"I'm not too sure about her."
Bubble finds Steven Soderbergh in one of his artier moods. The movie was promoted solely based on the director's reputation ("Another Steven Soderbergh Experience" the poster tag line reads), and is the type of experimental work that he periodically uses to cleanse his palette between Ocean's 11 sequels. It's a film from the side of Soderbergh who's produced the likes of Schizopolis and Full Frontal, not so much the side responsible for mainstream-friendly fare like Erin Brockovich and Traffic. Viewers should set their expectations accordingly.
The picture was shot on the cheap in small town America using nonprofessional actors and largely improvised dialogue. The story concerns the workers at a doll factory, and I have no doubt that Soderbergh's main desire for making the movie was to shoot montages of creepy disembodied doll heads littering the set. Our main characters are high school dropout Kyle, a vaguely handsome lackadaisical stoner without much ambition in life, and motherly Martha, an older woman who proclaims Kyle her best friend and spends a little too much time doting on him. When the factory foreman brings in cute little chippie Rose to help with airbrushing duties, Martha senses chemistry between the two kids which, though she tries to suppress them, brings out some jealous and possessive tendencies in her personality. She immediately grows suspicious of Rose's motives, feelings that seem to be supported the more she learns about the girl, who has a psycho ex-boyfriend and a compulsion for petty theft. Without giving too much away, this uncomfortable love triangle of sorts eventually leads to a death.
The movie is an exercise in minimalism, both stylistically and in terms of storytelling. The characters lead banal lives and speak banal dialogue to fill the awkward silences while complex emotions churn beneath the surface. The actors spend a lot of time staring into the camera, allowing us to read whatever we want into their thoughts. The plot itself is very simple and straightforward, so much so that it leaves you expecting twists that never come. The film is primarily a mood piece, more concerned with atmosphere and ambiguity than gripping drama, and runs a very concise 73 minutes.
Bubble is a decidedly minor work from Soderbergh, one that probably won't make much of a lasting mark on his career legacy. In fact, it often plays like a pretentious student film. That's not to say that the movie is without artistic merit, just that it feels more like a project the filmmaker needed to get out of his system than like a story he'd been burning to tell.
The HD DVD:
Bubble debuts on the HD DVD format courtesy of Magnolia Home Entertainment. The movie made some industry headlines in early 2006 when it was released simultaneously in theaters, on DVD, and on the HDNet cable channel, an experimental distribution model that didn't work out as well as anyone had hoped. Even for a low-budget production it made very little money. A Blu-ray release came several months later in September of '06, followed now by this HD DVD.
Unlike the Blu-ray, the HD DVD disc adds, for no particular reason, annoying thumping sound effects for every menu selection chosen.
HD DVD discs are only playable in a compatible HD DVD player. They will not function in a standard DVD player (unless the disc is a Combo release that specifically includes a secondary DVD version) or in a Blu-Ray player. Please note that the star rating scales for video and audio are relative to other High Definition disc content, not to traditional DVD.
The Bubble HD DVD is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG4 AVC compression (the Blu-ray was MPEG2). The movie is presented in its theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 2.40:1 with letterbox bars at the top and bottom of the 16:9 frame.
The picture was shot on HD video and is generally sharp and clear with good colors. The actors' ruddy flesh tones are captured with every mottled nuance. However, the image seems to have been run through a FilmLook-type filter to lessen the video-ish appearance, which has the side effect of reducing visible detail. Some shots will look sharp on one side of the frame but soft on the other, even for objects in the same focal plane. Moire is occasionally present in fine object details, some shots are a bit edgy, and noise intrudes into a few scenes. Light sources in the frame frequently bloom, giving away the video nature of the production. The photography looks very good for a low budget movie, and the HD DVD does a fine job of representing it, but I don't think this disc will be used as a video reference.
Despite the difference in compression codec, after comparing the HD DVD against the Blu-ray I found the two discs virtually indistinguishable. The HD DVD may be perhaps a hair sharper, but that may also be a hardware difference in the two players used. The qualities noted in the previous paragraph apply equally to both formats, and are no doubt traits of the original digital photography.
The Bubble HD DVD is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over an HD DVD player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in Dolby Digital Plus 3.0, standard Dolby Digital 3.0, or DTS 3.0 formats (the DD+ is new to the HD DVD; the Blu-ray had only DD and DTS). If there's any difference between the three tracks, I couldn't find it after volume matching them. Dialogue reproduction sounds a little bright and sharp, but this seems to be intentional to heighten the naturalistic tone of the movie. The simple guitar score is delivered in crisp and clean stereo. Ambient effects are well employed, especially in the doll factory, but the lack of surround activity is a disappointment that sometimes leaves the soundstage feeling unbalanced, though I wonder if that was done on purpose as well.
Subs & Dubs:
Optional subtitles - English captions for the hearing impaired or Spanish.
Alternate language tracks - N/A.
The Bubble DVD wasn't exactly overflowing with supplements, but it had a few of interest. Unfortunately, even from this modest assortment the majority of extras have been dropped for the HD DVD. What we do get are:
Also on the disc are a commercial for HDNet and trailers for unrelated HD DVDs from Magnolia. Missing from the DVD are a cast commentary track, a deleted scene, an alternate ending, a short making-of featurette, cast audition interviews, and the movie's trailer. It's not a lot of content, so I have a hard time believing these things wouldn't have fit on this disc. I would seriously like someone from Magnolia to explain to me why they couldn't include at least the cast commentary. As it stands, it feels like the studio is trying to force fans to buy both the HD DVD and the standard DVD.
- Audio Commentary - Steven Soderbergh is joined by his friend, filmmaker Mark Romanek to talk about the origins of the project, the theme of dehumanization, shooting logistics, and working with nonprofessional actors. It's an intelligent, revealing conversation.
- Higher Definition: Bubble Episode (26 min., HD) - Presented in 1080i High-Def, this episode from the HDNet interview series features Soderbergh discussing the film's distribution strategy and his thoughts on shooting in HD video. While the DVD had only a 9-minute excerpt from the interview, the HD DVD contains the entire episode.
Bubble is an interesting but minor work from Steven Soderbergh. It's worth a viewing by rental, though isn't an essential purchase. The HD DVD's picture, sound and commentary track are all fine, but the disc is missing a bunch of supplements from the DVD.
Traffic (HD DVD) - Steven Soderbergh
HD Review Index
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