Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Bubble

Arch Oboler directed, wrote, produced, and distributed this offbeat science fiction film in 3-D. He had earlier made BWANA DEVIL, the first 3-D movie in sound and in color, but the 3-D craze had long since dissipated by 1966. Ten years later, Oboler cut several minutes out of THE BUBBLE and re-released it as THE FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH, the title under which it played on television often in the 1970s and 1980s. By that time, star Michael Cole was famous from THE MOD SQUAD. Stephen King obviously saw it under one of the titles, as his UNDER THE DOME, which CBS later adapted as a weekly television series, shares similarities with THE BUBBLE’s premise.

Brash pilot Tony (Johnny Desmond) flies married couple Mark (Cole) and Catherine (Deborah Walley) through a thunderstorm to a hospital where Catherine can deliver her baby. Tony lands in a small town that resembles a hodge-podge of random movie backlots, including an old western saloon complete with dancing girl and a New York City subway entrance that descends to nowhere. Strangely, the people all act like zombies, repeating the same phrases over and over, when they bother to speak at all. When Tony, Mark, Catherine, and baby boy try to leave town, they learn it’s covered by a mysterious clear dome. They’re trapped, but why and by whom?

Watching THE BUBBLE in 2-D is a peculiar experience. Oboler ignores no opportunity to shove something into the camera lens, though with variable results. A tray of beer bottles and glasses floating around the saloon is betrayed by the visible wires. Some floating rubber Halloween monster masks would probably still look silly in any D. The human element is as uneven as the effects. The main characters act like dolts, never asking the right questions and taking far too long to realize that the town is weird. Speaking Oboler’s repetitive dialogue doesn’t help the actors either.

THE BUBBLE has been compared to a TWILIGHT ZONE episode, and certainly the plot would have been effective at a half hour. It isn’t at 91 minutes — at least not with Oboler at the helm — and it also doesn’t build to any satirical or metaphysical point. Nor does the climax pay off satisfactorily. It hardly pays off at all. Not enough to invest an hour and a half of your time in it.


Grant said...

It also has a few good character actors, like Virginia Gregg, and Vic Perrin (who played the "Control Voice" on The Outer Limits).

Chuck Collins said...

I was angry that I had wasted my money on such a travesty. I appreciated the fact that it was an attempt at 3D when 3D wasn't cool. But a title like "FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH" suggests space battles and some kind of alien intruders. Needless to say, none of that appears and instead they literally threw everything at the screen except for a kitchen sink. I was still angry when it was over. Maybe if they had just tried to throw a kitchen sink at the screen I would have had a better mood.