Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Man in the Plastic BUBBLE

I admire Steven Soderbergh for a number of things. He is able to direct movies with George Clooney and Julia Roberts, and win an Oscar and thank no one in his acceptance speech, except to smartly point out that the people who contributed to the film know who they are. And he can then leap onto medium budget films like THE GOOD GERMAN, down to micro-budget art films.

However, I can not admire him for his film BUBBLE, which was desperately released simultaneously in theaters, on DVD and on the Internet, in an apparent attempt to sell as many copies as possible before people found out what the film is. The film barely has plot. Three people work at a doll factory. More than halfway through the film, one of them ends up murdered. Shot on video on a micro-budget, using real people instead of actors, improvising dialogue, the film runs a scant 74 minutes, but feels three times as long.

There is virtually nothing good to say about the film. It's well shot (by Soderbergh, under a pseudonym; apparently embarrassed to put his name on it any more than necessary*). The decision to shoot in a doll factory provides for a great location. (The trailer, which shows only dolls and has no dialogue is far more interesting than the film.) Some of the actors come off well. The police detective is convincing (because he is one in real life). The two female leads are interesting. The male lead is not. The most convincing performance I've ever seen by a two year-old is in the movie, played by the lead actress's daughter.

But the movie really has the feel of a junior high school science experiment and not a work of art. I'm sure the titular bubble is supposed to refer to the metaphorical bubbles the characters all live in. But it appears that it really refers to the bubble around Soderbergh. This film makes him appear to be so far removed from the real lives of normal people, this is what he thinks life must be like if you don't live in Hollywood. NO ONE has a life this boring. These poor "actors" are so awkward on the camera, they mumble in fear on every line. Real people express emotion when they are accused of murder, or when they find out someone close to them has died. It's sad that filmmakers don't realize this. It's like they have never lived real lives.

The technical quality of the film is lower than many student films. Although shot well, the sound is terrible. The actors mumble and it sounds like they used one mike mounted across the room to record them all. The music sounds like they gave a twelve year-old PA an extra trip to craft services in exchange for recording his first guitar lesson; even a 310 student could make better music edits, and a high school student could play more chords. Make-up ranges from non-existent to way too much.

I think people often forget that Experimental Films are just that: experiments. And as any good scientist will tell you, the vast majority of experiments are complete failures. It's the few successes that make all the vain attempts worthwhile. I'll forgive Soderbergh for this mess because he's given us so much worthwhile as a director and producer.


*It's a joke. I know he always DPs his own material. But it bothers me for several reasons. First off, he takes a paycheck away from another crew member. Secondly, he himself admits he'd get better work from another DP. Finally, it puts a technological buffer between himself and his actors... he'd be better off looking directly them, especially when they are not real actors, they need the direct support. It's a very bad habit.
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