Our restoration of Arch Oboler's THE BUBBLE was selected by the Museum of Modern Art as part of "To Save and Project:
the 12th MoMA International Festival of Film Preservation."
A note from Michael Cole:
"Having heard of his genius prior to our first meeting, I had no idea of what to expect when I met Arch Oboler.
He was a little man and when he walked in the room in a blue jump suit, thick glasses and a white construction helmet, you can only imagine what I was thinking. Within a few minutes, however, this small man became larger than life. He was a man of wisdom with a gentle spirit.
He was clearly a visionary with a genuine fascination with outer space. (How often do you meet someone who literally carries a piece of a meteor in his pocket?)
I know Mr. "O" would be
deeply grateful to all those involved in the painstaking work of restoring THE BUBBLE.
I truly sense it is the marriage of art and technology.
A sincere thank you."
Michael Cole - November 11, 2014
By Bob Furmanek
Arch Oboler’s landmark 1966 production THE BUBBLE was the first stereoscopic motion picture filmed in 4-D Space-Vision - a revolutionary new lens and projection system that enabled high-quality polarized widescreen projection from a single-strip of 35mm film.
One of the selling points with 4-D Space-Vision was its ability to make objects in the scene actually appear to leave the screen and float into the audience – completely detached from the screen.
But how new was Space-Vision in 1966? The truth is rather surprising for it had been on the drawing boards for many years, predating the 3-D boom of 1953.
Unless otherwise noted, all of the films and lens systems described in the following article were projected with polarized light. Also, while single-strip 3-D work was ongoing in Europe and Russia during this period, my article focuses on the work that was done in the United States.
THE ORIGIN OF SPACE-VISION
Colonel Robert V. Bernier is a forgotten innovator in the history of stereoscopic motion pictures. His Trioptiscope Space-Vision lens was the gold standard for the production and exhibition of 3-D movies for nearly 30 years.
He was born
in Minnesota on July 12, 1911 and developed an interest in three-dimensional
imagery as a small child when his family inherited two Brewster Stereoscopes
and a collection of stereograms. He studied the images and began looking for
ways to take his own 3-D photographs. He eventually bought two cameras and
mounted them side-by-side and created nearly 200 black and white stereograms. In
the early 1940s, he volunteered for service with the armed forces and was
assigned to the 29th Engineers in Portland, Oregon, an organization
that made anaglyphic maps from 3-D aerial photographs for reconnaissance
War II, he was stationed with the Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force in
England and was on General Eisenhower’s immediate staff as the Chief Map
In a 1974
interview, Col. Bernier explained: “After a tour of duty overseas, I returned
to the United States and was fortunate enough to be assigned to the photo lab
at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. I started what we called
the Stereoscopic Photographic Department and developed various means of recording
subject matter three-dimensionally, including three or four still camera
configurations. Following this, I began to think that 3-D motion pictures for
training military recruits would be worthwhile, and I developed what I called
the alternate-frame system, where the right eye picture is photographed with a
time lapse, as compared to the left eye view.”
utilized a synchronized barrel type polarizer in front of the lens and a Morgana
shuttle mechanism which helped to minimize the flicker. The United States Air
Force filed the first patent in Bernier’s name on November 4, 1947 and patent US2478891 for “Three-dimensional adapter for motion-picture projectors” was
granted on August 16, 1949.
On May 2, 1951, he presented a report at the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers annual convention held in New York City. He predicted that synthetic vision “almost as remarkable as natural vision” in its depth perception and other characteristics would be achieved in motion pictures and television. International Projectionist wrote about the 16mm test reel shown following his presentation: “In one novel scene, a tray of refreshments appeared to leave the hands of a serving maid on the screen and float out before the audience to a position just a few inches before the eyes of each spectator.”
He submitted a detailed report to the Journal of the SMPTE in June 1951 and an article describing his invention appeared in the August issue of American Cinematographer. Click here to read Bernier - SMPTE June 1951.
On July 12, 1951, the first public demonstration was held in Dayton, Ohio. A syndicated Associated Press story reported on the event: “Spectators ducked as steel balls, apples, pears and a tray of bottles shot out from the screen. It was so realistic that viewers although seated far from the screen, felt they could reach out and pluck a bottle from the tray… The system still has a few bugs. There is some slight flicker which the new projector probably will eliminate. There is no disputing, however, the true third-dimension image.”
Vision Corp. filed for a second patent on July 17, 1951 and patent US2729138 for
“System and apparatus for projecting three dimensional motion pictures” was
granted on January 3, 1956.
Despite the successful demonstrations, Bernier realized that simultaneous projection of the right and left images was crucial and began to develop a working system with one image above the other on a single strip of 35mm film.
ENTER ARCH OBOLER AND NATURAL VISION
At the same time that Colonel Bernier was developing his 3-D system, Lothrop Worth and Friend Baker, along with Milton and Julian Gunzburg, began demonstrating their dual-35mm Natural Vision camera. First shown to the press on May 29, 1951 with further demonstrations on July 6 and July 24, none of the studios expressed interest.
