Arch Oboler, who gave us Five ('51) and The Twonky ('53) had been away from the big screen for many years. He returned in force, with The Bubble (aka, The Zoo, Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth). Oboler wrote, produced and directed this sci-fi story mostly (it would seem) as a promotional vehicle for "Space-Vision" -- a new, cheaper, method of making 3D movies. The story itself is rather scant. Some liken it to an episode of Twilight Zone, padded to feature film length, and stuffed with 3D moments to show off the technology.
Quick Plot Synopsis
A pilot is flying a woman in labor, and her husband to a hospital. They are engulfed in a storm and set down. It turns out that they landed on the outskirts of a strange town where everyone acts semi-drugged, but going about whatever their usual tasks were. Cathy's baby is delivered okay. Mark looks around town, which is an eclectic mix of styles, dates and functions. Mark and Tony (the pilot) explore. His plane is missing. Back in town, they find an odd fake-rock structure. Inside is an odd chair. Tony sits in it and is shocked. He has an extended "dream" sequence, then goes into the same sort of trance the other people are. When Mark, Cathy and their baby are out of the hospital and driving through town some time later, they encounter Tony throwing flowers into the air. After a well-placed right cross, Tony regains his wits. They travel to an abandoned mine outside of town and camp there. Tony shows up one day with an army truck and the zombie saloon girl. Everyone packs into the truck and attempt to drive to freedom. 20 miles out, they encounter a clear plastic wall. They search miles to either side, but it is continuous. Tony tries to ram the wall with the truck, but it blows up. The burning truck is also mysteriously drawn up into the night sky. They have to walk back to the mine. Back in town, Mark tries to question the zombie folk, but to no avail. He exposits to Cathy vague notions of inhabited alien worlds, and bugs collected in a jar by children. Mark guesses that the zombie folk get their nutrition from the rock-structure. A shadow passes over the town. Everyone looks up. A woman and her baby are taken up into the sky screaming. Cathy freaks out. The next morning, Cathy is gone. Mark searches, eventually finding her hiding in the basement of an old mill. He schemes to dig under the plastic wall. He travels to town for supplies. He damages the rock structure's shock chair. He finds Tony. They drive until they get a flat. The shadow comes. Mark hides in the woods. Tony and the jeep are taken up into the shadow. Later, Mark is digging in the mill again. The shadow lingers over the mill, freaking out Cathy. Mark finally finds the bottom of the plastic wall. The doctor comes down the mill's ladder. He says the people in town are hungry (because Mark damaged the chair). In town, the crowd chants for food. Mark preaches about freedom, notes that the wind is blowing. It starts to rain. The keepers are gone. The End.
Why is this movie fun?
Between all the 3D moments, there is still a kernel of a story which tries to be engaging. The isolated town trope, and the alien abduction trope, are interesting.
Cold War Angle
There is more of a freedom vs. authority theme than anything clearly Cold War related. There is one moment of Cold War thinking. Mark wonders if maybe the rest of the world has been destroyed and their odd bubble existence may be all that's left.
For 3D's Sake -- Much of the footage in Bubble is shot purely to show off the 3D technology of "Space-Vision". Almost never do the 3D moments do anything for the plot. A tray of beers floats up to the audience. Some firemen carry a ladder up to the audience. An accountant (?) pokes some tweezers at the audience, several times. A billboard man pokes his brush at the audience, etc. etc. None of these events have anything to do with the story. They exist only as set pieces to show off the technology.
Oboler the Trailblazer -- Back in 1952, Oboler wrote, produced and directed the first 3D movie. Bwana Devil used a synchronized twin projector system developed by his brother-in-law. Each projector shone through a polarized filter. Viewers wore polarized glasses. The result was dim, as one might expect wearing sunglasses in the dark. In 1966, Oboler was back blazing trails again. Bubble was the first movie shot in "Space-Vision." This was also a polarized process, but had both left and right images on the same film. This made 3D less expensive and more feasible for smaller theaters (with single projectors). As with Bwana Devil 14 years earlier, The Bubble was panned by critics, but popular with audiences. They liked the 3D experience, even if the story itself was fairly lame. Red/Blue anaglyph copes were made too which exist in VHS and DVD.
Libertarian Lament -- If Oboler wrote any meaning into his screenplay, it came through one of several expositions delivered by Mark. He complains that life in the alien's bug jar was not so different from "real" life beforehand. Someone is always watching you anyway. Parents, teachers, army officers, bosses, the government. How, Mark muses, was life before their abduction really different than the bug jar? The undercurrent motivation of Mark and Cathy is to gain their freedom from their captors at all costs.
Non-Ending -- For whatever reason, (lack of budget, lack of time, etc.) Oboler doesn't resolve his story. He simply ends it. Once Mark has dug beneath the plastic bubble's walls, the mysterious never-seen alien is simply gone. The bubble itself simply goes away too. Wind and rain return to the eclectic "town." The movie ends with Mark and Cathy all smiles at the return of their freedom. Viewers, on the other hand, are left hanging. At least at the end of The Thing, everyone is aware that they are no longer alone. We must continually watch the skies. At the end of The Bubble, everyone is happy. Whew, glad that's over. Let's go eat.
Bottom line? If one approaches Bubble as a Twilight Zone episode, chock full of non-sequetor 3D moments, it isn't too bad. Even in anaglyph, the 3D is kind of fun (if usually pointless). Anyone expecting a deeper story (or an ending) is apt to come away disappointed.