'The Bubble' movie: Too may dimensions?
“THE BUBBLE IN 3-D. FILMED IN SPACE-VISION! IN 4th DIMENSIONAL LIVING COLOR”, so says the cover for the DVD release of this seldom seen 1966 science-fiction morsel, also known as The Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth and The Zoo, written, produced and directed by Arch Oboler, with special visual effects by Samuel Dockery and George Schlicher.
A husband, with his pregnant wife and their friend, fly in a small aircraft through a storm and land in a nightmare world that resembles the back lot of a movie studio, peopled by humanoids and a gigantic hand. When they later explore their surroundings, they discover they are really trapped in a glass dome … a bubble!
Michael Cole and Deborah Walley play the boring, clueless couple in this cult shocker. After their emergency landing, the wife ends up in a hospital to have her baby, while the pilot of the airplane (Johnny Desmond) visits the local tavern to get drunk. All this may seem normal for the first few seconds of the story, until we see that all the townspeople act like robots, repeating the same gestures and words over and over, as if they all had a severe case of obsessive-compulsive disorder.
The fact that there is something terribly wrong occurs immediately to the audience, but for the characters it takes days. The couple and their friend notice something is strange, but they just go about their business without giving it a second thought. They try to engage the townsfolk and the hospital nursing staff in conversation, but there is never any reply, so they simply help themselves to food and lodging without any kind of monetary or verbal exchange.
After about a week of this, the trio get a sense that they just might be in another world. Their investigation leads them to discover that they are surrounded by a thick glass wall. At first they discuss staying in their strange surroundings, raise the baby and live their lives with the plentiful resources in the town. But then they discover the darker side of this strange world.
That's when a gigantic hand reaches in from above and plucks one unfortunate soul by the neck and then disappears back into the sky. It is as if the world is contained in one big glass jar with a lid, and a Supreme Being is watching them at all times. This is the “Keeper”.
While hiding in a cave, Desmond accidentally sets off some magnetic-radioactive whatever and is briefly transported into what seems like … death. We get a glimpse of what that is like in glorious 3D, and it is quite effective. He knows he is dying and keeps repeating “I gotta wake up, I gotta wake up,” just like someone coming out of a near-death experience. I found this scene rather scary – and I am usually quite cynical about such manipulations. But this one really works.
However, most of the movie consists of unbelievable situations, inane dialog, poor acting, and sloppy continuity. For instance, after his experience with death, it is not clear whether Desmond is one of the humanoids or not. In fact, he keeps inconsistently dropping in and out of the story, until he fatally crashes his car into the glass wall.
Furthermore, what makes this movie ridiculous is that our main characters include one of the zombie creatures in their group (Barbara Eiler). She supposedly became Desmond's new girlfriend, but she looks straight ahead and never speaks or reacts. It frustrates the viewer because we are thinking, “Don't they notice she is not human? What's wrong with them?”
I kept trying to make sense of the characters' motives, with no success. In fact, I slowly began to identify with the humanoids, and looked at the real people as the alien creatures, for their behavior was so inconsistent. The only other character that occasionally comes alive is the doctor (Kassie McMahon) at the hospital, who seems to drift in and out of his coma long enough to instill some kind of message to “go to the station.”
Credulity is stretched even further when the couple returns to the cave and Cole excavates a hole to tunnel their way out – with proportions that only an accomplished drilling team could manage – while the wife lounges above with the baby.
Now for a “deeper meaning”: I don't want to read into this story and analyze it to death, but I do see some kind of existential significance to it. I see The Bubble as an indictment against God for keeping us trapped in this prison we call “Earth.” The fact that the “Keeper” lifts the lid of the jar and extracts someone every seven days has some Biblical significance, when you figure the commandment about the seventh day of rest. And the humanoids – who eat some strange substance in the cave – look up to the sky and call out to the “Keeper” in prayer, beseeching God for more food.
But never mind the “deeper meaning.” Just put on the 3D glasses that come with the DVD, sit back and enjoy!
The Bubble (1966). Dir. / Scr.: Arch Oboler. Cast: Michael Cole, Deborah Walley, Johnny Desmond, Kassie McMahon, Barbara Eiler.