Oboler had seen some of the demonstration footage and recognized its potential.
On February 4, 1952, he announced plans to produce the first 3-D motion picture
in color. On June 18, 1952, principal photography on THE LIONS OF GULU commenced
on location at the Paramount Ranch in the Santa Monica Mountains, 45 miles
northwest of Los Angeles.
Retitled BWANA DEVIL on June 23, the gala world premiere was held on November 26, 1952, Thanksgiving Day. Neither the Los Angeles nor Hollywood Paramount theatres could accommodate the large crowds. Arch Oboler’s modest film set the box office on fire. Motion Picture Herald wrote, “Three-dimension is a box office smash. Los Angeles is proving it beyond question and in the face of a bad press and worse weather. It’s breaking records every hour on the hour.”
Within two weeks, it was booked into 230 theatres around the country. Following the phenomenal success of this independent production, every studio quickly made plans to jump on the stereoscopic bandwagon.
In late December, producer Edward A. Alperson and United Artists got into a bidding war for the rights to BWANA from Arch Oboler and his associates. On January 12, Film Bulletin reported that Alperson had offered $2,000,000 for the film but on January 14, a deal was finalized with UA for $1,750,000. This led to a series of lawsuits and countersuits that lingered until mid-1956, when a Superior Court Judge ruled against Oboler in his countersuit against Alperson and the case was closed.
While BWANA DEVIL was breaking box office records throughout the country, Colonel Bernier’s Synthetic Vision Corp. announced Naturalama.
Variety reported on February 9 that both Warner Bros. and Paramount were studying the system.
Eleven 3-D features had gone before the cameras since the start of the year. The future of three-dimensional motion pictures was looking very bright.
On April 7, Variety announced a license agreement between King Brothers Productions and the Zeiss Ikon Company in Stuttgart, Germany. The King Brothers would act as American distributors of the Zeiss single-strip lens system – which dated back to 1935 – and would use it on their upcoming film, CARNIVAL. Two weeks later, Variety reported that Zeiss had not licensed the American rights to their lens. On May 23, Boxoffice wrote that plans for 3-D were dropped and when production commenced on CARNIVAL STORY at Geiselgasteig Studios in Germany, it was filmed for 1.65:1 widescreen instead.
very good for the 3-D movies released in the spring and early summer. HOUSE OF
TI, IT CAME FROM OUTER SPACE, THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER, THE MAZE and SECOND CHANCE were doing exceptionally well at the box office.
On May 12, Stereocolor was announced as an alternate-frame system which would produce a 3-D color image from black and white film. Developed by R. E. Schenstad, the first demonstration was held on May 31 in Davenport, Iowa. Using two jury-rigged projectors and four color wheels with a prism and mirror arrangement, International Projectionist reported, “While some aspects of the system are interesting, our reaction was not favorable on the whole.”
By the end of summer, interest in 3-D movies was beginning to decline primarily due to projection issues with the necessity of interlocking two projectors in precise synchronization. Over the next few months, several companies introduced various single-strip projection devices which would eliminate these problems. However, the primary disadvantage with any beam-splitting system was the reduced film area and a substantial loss of light on screen.
On June 16, the Nord Process lens was demonstrated in New York. Developed by inventor Roy Clapp of Minneapolis and first introduced for 16mm home movies in November 1951, the system utilized the full height of the 35mm frame. The left/right images were printed vertically side by side on a single frame of film in an aspect ratio of 1.75:1. Projection through angled mirrors rotated the images, passing them through appropriate left/right filters. The projection unit was mounted in front of the lens on brackets. The units would be custom made for each installation and would cost about $1,500.
In reviewing the demonstration, Pete Harrison of Harrison’s Reports wrote, “In addition to the economy of operation that the Nord system offers to exhibitors, it should help also to eliminate 3-D projection flaws that are damaging the commercial value of this new medium and are frequently proving costly because of refunds demanded by dissatisfied patrons.”
On June 27, 3-D pioneer John A. Norling announced his own system, claiming to offer three times more light than other beam-splitting systems. According to Variety, it utilized an alternate frame method with the right and left-eye views following one another in rapid succession. Motion Picture Daily wrote, “The Norling method is said to utilize two separate lenses, permitting the full aperture of each to be used, whereas the beam-splitter method uses a single lens, permitting less than half the effective aperture of the projection lens to be utilized. Another feature claimed for the Norling method is the arrangement of left and right-eye images on the film to obtain equal illumination for corresponding areas.” Norling said, “Basic research has been completed, and no further invention is required to build a prototype of the new system which now requires only straightforward design and development to bring it into being.” Nothing further was heard about this system.
At the July
Allied Theater Owners of New Jersey convention in Atlantic City, President
Wilbur Snaper placed special emphasis on the need for a one-projector system. Motion Picture Daily wrote, “The
single-projector method for 3-D might well spell the difference between profit
and loss. Under the present interlock system, labor costs are tremendous and
exhibitors cannot afford the load of carrying an extra projectionist.”
