Saturday, 27 December 2014

THE BUBBLE (1966) aka FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH - 3D BLU-RAY REVIEW - By Paul Worts

Directed by Arch Oboler. Starring: Michael Cole, Deborah Walley, Johnny Desmond. Science Fiction, US, 1966, 91mins, cert Unrated.

Released in the US on 3D Blu-ray on 18th November 2014 by Kino Classics.

Before I give a critical appraisal of Arch Oboler’s 1966 3-D sci-fi flick THE BUBBLE, I feel I must firstly declare my undying love for ‘early’ 3-D films. And just so we are all clear, by ‘early’ I’m referring to that period from the 1950’s up until the mid-1980’s. Don’t get me wrong, I do enjoy the current 3-D IMAX presentations and will invariably seek out a 3D showing rather than a ‘flat’ screening wherever possible (yes, even ‘post-conversions’ – sacrilege I know). But my true affection is for a time when 3D was still a relatively fresh gimmick, and a gimmick invariably attached to non-mainstream films with somewhat less wholesome fare in general then THE SMURFS. 

So onto THE BUBBLE. A light-aircraft carrying a heavily pregnant woman, Catherine (Deborah Walley) and her husband Mark (Michael Cole) flies through a storm and is forced to make an emergency landing in a remote town. The town’s inhabitants appear trapped in their own individual mini time-warps, repeating actions and phrases like wind-up toys. The plane’s pilot, Tony (Johnny Desmond) sets off to explore and ends up in a western-like saloon replete with a high-kicking gartered showgirl, a barman on a time-loop and a tray of drinks that levitates off the counter and floats around the bar as if it’s been carried by an invisible waitress!

It turns out the town is encased in a dome like bubble which has trapped the town’s citizens like butterflies in a jar (the question is who or what is observing them and whether the jar is ultimately a killing jar..?

This is a lightweight flimsy film which plays out like an overlong episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE. Its pace is as leaden as most of the residents of the bubbled town it portrays. (The original version apparently ran to 112 minutes before it was re-cut down to the current length – perhaps, in this instance at least, a small mercy?).

But despite the film’s obvious shortcomings it does boast some outstanding 3D photography and a host of wonderful ‘in-your-face’ moments for stereoscopic devotees (such as myself) to go all cross-eyed over. Director Arch Oboler is no stranger to purveyors of the third dimension thanks originally to the fact that in 1952 he gave the world the first 3-D film in colour (BWANA DEVIL formerly known as THE LIONS OF GULU). With THE BUBBLE he served up the first stereoscopic feature to be filmed in ‘4-D Space-Vision’, a new lens and projection system that required only a single-strip of 35mm film and provided glorious widescreen polarised 3D.

THE BUBBLE boasts a number of memorable 3D sequences, most notably the aforementioned floating drink tray; which elevate (no pun intended) the frankly mundane plot and provide frequently cheesy excuses to ‘reach-out’ to the viewer. Despite the crankiness of the story and the half-baked conclusion (it rains, implying the bubble is opening) it’s still more fun (in 3D) then Stephen King’s current big-budget TV series, UNDER THE DOME which it inevitably invites comparison with.

Retitled in 1976 by Monarch Releasing Corp.
I first saw THE BUBBLE at a rare screening at the British Film Institute’s National Film Theatre on London’s Southbank during a season of 3D films. From the opening shot where the aircraft’s wing seemingly stretched out unapologetically right over the audience’s heads into the back row of the auditorium I was sold. Like so many 3D films, watching them ‘flat’ in 2D robs them of their primary raison d'ĂȘtre, and this would be undoubtedly true in the case of THE BUBBLE.

Thankfully, Kino Classics have undertaken a painstaking restoration and the fruits of their (considerable) dedication are now available to view in a remarkable 3D Blu-ray presentation. Of course the print still bears some signs of ageing and the lack of love previously afforded to its storage, but these are more than forgivable and in my opinion add authenticity to the overall viewing experience. The 3D imagery is crisp, with only occasional ‘ghosting’ evident and the ‘in-your-face’ moments are all present and correct.

THE BUBBLE is an important milestone in the history of stereoscopic cinema, and I am profoundly grateful to everyone involved in this labour of love for proving the opportunity to re-experience THE BUBBLE in all its ‘4-D Space-Vision’ glory from the comfort of my sofa. Now if only Paramount would do the same for FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 3 then I would be in seventh 3D-heaven...)
  
Extras:  Essay by Bob Furmanek, Screenplay excerpts of deleted scenes, Trailers, Stills Gallery, Alternate Opening (3-D and 2-D), Restoration Demonstration 3-D and 2-D).  
****(out of 5*)

Check out the excellent: 3-D Film Archive site here.