Friday, November 9, 2012

Movie Review: THE BUBBLE

THE BUBBLE

aka THE FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH
aka THE ZOO
1966, Rhino #2492, HF, $14.95, VHS
#R2 5661, DD-2.0/LB, $19.95, DVD-A, 90m 35s

By John Charles

Originally published in Video Watchdog #57


A few years after hitting the jackpot with BWANA DEVIL (1952), the first full-length 3-D feature, writer/director Arch Oboler took another crack at the format with THE BUBBLE, a sci-fi thriller lensed in the director's new Space-Vision process, which required only a single camera in production and only one projector in theatres. Caught in a weather front that appeared out of nowhere, charter plane pilot Tony (Johnny Desmond) desperately searches for a place to set down, before the very pregnant Cathy (Deborah Walley) gives birth. The town he eventually lands in is like no other ever seen: the inhabitants all act like mindless zombies, doing the same menial tasks over and over again, and the architecture is a surreal amalgam of various periods and styles. After a successful delivery of Cathy's baby, Tony and the woman's husband, Mark (THE MOD SQUAD's Michael Cole), soon discover that this oddball town is sealed inside a giant, impenetrable bubble watched over by a huge, malevolent being.

THE BUBBLE was originally released at 112m and then re-issued in the’70s, at 91m, as THE FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH. While the Rhino tape and DVD carry the original title both on the packaging and onscreen, they actually deliver the abbreviated cut. Even with the deletions (which are obvious and often cut into musical cues), the film is very drawn out and the characters take a frustratingly long time to fully clue into just how strange and dangerous their situation is. Some of the dialogue is surprisingly adult for a mid-60s science fiction film (Cathy mentions that she became pregnant by forgetting to take her birth control pill and complains that the baby is biting her during breast feeding) but Oboler's attempts at social commentary (in trying to comfort his wife, Mark says that their situation is not much different from the "normal" zoo of the day-to-day rat race) are labored and the special effects are pretty silly (one sequence features floating rubber monster masks). On the plus side, Cole and Walley give earnest performances and the score, by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter, is very effective, adding considerable menace to the unseen being. Ultimately, flawed as it is, THE BUBBLE still manages to entertain, thanks to an interesting premise and some inspired cinematography but, like the vast majority of 3-D movies, is largely a waste of time when viewed flat.

As with their version of COMIN' AT YA! (reviewed VW 56:9), Rhino has presented THE BUBBLE in the anaglyphic format; two pairs of the red and blue glasses are included though, this time, one watches the feature with the blue lens over the right eye (the glasses with our copies were again folded backwards). The picture is bathed in red, distorting the original color schemes, though the effect is not as pronounced as on the western. Foreground objects occasionally look distorted but the compositional depth comes across beautifully and the care employed in each camera set-up is evident (unlike COMIN' AT YA!, which suffered from numerous spots where the plane of focus changed too quickly, resulting in images that did not fully line-up and additional eye strain). While it does not equal the quality of a theatrical screening, the presentation is largely satisfying, though we recommend that it be viewed on DVD, as the extra resolution really makes a difference. The image measures out at a wide 2.45:1 and the source material displays some light wear, usually around the reel changes.

For those who want something closer to the way the 3-D looks in theatres and don't mind paying extra for it, a firm called 3-D Magic (www.3dmagic.com) offers liquid crystal shutter glasses and other gadgets that will enhance one's viewing experience. They also offer an extensive library of 3-D videotapes, including THE BUBBLE (retitled THE ZOO) and COMIN' AT YA!

1 comment:

  1. My brother and I actually saw this picture at the Woods Theater in downtown Chicago when it first opened, I think in 1964 or'65.
    It was a summer evening, midweek (no school - we were teenagers), when we took the CTA from our suburb to the Loop to see an honest-to-pete 3D movie. We'd seen Arch Oboler on the local TV talk shows (they still had them back then), telling one and all that SpaceVision would revolutionize the whole movie industry (and make him a potload of money).
    Didn't quite happen that way - Michael Cole was a few years away from Mod Squad, Deborah Walley had only done the one Gidget movie, and Johnny Desmond was between comebacks at that point.
    When Sean and I got to the Woods, we were isssued our 3D glasses, Polaroid style with black frames, that went neatly over our own myopically mandated ones, and went in to watch.
    What I recall after all these years -
    - this was one of the most depressing movies my young self had ever sat through.
    The 3D was okay, I guess, but the story was what would be called a "downer" a few years later.
    We did get to keep the 3D glasses though; there was an instruction flyer that came with them, showing fun experiments you could do at home with the polarized lenses. I kinda wish I still had them, but a lot can get lost in fifty years time ...
    I've seen some 3D in the years since, both anaglyph and Polaroid; for a while it was mainly reissues of House Of Wax (with Vincent Price - you know, the good one).
    I've noticed that the theaters make you give back the glasses these days, which leads me to suspect that Arch Oboler may have taken a bath moneywise by giving them away back in the '60s. That's just a theory, though.
    Anyway, that's my Bubble story. The real adventure was taking buses to get downtown without the folks in the evening - for a young teen that pretty much beat anything on the screen.

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