KEEPING 3-D ALIVE
The 3-D boom
had generated a tremendous profit for Polaroid. In the eight months since BWANA
DEVIL premiered, Polaroid viewer production had gone from 30,000 to 6,000,000 a
week. They scrambled frantically to find a solution. In July, their engineers
began working on a means to fix the sync issues and restore the public's faith
in 3-D movies.
Nord had its first west-coast demonstration at the 750-seat Picfair Theatre in Los Angeles on August 18. One reel from a single-strip conversion of I, THE JURY was shown along with some newly shot test film. Universal-International sent representatives and the following week, they circulated an internal memo: “The demonstration, which was poorly handled, was not impressive. However, the theory seems promising.”
Warner Bros. viewed the demonstration and stated the following internally: “All of the studios represented had inspected the Nord system and all agreed that it was technically inferior to what should be easily possible, and they all stated that none of them were willing to have their names used in any agreement to make prints available for the Nord system.”
9, the Moropticon system was demonstrated at the 3,160-seat RKO 86th Street Theatre in New York. Developed in Vienna by producer Boris Morros, it was
similar to the Nord process but differed in how the images were rotated. Matty
Fox, former executive vice-president of Universal-International and a partner in United
Artists, was president of the newly-formed All Dimensions, Inc. which held all
patents to the system. Thirty minutes of footage was shown including wardrobe
tests of Ann Miller and Kathryn Grayson from KISS ME KATE.
Motion Picture Daily wrote, “Besides a
lighting deficiency, a defect ascribed to less than optimum shooting
conditions, the demonstration was extraordinarily good.”
The Moropticon unit was lightweight, compact and could fit in a small carrying case. It would be offered free of charge providing the exhibitor agreed to purchase a minimum monthly order of 2,500 Pola-Lite glasses for a period of one year.
Matty Fox was able to use his clout with Universal-International to shoot two days of tests beginning September 22. Oscar-winning cinematographer James Wong Howe photographed Christiane Martel, Ingrid Mills, Mara Corday and Lance Fuller in 22 setups on the California Street and Shelby home on the studio's backlot.
In October, at the Allied Industries convention and tradeshow in Boston, Polaroid introduced synchronization equipment for dual-strip presentations. An article in Boxoffice stated: "Polaroid representatives made a deep impression with their demonstration of an equipment kit that will simplify keeping 3-D films in synchronization. Nobody challenged the statement of the Polaroid people that their field studies showed more than 50 percent of the theaters were showing out of sync pictures.” On October 14, Variety said: "What amounts almost to a last-ditch fight to keep 3-D alive is being made by equipment and specs manufacturers with big financial stakes in stereopix."
On October 5, Variety reported that Columbia had completed a deal to make their new and upcoming 3-D releases available in the Nord Extended Area System, beginning with GUN FURY. However, the prints were never made.
Studio executives saw the writing on the wall. Paramount (and later Universal-International) dropped their requirement that 3-D films must play out their depth engagements before the films could be shown flat. Harrison's Reports wrote on October 17: "Third-dimension pictures are no longer a novelty and are, in fact, doing mediocre business throughout the country. The exhibitors are having sad experiences with the current crop of 3-D films and, consequently, are beginning to avoid them like the plague. Matters have come to a point where many exhibitors feel that to advertise the fact that they are playing a 3-D picture is to invite the public to stay away from the box office."
Not sure whether to release their new musical in 3-D or flat, MGM tried a unique experiment: they tested KISS ME KATE in six locations. Starting October 28, bookings were evenly split with three of six cities playing the depth version. To everyone’s surprise, the 3-D engagements did 40 percent better business. Based on this test, the studio ordered an unprecedented 300 Technicolor 3-D prints in order to meet the anticipated demand. Hollywood Reporter wrote, "This almost two-for-one business in favor of goggle-wearing ticket buyers indicates that 3-D is not dead, not dying, nor is it even sick."
Meanwhile, the production of 3-D films had greatly diminished. In his syndicated October 31 column for the Associated Press entitled, 3-D All But Dead As New Films Cancelled, Bob Thomas wrote, “The rise and fall of 3-D appears to have run its course. Of the 23 pictures shooting in Hollywood today, only three are the stereo type. Most producers are now agreed that 3-D will be limited to a few films, mostly science-fiction or suspense movies in which depth adds to the frightening effect… It’s too bad that Hollywood never really gave 3-D a chance to prove itself. Perhaps someday the potential of depth movies will be realized.”
At a November
1953 theater equipment trade show in Chicago, Synthetic Vision Corp. joined
with seven other companies – including Polaroid, Nord, Moropticon and Pola-Lite
– to demonstrate new advances in 3-D projection systems and glasses. After
MGM’s successful tests with KATE in favor of 3-D, there was a renewed interest
among exhibitors with such important films as HONDO, CEASE FIRE, MONEY FROM
HOME, THE FRENCH LINE and MISS SADIE THOMPSON scheduled for release.
