn himself invisible. He succeeds before he's manufactured an antidote but seems unaware that the transformation has also turned him into a homicidal megalomaniac. Covered with bandages to hide his condition, he wanders through a snowy night into a country tavern where he sets up a lab and tries to manufacture an antidote. His temper flares and he assaults the tavern owner. He strips to hide himself, murders a police officer, and runs away into the night, leaving a town certain they've "seen" a man who wasn't there. Soon police are combing the countryside, hoping for snow that, falling on him, will create a visible silhouette. He threatens Kemp (William Harrigan), a former colleague, into hiding him, revealing a plan to murder indiscriminately and conquer the world. Even an encounter with Flora (Gloria Stuart, who would later appear in Titanic), the woman he loved, can't bring him back to reality. Tragedy ensues.
Is it any good?
Director James Whale's film is a curiosity, an engaging though one-note, 71-minute drama. The fantasy does reward an audience's suspension of disbelief with a few thrilling sequences of innovative (for the time) special effects. (The process concluded with technicians altering 64,000 frames by hand to complete the effects.) We never see the "before" version of Griffin, so his transformation to the angry bandaged man we first meet and his desire to murder for fun has to be explained later as a chemical side effect of his experiments. This is in contrast to the novel, in which Griffin is insane before he becomes invisible. (H.G. Wells approved the script, by the way.)
The Invisible Man connects a desire for power to madness, which may seem overdramatic to current audiences. And sci-fi mixes shallowly with attempts at humor. A bicycle seems to ride itself. "I can't arrest a bloomin' shirt," one wry cop observes. And as the landlady, Una O'Connor spends most of her screen time screaming at the top of her lungs without much provocation, dulling us to the mounting threat the invisible man poses. Look for a fun mistake: When the naked, invisible Griffin is shown making footprints in the snow, the outlines are not of bare feet but of shoes, which should have been visible had Griffin been wearing them.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the way the story bestows a magical power on the protagonist but takes away his humanity at the same time. Do you think the message is that when people reach for too much power they must be punished? Do you believe that is the case in life?
How would the story be different if the invisible character wanted to use his discovery for good rather than for murdering people and conquering the world?
The Invisible Man suggests that when people become powerful, they're likely to be corrupted by the power. Can you think of instances in which people have used power -- physical, financial, political -- for good?
Do you think the movie projects an anti-science attitude? What leads you to your conclusion?
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