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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 Blu-ray Disc:
Bubble debuts on the Blu-ray 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. The Blu-ray came several months later.
Blu-ray discs are only playable in a compatible Blu-ray player. They will not function in a standard DVD player or in an HD DVD 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 Blu-ray is encoded in High Definition 1080p format using MPEG2 compression on a single-layer 25 gb disc. 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 Blu-ray does a fine job of representing it, but I don't think this disc will be used as a video reference.
The Bubble Blu-ray disc is not flagged with an Image Constraint Token and will play in full High Definition quality over a Blu-ray player's analog Component Video outputs.
The movie's soundtrack is provided in standard Dolby Digital 3.0 or DTS 3.0 formats. If there's any difference between the two 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 Blu-ray. What we do get are:
- 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.) – 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 Blu-ray contains the entire episode.
For what it's worth, the Bubble trailer is found on Magnolia's Blu-ray edition of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, if not others.
Bubble is an interesting but minor work from Steven Soderbergh. It's worth a viewing by rental, though isn't an essential purchase. The Blu-ray's picture, sound and commentary track are all fine, but the disc is missing a bunch of supplements from the DVD.