Moropticon had moved to the forefront of the single-strip sweepstakes and on November 20, they presented scenes from TAZA, SON OF COCHISE at New York’s 5,230-seat Capitol Theatre. International Projectionist wrote, “The print density had been cut to the point where the film was almost transparent. The resultant loss in picture quality followed naturally. The color was washed out very thoroughly… We were impressed by the possibilities but not by the demonstration.”
Showmen’s Trade Review reported, “The main problem in one-reel 3-D to date has been that of getting enough light when large-screen projection is used. Moropticon apparently compensates for this by making its prints very light, which tend to wash out the brilliancy of Technicolor." Fox countered that “proper lab processing” would solve the problem.
As the turbulent year came to a close, Variety reported on the acceptance problems with single-strip systems. “Both Nord and Moropticon have said that certain studios would make prints available in their respective techniques. However, as far as could be determined, not a single production company has processed anything but test footage.”
EPITAPH OR PROLOGUE?
promising development for single-strip 3-D was Polaroid’s Vectograph process. First
patented in 1938 and announced for still transparencies in July 1940, the
system utilized a double-coated film with emulsion on each side which carried
the polarizing elements in its structure. The images were polarized at 90 degrees
to each other and through glasses, the left eye would see the image on one
surface of the film and the right eye would see the other image. Work had begun
in March 1953 on adapting the system for use in motion pictures.
In June, Variety reported, “Company has been working on this process for considerable time and has been pressured by Warner Bros. to go ahead with the production of at least one test reel for demonstration purposes, regardless of cost.” Test Vectograph reels were made on THE CHARGE AT FEATHER RIVER and Walt Disney’s animated short, MELODY. The results were encouraging but more work needed to be done.
On January 18, 1954, it was announced that Technicolor had joined with Polaroid to develop the system for 35mm dye-transfer release prints. Two major drawbacks which stalled its development were the high cost of Vectograph release prints (nearly double that of dual-strip) and a high amount of ghosting/double-image as a result of imperfect polarization. Declining interest in 3-D movies eventually ended any further research.
In January 1954, it was a chicken-or-the-egg situation. International Projectionist reported, “Theaters are willing to sign up with Moropticon, Nord or whoever comes down the pike provided the producers will make the films. Conversely, the producers are telling the exhibitors to install the equipment first. The question before the house seems to be: If the chicken does cross the road, will she lay an egg?”
took the plunge and was the first studio to offer films in either dual or single-strip
3-D; CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and TAZA, SON OF COCHISE. The specially-processed Pola-Lite prints were timed several points lighter than a standard release print.
The first exhibition with an updated Moropticon/Pola-Lite attachment developed by Dr. Leon W. Wells was
held at the March 31 sub-run opening of CREATURE at the Roxy Theatre, a
1,100-seat grindhouse in Detroit. Successful openings followed in Pittsburgh, Harrisburg, Oklahoma City, Baltimore, Milwaukee and Chicago.
Exhibitor interest was slowly building and orders began to come in, especially from smaller theatres. Motion Picture Daily reported on April 26 that Pola-Lite prints would also be available from 20th Century Fox and United Artists for GORILLA AT LARGE, SOUTHWEST PASSAGE and GOG.
After extensive research, we cannot find playdates for any Pola-Lite presentations other than CREATURE.
On April 18, Naturama, the new projection system specifically designed by Bernier for both 3-D and wide screen presentation was announced in the trades. The primary advantage of this system over Pola-Lite was the horizontal placement of both images – one above the other – allowing for a full 2.55:1 aspect ratio.
On May 25, a
demonstration of Naturama for industry representatives was held at the Ames
Theatre in Dayton, Ohio. Motion Picture
Daily wrote, “The picture proportions were reported to be the same as those
of CinemaScope with the images projected from a single film strip. Regular
standard projection equipment was used with no change to the projector or the
booth port. The installation of the Naturama superimposing attachment, which
measures 11 by 10 inches thick, was made in three minutes.”
Jane E. Bernier, President of Synthetic Vision, announced that demonstrations for exhibitors would be held shortly.
Those test screenings of Naturama never took place.
The very next day, May 26 – after the cancelled 3-D engagement of DIAL M FOR MURDER following its world premiere in Philadelphia – Variety reported a story entitled, 3-D Looks Dead in United States. The article said, “Tri-dimension pix apparently have made their last stand in domestic distribution. There appears little interest among exhibs to show 3-D pictures.”
Arch Oboler was not discouraged. On June 3, Variety reported that he would use his profits from BWANA DEVIL to make a new 3-D film in Copenhagen with Bernier’s Naturama process: SPEAR IN THE SAND. Based on Raoul Faure’s novel about a man living alone on a desert island for 65 years, it was originally considered for 3-D lensing in February 1952. The film was never made.
In July 1954, John Norling wrote a scathing editorial for International Projectionist.
