Arch Oboler made film history by directing the first feature to include 3D effects: 1952’s BWANA DEVIL. In the mid 1960s, Oboler helped introduce a new 3D technology called “Space-Vision” and the first feature to use the process was his oddball color science fiction film THE BUBBLE. Today, the new 3D hardware now makes it ripe for rediscovery on Blu-ray disc.
During a fierce rainstorm, a small private airplane carrying young married couple Mark (“Mod Squad” star Michael Cole) and Catherine (Deborah Walley, IT’S A BIKINI WORLD), and piloted by Tony Herric (1950s singer Johnny Desmond, billed as a “guest star”), is forced to land with Catherine about to give birth. The plane ends up in the empty street of an unidentified town, and a cabbie shows up to take them to the hospital. A healthy baby boy is born, but the doctor (Kassie McMahon) who delivered it hardly speaks a world and acts like he’s in a catatonic state. In fact, the citizens from all walks of life move along mechanically and repeatedly utter single phrases robotically as they replicate menial tasks. To add further confusion, the town is made up of varying establishments, including a western saloon, roman pillars, a New York subway entrance (which leads to nowhere), an amusement park ride, and even the Lincoln Monument! After exploring the surrounding area and its strange people, Mark, Catherine and Tony discover that they are enclosed in a glass-like clear casing and possibly controlled and surveyed by an alien force (a walk-in Cheeto-like rock formation acts as a behavioral center which seems to control the minds of those who have succumbed to it). Although they seem safe, every so often an opening in the dome rears its ugly head to suck up victims, including a saloon-girl friend of Tony and a young mother and her child, which naturally has Catherine in a panic. The next move is to dig deep into the ground (under a watermill shack) and try and burrow out from under the dome before their lives are threatened.
Unlike earlier popular 3D features which used a dual projection system, Space-Vision 3D had two images (one above the other) printed in a single 35mm frame on a single strip, therefore needing only one projector and a special lens for the film to be presented properly, as well as 3D glasses for the audience viewers. The Space-Vision process was later used for such films as Paul Morrisey’s FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (aka ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN), but the single-strip stereoscopic techniques that this utilized were used in almost all major 3D features for years to follow. By the time Oboler made THE BUBBLE, he was no stranger to sci-fi, having written the screenplay for the post-apocalyptic thriller FIVE (1951) and having directed and written the screenplay for THE TWONKY (1953). Not surprisingly, although it was made in 1966, THE BUBBLE has its roots in 1950s sci-fi and here Oboler (who also produced and wrote the film) gives us a throwback to alien conspiracy films like INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, even though it’s never clear if it’s actually alien captors who are keeping the humans in a zoo-like prison. Many who have seen it over the years have noted the comparisons to a (very drawn-out) episode of “The Twilight Zone”, and there’s even a bit of social commentary thrown into the mix.
THE BUBBLE is best remembered for its historical value rather than its aesthetic value, but it still can be enjoyed (especially in 3D) if you appreciate and can endure films like David L. Hewitt’s THE WIZARD OF MARS. Obviously made on a shoestring budget, the plot idea of having various set-pieces tossed together in such a hodgepodge manner likely means the filmmakers had access to all these studio sets and decided to make full use of them (you’ll even hear characters mentioning how the dome-covered town resembles a movie studio sans cameras). A number of objects are flung towards the screen to exploit the three-dimensional magic, including the brush of a broom, a string of floating rubber masks (which look like they were purchased from the back pages of Famous Monsters magazine), and best of all, a tray of beer bottles and glasses (with the wires holding it up being very visible). Walley by this time in her career was no stranger to B movies (having appeared in a number of AIP drive-in flicks) and Cole (only around 21 at the time of filming) does a good job of holding things together as hero and new dad, as his character makes fast decisions and constantly theorizes what the hell is actually going on. The cast includes a number of veterans who would go on to do voiceover work on various Saturday morning animated series, including Virginia Gregg, Vic Perrin and Olan Soule, who became the voice of Batman on “Super Friends” for many years. The music was by Paul Sawtell and Bert Shefter (both who specialized in stock music for B movies and together, scored such films as IT! THE TERROR FROM BEYOND SPACE) and Harry Thomas (who worked on several Ed Wood movies and numerous 1950s movie monsters) is credited as the make-up artist.
After its initial 1966 theatrical release, THE BUBBLE was re-released a decade later and trimmed from 112 minutes to just over 90 minutes and retitled THE FANTASTIC INVASION OF EARTH. It later became a late-night TV staple under that title, though panned and scanned syndicated prints were rough to gaze at, especially with only one eye open in the wee hours of the morning. In 1999, Rhino released a eyesore of a 3D DVD (which included two pairs of 3D glasses), which quickly went out of print. Kino now presents the film on Blu-ray in 2D (flat) and 3D for those who have both 3D televisions and Blu-ray players. We are not able to screen the 3D version (though early reports tell us the visuals look great) since we only have a standard setup at present, but the 2D version reflects a restoration from original 35mm elements for a pleasing 1080p image presented in a 2.50:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The materials have been cleaned up a great deal, so blemishes are minimal and colors are splendid looking. Detail is sharp and only soft on occasion. The mono DTS-HD 2.0 Master Audio also fares well and doesn’t show its age too badly. Note that since the film’s original 112-minute theatrical version, cuts were made to the original camera negative and that extra material has since been destroyed. Like Rino’s previous DVD, this Blu-ray reflects the 91-minute re-release version, though the original title is restored.
Extras include a nice still and promotional art gallery, screenplay excerpts of the excised scenes (the notes tell us that Obeler had these scenes permanently removed some time in 1968) an original theatrical trailer (which does its best to hype the Space-Vision process but shows no clips from the actual film), the 1976 re-release trailer (which reflects the-then public fascination with UFOs) and the alternate FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH opening title (playable in either 3D or 2D). A BD Rom essay by Bob Furmanek (who did the restoration work) can be accessed in a computer’s BD Rom drive. (George Reis)
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