Bubble [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - Magnolia Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (26th March 2007).
The Film

Sometimes I get the feeling that Steven Soderbergh wishes he was a new wave filmmakers working in France during the height of that movement. With films like "Full Frontal" (2002) and to a certain extent "Solaris" (2002) possessing that new wave-esque feel to them, drawing on minimalism and creating a sort of reality amid the artificiality of film itself, it's easy to draw comparisons with films from that era and the post-Oscar films of Soderbergh (with the exception of "Ocean's Eleven" (2001) and it's sequel "Ocean's Twelve" (2004)). "Bubble" is another in his catalogue of off-mainstream fare. Except this time film is not the preferred output, it's digital. "Bubble" marks a new era in film distribution, the first to be released simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and on cable TV, this was an experiment in how people chose to see their movies...the only problem is that hardly anyone saw it. "Bubble" made on a small budget of just $1.6 million made back less than 10% of its cost. Perhaps next when planning a release that spans multiple mediums at once maybe you might consider making something that will appeal to a larger audience? "Bubble" is a strange choice for this experiment, and I'm not sure what the distributors where thinking, this film has all the appeal of watching paint dry and almost the same level of suspense (being none).
"Bubble" tells the story of a couple of doll factory workers, Martha (Debbie Doebereiner) an older woman who airbrushes the facial details on the heads and Kyle (Dustin James Ashley) a young man who fills the molds with molten plastic. Martha and Kyle are friends, they drive to work together, spend lunch time together and talks about boring everyday stuff. When one the factory employs a new girl to help with the demand of product, Rose (Misty Wilkins). Rose quickly befriends Kyle and starts having lunch with him and Martha. Rose and Kyle obviously like each other and this annoys Martha (although it can be hard to tell sometimes behind her icy and near emotionless exterior, but more on that later). Eventually Rose ends ups murdered and the investigation considers Kyle, Martha and Rose's ex-boyfriend, Jake (K. Smith) and father of her 2-year-old child as the last people to see her alive as potential suspects.
Soderbergh's "Bubble" is an odd film, nothing really happens for nearly an hour and then in the last 20 minutes we suddenly have a murder mystery in actual fact there isn't much of a mystery at all even though the filmmaker's throw some misdirection at you: could it be the angry ex-boyfriend, cold it be jealous Martha, or has Kyle found a new hobby? But the misdirection was neither clever nor inspired and anyone with half a brain should be able to figure out the ending. So suspense is never created, and this was the intention of Soberbergh as he states in the film's commentary this isn't a 'who-dunnit' but rather a 'why-dunnit'. Despite this intention I'm still not convinced the film worked entirely mainly because of its largely deadpan delivery (acting is a major factor here, I'll get to that shortly) and the snails pace of the film as it crawls through the 73 minute runtime.
The cast are all nonprofessionals, in the tradition of Robert Bresson (famous for casting non-actors in his films) Soderbergh tries to create a naturalistic juxtaposition amid the plastic/artificial surroundings of the doll factory but instead the performances come out as still and stilted as a plastic doll, especially Debbie Doebereiner who posses a special kind of non-emotional response to just about everything except on one scene where she's being interviewed by the detective at the police station. She manages to redeem herself in just a few minutes. The rest of the cast seem like deer caught in the headlights, the reactions to Rose's death feel completely forced and unreal, Soderbergh comments in an interview that we as viewers have been conditioned to expect a certain response to traumatic news, instead of giving us that he crafts the character's response differently. This approach doesn't feel right and as a result the film doesn't have an emotional core.
Maybe I'm missing the point of the film but I didn't get into the rhythm of the piece and didn't understand a lot of the director's choices. Although I can appreciate the experiment I don't agree with the results.
Technically the film looks great, shot on HD the 2.40:1 wide canvas draws you into the low income world of these characters it's a shame the filmmaker's couldn't sustain it for the entire duration.
On the case it reads "Another Steven Soderbergh Experience", but the only thing I experienced was a mind-numbingly mundane piece of work that probably should be lost and forgotten amongst the plethora a straight-to-video entertainment. Or maybe I'll be proven wrong and the film will attract a cult following in time as being one of those underappreciated classics of modern cinema, only time will tell.

Video

Presented in the film's original theatrical aspect ratio of 2.40:1 this transfer is presented in high-definition 1080p / 24fps using MPEG-2 compression. This film was shot on HD and thus this transfer is sourced from the original HD materials and the result is splendid. The image is infinitely sharp and detailed, right down to the skin imperfections of the cast. Colors are vivid and rich especially in the sepia-toned surroundings of the factory. Blacks are deep and bold, I found some very minor noise in the darker scenes that took place at night but overall this was few and far between. Overall this is a pristine transfer that looks stunning on a large screen.

Audio

This film includes two audio tracks, an English DTS 3.0 Surround track as well as an English Dolby Digital 3.0 surround. For the purposes of this review I chose to view the film with its DTS track. This is the first time I've come across a 3.0 DTS track, the surround channels are not active and neither is the bass channel. The audio is clean but at times hard to make out considering the accents of some of the cast, or perhaps it's the mumble-like nature of the character Kyle's delivery, in any case I found my finger constantly on the volume button. There is little music in the film and when there is its presence is known. Depth is limited as I though an opportunity was missed in creating a sparse, subtle and yet ambient sound mix to bring out the environment the cast are placed in. Overall the track suits the film but there is a lot of room left for improvement.

Optional subtitles are included in English for the hearing impaired and Spanish.

Extras

Magnolia has released this film with an audio commentary, a TV clip plus some bonus trailers. Below is a closer look at these supplements.

First up is a feature-length audio commentary with director/cinematographer/editor Steven Soderbergh and filmmaker Mark Romanek. This track isn't screen-specific but rather a general information track that follows the production of the film and also sheds light on some of the director's intentions. Friend and fellow director Romanek sits with Soderbergh and feed shim questions throughout the duration. In this track he talks about the genesis of the project and the desire to make something on a small scale which allowed for more creative freedom, he also comments on the evolution of the idea and setting the story and location in a doll factory, working with non-professional actors, the style of the film, character relationships and motivations as well as shooting on HD and the various challenges faced during the production of the film. Even if you didn't like the film this track is still worth listening to as Soderbergh is an engaging subject and provides an informative and interesting track to this film.

Next up is "HDnet's Higher Definition: Bubble" TV highlights presented in 1080i and which runs for 25 minutes 42 seconds, this feature also appeared on the DVD release but as a bonus exclusive to Blu-ray this clip has been extended with an extra 15 minutes that has been reinserted. The show is hosted by film critic and Jesse Ventura look-a-like Robert Wilonski as he interviews Soderbergh about his latest film. The director talks about the deal with HDnet films and the year long process of setting it up. He also comments on doing the kind of experimental films that appeal to him, developing "Bubble" and setting it in a doll factory, shooting in HD for the first time and the benefits of it for this project, working with non-professional actors and a number of other topics that he talks about in his commentary, if you don't want to sit through that then this clip is a sort of cliff notes version of the commentary.

Rounding out the extras are some bonus trailers for:

- "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" which runs for 2 minutes 5 seconds.
- "The War Within" which runs for 1 minute 53 seconds.
- "Bikini Destinations: Triple Fantasy" which runs for 16 seconds.
- "HDnet World Report Special: Shuttle Discovery's Historic Mission" which runs for 26 seconds.
- "HDnet" promo spot which runs for 3 minutes 19 seconds.

Overall

The Film: D+ Video: A Audio: B- Extras: B Overall: C-

 


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