Ironically, just as Norling’s article was being read by projectionists and exhibitors around the world, the 50th and final domestic 3-D feature of the short-lived fad had gone before the cameras at Universal-International.
REVENGE OF THE CREATURE began filming on June 24, 1954 and was released in dual-strip only in March 1955. It did well at the box office and nearly half the initial bookings were for the 3-D version. Why it was not available in the Pola-Lite system is unknown but with that release, the brief popularity of stereoscopic motion pictures had come to an end.
following January, the name of Naturama was being used by Republic Studios for
their new anamorphic 2.35: 1 widescreen system.
MYSTIC MASKS AND NUDIE-CUTIES
had sporadic exposure in the decade following the release of REVENGE OF THE
CREATURE. In late 1957, Universal-International tried some test engagements in
Syracuse and Wichita of CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON and IT CAME FROM OUTER
SPACE. Business was better than
anticipated so both films were put into general release and available for 3-D
In March 1958, Warner Bros. did good business with a limited re-issue
of HOUSE OF WAX and PHANTOM OF THE RUE MORGUE. In September 1959, an
independent distributor picked up rights to RKO’S SECOND CHANCE and DEVIL’S
CANYON and the double-feature had some 3-D playdates in the last few months of
Seeing there was still some interest and several thousand theaters equipped for dual-35mm projection, producer Edward L. Alperson began production of THE GIRL IN THE RED BIKINI on location in Mallorca, off the coast of Spain in August 1959. Using Natural Vision cameras, the film was shot open-matte with the plan to extract a 2.35:1 image for release in dual-35mm 3-D and Cinemascope.
With the new title SEPTEMBER STORM, it did well enough in early test engagements to encourage 20th Century Fox to give it a full-scale 3-D release in September 1960. Shown with "Special viewers scientifically designed by master craftsmen," it was the last 3-D feature released in a dual-35mm format.
Despite what many people believe, the July 1960 release of William Castle’s 13 GHOSTS in Illusion-O was not 3-D but utilized a red/blue “Ghost Viewer” in order to allow viewers the option to see or filter out the ghostly images.
The Canadian horror film THE MASK was released in October 1961 and featured three very effective sequences filmed in Depth-Dimension, a dual-35mm process developed by Britain’s National Research Development Corporation and converted to single-strip anaglyphic 3-D. These segments are generally regarded as the finest examples of anaglyph ever put on film.
With the growing popularity of the “nudie-cuties” in the downtown adult and art theaters, it wasn’t long before some producers used 3-D to exploit their productions.
January 1962 saw the first release in this genre, THE BELLBOY AND THE PLAYGIRLS. Originally a flat black and white German production from 1958, it was enhanced with an 18 minute 3-D color finale written and directed by an up and coming talent, Francis Ford Coppola. Filmed with a dual-16mm Auricon rig and blown-up to single strip 35mm, exhibitors had the option to project the segment in either a red/blue anaglyphic version or a full-color polarized 3-D print. Most theaters showed the lesser quality anaglyphic version.
In February, PARADISIO - called “The best nudie movie to date” by Playboy - was released with several poor quality Tri-Optique anaglyphic segments. Produced for under $100,000, it brought in a respectable $260,000 in its first six months of distribution and was still playing the grindhouse circuit three years later.
Natural Vision rig, used on such 3-D classics as HOUSE OF WAX and THE CHARGE AT
FEATHER RIVER, was put into service one last time on ADAM AND SIX EVES.
Ironically, the film was released only flat in August 1962.
THE PICTURE FLOATS OFF THE SCREEN
During this time, Colonel Bernier continued to experiment and revise his lens system. In a 1974 interview, he recalled: “The industry’s interest in 3-D died down completely. My projection system was put in mothballs and remained there until sometime in 1962. At that time, I made an agreement with Arch Oboler whereby, if he provided the financing, I would provide the engineering, and the joint venture to simplify and improve 3-D cinematography was initiated.“
“I had an idea for a type of three-dimensional lens that could be fitted onto a single standard Mitchell camera and I immediately began work on the design and detail of such a lens, which I called the Trioptiscope. The Trioptiscope, by means of prisms and lenses, photographs subject matter from laterally displaced viewpoints comparable to the interpupillary distance of the human eye (approximately 65 millimeters), and transmits these two images to the film to end up thereon one above the other. After approximately two years of design and development, two such lenses were completed. Tests were made and the results on the screen were found to be excellent.”In October 1961, Oboler completed his first draft of a screenplay about a young couple in “a most unusual adventure story.” The following summer, he recorded the popular “Drop Dead!” LP for Capitol Records, the first in a proposed series of suspense albums based on stories from his “Light’s Out” radio plays. He developed a good relationship with Alan W. Livingston, the president of the label. Within a few years, that relationship would prove very beneficial.
Work was progressing on the Trioptiscope lens and on June 12, 1962 – nearly ten years to the day of the start of BWANA DEVIL – a 3-D test with the latest design was filmed and the results were very encouraging. But further work and monies were still needed to get the lens perfected.
On July 25, 1962, Variety reported, “A new 3-D process which uses a single projector and eliminates the problems previously encountered in tridee projection has been presented by Arch Oboler who asserts the system is foolproof.” He approached Paramount and Columbia but neither studio was interested.
Not easily discouraged and recognizing the value of perseverance, Oboler continued refining his script while Bernier was busy grinding the new camera lens. On September 29, 1964, Variety reported “Arch Oboler has begun preparations for filming ‘The Bubble’ his original screenplay. Oboler just returned from a location scouting trek to Japan.”
In February 1966, Oboler signed a deal to partner with Capitol Records in order to secure the financial backing necessary for final refinement of the lens and to cover the production costs on THE BUBBLE, estimated at $500,000.
Final script revisions were done in May and casting began in June with Michael Cole and Deborah Walley, the popular star of GIDGET GOES HAWAIIAN, signed for the leads. Former big band crooner, nightclub performer and Atco recording artist Johnny Desmond took a month off from playing the lead role of Nick Arnstein with Barbara Streisand on Broadway in FUNNY GIRL to do the film.
Charles F. Wheeler was signed for only the second time in his career as Director of Photography. Five years later, he was nominated for an Academy award for his cinematography on TORA! TORA! TORA!
Principal photography began in Studio City at the 70-acre CBS Studio Center on July 15, 1966 and continued until the end of August. The standing saloon set of GUNSMOKE was used for several scenes and Bernier utilized this opportunity to recreate his original off-screen tray effect from 1951.
Completely leaving the screen and coming far out into the audience, it stands today as one of the top off-screen moments in stereoscopic film history.
Production of the film was shrouded in secrecy. In a 1999 interview, Michael Cole remembered, “So secret were the plot and the methods of photography projecting into the fourth dimension of space that the studios top brass were persona non grata and barred from their own stages.”
Bernier’s daughter Barbara Clendenin spent a lot of time on the set. In a recent interview for this article, she said, “Filming
was arduous and time consuming, but thrilling. My father was the Technical
Director and I spent most of my time assisting him or just watching his daily
routine which was intense. I recall a scene filmed at night when a
burning vehicle was pulled into the night sky. There was only one take but it
took all night to set it up and rehearse the use of the crane and the actors.”
On October 21, 1966, Bernier applied for his third patent relating to stereoscopic motion pictures and patent US3531191 for “Three dimensional cinematography” was granted on September 29, 1970.
and post-production complete, plans were made for a world premiere opening at
the 1,126-seat Woods Theatre in Chicago on December 21, 1966.
The film played for five weeks in Chicago and grossed over $100,000.
After viewing a test screening in January 1967, Kevin Thomas wrote in the L.A. Times, “Tuesday morning at the CBS Studio Center, local press got its first look at Oboler’s newest process, 4-D Space-Vision, an unqualified success in its technique… The possibilities of Space-Vision seem infinite – not just for shock effects but, for example, the dynamic presentation of plays and ballets which are notoriously hard to make cinematic… Whole scenes can float in front of the screen. Directors from Michelangelo Antonioni to Jerry Lewis should be intrigued with the device.”
In a March 1967 interview with the L.A. Times, Arch Oboler expressed his thoughts on the unusual screenplay: “The story concerns itself with human choices – absolute security conveyed by authority from above arrayed against the individual desire for freedom of choice.”
Oboler made plans to four-wall the film and openings followed in Detroit in February; Los Angeles in March; Cleveland and San Francisco in April; Denver, Milwaukee and New Orleans in May; Baton Rouge in June and Pinellas Park, Florida in July. Bernier traveled to each city in order to set-up the installation and insure the optimum presentation.
In April, Oboler was interviewed about Space-Vision by Gerald Nachman of the Oakland Tribune: “It’s a natural for pictures like ‘Grand Prix,’ ‘Ben-Hur’ and ‘Fantastic Voyage.’ Why, if we could have had that little submarine floating through the corpuscles with YOU in the boat – great! The first western in Space-Vision will be terrific, and imagine Jerry Lewis doing a real Harold Lloyd type of comedy. I’d like to see a war picture shot in 4-D; the audience will be IN the war, not behind it.”
Meanwhile, other producers were taking note of the revolutionary process. Variety wrote that Oboler was in negotiations for a Space-Vision film with the Atomic Energy Commission. In May, Mervyn Leroy was considering Space-Vision for a big-budget Warner Bros. musical to be shot in New York, Sidney Michaels’ ALL AROUND THE TOWN. Both projects were cancelled.
The reviews had been generally favorable but several critics singled out the film's length and overall pacing. Glenn Hawkins of the L.A. Herald-Examiner wrote, “The film could stand a little more editing.” Variety said, “Film runs aground with a pace that’s too ponderous to maintain interest in the action” and Philip K. Scheuer wrote in the L.A. Times, “The scary elements are more subdued – the suspense heightened by repetition (though in 112 minutes there is too much of it) and a weird music score. This could almost be an episode of The Invaders.”
Bookings continued throughout 1968 and after some November playdates in Canada, Oboler cut the film from 112 minutes to 91. The camera negative was physically edited and the footage is not known to survive.
THE BUBBLE BURSTS
Over the next several years, there were a number of unrealized projects for Arch Oboler, Colonel Bernier and Space-Vision. Variety reported in October 1969 that Oboler was in talks with Bill Hanna and Joe Barbera to produce an animated feature film in the process. In 1971, Oboler announced a new project. He said, “Good filmmaking starts with the written word. I’ve written a script called THE BORGIA EMERALD that is the ultimate in three dimensions. It uses all the safeguards, all the expertise I’ve learned over the years. And it’s written for the Space-Vision camera.” Neither project got much further than the planning stage.
In March 1972, Oboler transferred rights on THE BUBBLE to Sherpix, an independent distributor who had made a great deal of money with such exploitation fare as Andy Warhol’s LONESOME COWBOYS and A HISTORY OF THE BLUE MOVIE. Louis K. Sher had recently hit pay dirt with 3-D as well, having grossed $20,000,000 with THE STEWARDESSES and he was currently enjoying a very successful re-issue with HOUSE OF WAX. Sherpix released THE BUBBLE in October 1972 (“A visual science fiction experience that will boggle your mind”) and kept the film in limited theatrical release for the next several years.
With funding from the Sherpix deal, Arch Oboler was able to begin production in June 1972 on what would be his last feature film, DOMO ARIGATO. Beautifully photographed in Space-Vision on location in Japan, the travelogue/love story was ultimately put on the shelf after disappointing test screenings in Los Angeles and Seattle. It never received a theatrical release.
In March 1973, Bernier went to Cinecittà Studios in Rome to serve as Space-Vision Technical Advisor on FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN. Director Paul Morrissey mostly ignored Bernier’s stereoscopic expertise and the result on-screen was an image frequently out-of-alignment and often hard on the eyes.
WILLIE NELSON’S 4th OF JULY CELEBRATION at Texas World Speedway in College Station was photographed in Space-Vision in 1974. Featuring performances by Waylon Jennings, Leon Russell and Doug Kershaw, the film became entangled in a legal battle and was eventually released only flat in 1979.In January 1976, Monarch Releasing Corp. in New York had begun distributing the controversial film SNUFF. The hype concerning a supposed on-screen murder generated a ton of free publicity and Monarch made a fortune. Allan Shackleton looked to acquire other properties a bit more mainstream and wound up buying the rights to THE BUBBLE that summer.
an ad campaign depicting a spaceship hovering over an alien planet that had
nothing whatsoever to do with the movie. In addition, the highly exploitable new
title FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH guaranteed interest among young
audiences who were not yet exposed to the high-tech marvels of STAR WARS.
On April 16, 1976, just as THE BUBBLE was about to get its first wide theatrical distribution, Colonel Robert V. Bernier passed away. With his demise, the field of stereoscopic motion pictures lost one of its most knowledgeable and innovative experts. Arch Oboler later said, “It’s so easy to become an expert. Bernier was the man. I would figure the shot. He would say ‘No.’ Then we would argue about it. Sometimes I won. Mostly, I lost. When Bernier died, with him died the censorship of what you should or should not do in 3-D. I learned about how to handle a frame, what cuts off and what doesn’t, from Bernier.”
FANTASTIC INVASION did well for Monarch and continued to receive bookings throughout the late 1970s. In some cities, it played on a double-bill with an edited R-rated version of ANDY WARHOL’S FRANKENSTEIN. Monarch eventually added the X-rated LOVE IN 3-D and THE STEWARDESSES to the program for a month-long “30 Days of 3-D” film festival.
The Space-Vision system was used for a few other films during this period, including APE (not to be confused with KING KONG) shot in Korea in 1976 with Daniel L. Symmes handling the Trioptiscope lens and Murray Lerner’s SEA DREAM – an excellent example of stereoscopic cinematography – photographed for Marineland of Florida in 1978.
There was a brief resurgence of 3-D movies in 1981. Films like COMIN’ AT YA, JAWS 3-D, PARASITE, FRIDAY THE 13th PART III, TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS and SPACEHUNTER: ADVENTURES IN THE FORBIDDEN ZONE had a wide release but were plagued by uneven stereoscopic photography and sloppy projection. Within a few years, the revival died.
In the 1980s, Stereovision International offered various home video versions of THE BUBBLE and the quality was very poor. Taken from a faded print, no attempt was made to fix the minor alignment issues and the zoomed-in, low resolution transfer was done on a sub-par film chain.
Arch Oboler passed away on March 19, 1987. To the end, he never lost his passion and enthusiasm for stereoscopic motion pictures. In 1983, he said, “In terms of 3-D, until there is some artistic level of choice of stories in the studios, we may have the same reaction to the present 3-D excitement that we had back in the BWANA DEVIL days. The audience will become surfeited with gore with bad stories. The only hope for 3-D is that someone will come along with taste and understanding and do a good story without regard for the extremes of 3-D, using it in terms of the story itself. It’s so easy to get seduced by the wonders of going into space that you forget about the story.”
Three years later, DOMO ARIGATO finally received a limited theatrical release in some festival screenings and repertory theaters, including a November 1991 tribute to Oboler at the London Film Festival.
In 1999, Rhino Video issued a poor quality anaglyphic conversion of THE BUBBLE that did little to enhance its reputation. Arch Oboler’s modest but ambitious production certainly deserved better treatment.
RESTORING THE BUBBLE
We acquired the rights and were shocked to discover the original camera negative was the only existing 35mm archival element on the film. None of the people who had owned the rights had spent the money to create a back-up, preservation 35mm master.
For nearly thirty years, the negative had been handled very poorly. The last time it was stored in a dedicated film vault had been the late 1970s when Monarch Releasing held the rights. Since then, the cans had been in warehouses and public storage lockers. When we finally rescued the elements in 2009, they had been baking for the past five years in an outdoor storage unit in the Southern California heat. The filthy cans were banged up and rusty with loose masking tape labels.
Before doing an HD transfer, the negative had multiple ultra-sonic cleanings. When we finally had it scanned, we found that much of it was faded from the years of bad storage. Thankfully, there was no shrinkage or vinegar syndrome deterioration.
Available funds for the restoration were not sufficient to do a wet-gate scan (which is four times the cost) so we had to do manual dirt clean-up and repair. In addition, the original printed-in opticals for fades and dissolves were filthy and those dupe sections had been cut directly into the negative. They have been a part of the film since day one.
Greg Kintz – Technical Director for the 3-D Film Archive – painstakingly went through every optical one frame at a time in order to minimize the dirt and damage.
You’re also seeing more of the image. In theaters, the Space-Vision prints were badly cropped to overlap the above/below 3-D image onto the screen. In addition, when the film was edited by Igo Kantor in 1966, he used a standard splicer instead of one designed for anamorphic elements which would have given a narrow overlap of .03 inches resulting in much thinner splice lines. As a result, at every cut, there are white lines across the top and bottom of the image. In the 1999 Rhino DVD release, they simply zoomed-in on all four sides to hide the splices and still retain a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. The massive amount of cropping wreaked havoc with the original compositions. This solution was not acceptable to the Archive so Greg went to work retaining the full 2.50:1 negative image and removing every single splice line at each cut.
The final results are outstanding and the picture is cleaner, sharper and brighter than anyone has ever seen before.
Splice Line - Before and After
More than anything else, Greg has optimized the vertical alignment from shot to shot for flawless 3-D. THE BUBBLE now truly demonstrates the superb optics of Robert V. Bernier’s Trioptiscope lens and Charles F. Wheeler's excellent stereoscopic cinematography.
As a final tribute to the filmmaker, we have restored Arch Oboler’s spoken introduction from the 1966-1968 roadshow engagements plus the original opening title which was taken off the film in 1976.
In closing, Greg and I have seen this film many times over the past 38 years, both theatrically and on various home video formats. I can honestly say that it has never before looked this good.
We are very pleased with the end result and hope that you will enjoy our new restoration of Arch Oboler’s THE BUBBLE.
I am deeply grateful to the following individuals for their help and contributions: Barbara Clendenin, Greg Kintz, Jack Theakston, John Geary, Matt Spero, Thad Komorowski, Dr. John Patierno, Jeff Joseph, Pete Apruzzese, Ron Palumbo, Sandra Archer at the Margaret Herrick Library/Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, James Layton at George Eastman House, Dave Kehr and Josh Siegel at the Museum of Modern Art and Mike Mashon, Rob Stone and Geo. Willeman at the Library of Congress.
The world premiere took place on Friday, November 7, 2014 at 8:30
with a second show on November 9 at 1:00.
Please click here for more details.
Nicolas Rapold - The New York Times
January 18 - 24, 2015
The New York Times - Total Immersion, One More Time by J. Hoberman
The Los Angeles premiere was January 22, 2015 at the
American Cinematheque Aero Theatre in Santa Monica
with Michael Cole in person!
THE BUBBLE opened in Chicago on January 30, 2015 at
the Gene Siskel Film Center.
I did an interview with Thad Komorowski. The segment was on the January 16
WBGO Journal at 7:30pm EST.
You can live-stream the station at WBGO.
To listen to the interview, click here.
THE BUBBLE was released by Kino Lorber on
3-D Blu-ray November 18, 2014.
Naturama is demonstrated in 1954.
The Marks Polarized Corporation Polarator was used for the 1972 reissue.
Home Theater Forum 3-D Addict
World Cinema Paradise
Greenbriar Picture Shows
Rupert Pupkin Speaks
Movieline with Greg Walton
Film School Rejects
Home Theater Forum