Flubber

Review by Guido Henkel & Lieu Pham

Cover

Flubber    (1997)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment

Length:         94 mins.
Rated:           PG
Languages: English, French, Spanish
Subtitles:     English
Format:        Letterboxed
Extras:         Theatrical trailer

Family movies are still quite rare on DVD at the time of this writing, although the potential catalog consists of a wide variety of titles. Disney, the premier authority when it comes to family movies, is naturally on the forefront to supply family entertainment for the fledgling DVD platform. “Flubber” was last year’s summer hit for the family and it is now available on DVD. The film is a modern day remake of the Disney classic “The Absent-Minded Professor”, this time employing the latest eye-popping computer graphics special effects and master comedian Robin Williams.

Who are you?

Phillip Brainard (Robin Williams) is an endearing, slightly befuddled professor at a small town college. The college is about to be closed due to lack of funding when Brainard finally finds the solution to the college’s pecuniary needs. He’s been working on this invention for a long time, knowing that he could market it and make enough money to save the school from closure. Having experimented with polymers for some time, Brainard creates a revolutionary, theoretical energy source and locks it in a tight cylinder as part of his experiment. Not knowing exactly what he was inventing, he carefully opens the cylinder to find a mass of elastic green goo inside. It seems to have mind and life of its own. He calls it “Flubber”, and begins experimentation with its characteristics.  With the help of his flying

household robot Weebo, he soon discovers out that Flubber enables anything to bounce super high and move quickly. However, completely absorbed in the creation of Flubber, he has forgotten one very important thing: his own wedding. He has left his fiancée Dr. Sara Jean Reynolds (Marcia Gay Harden)  president of the Medfield College he’s working at - waiting in front of the altar three times, and the woman to take this kind of rejection has yet to be born. Brainard tries everything to win Sara back, hoping Flubber will solve the problem for him. In fact, the elastic high-energy blob makes things even worse. Eventually, Brainard gets through to Sara and can prove his love to her  the only thing that stands in his way is the evil, greedy financier waiting to close the college, seeking the precious Flubber himself.

“Flubber” is a whimsical comedy, full of fun, slapstick, and giggles. It exhibits a large measure of ingenuity, style, and care - exactly the trademarks for Disney’s family box office hits. “Flubber” does not disappoint. Robin Williams is perfect in the role of the ever-busy Professor living in his own little world, never even registering what’s going on around him. He is serious and funny at the same time, and the way he interacts with the non-existent Flubber shows his experience in this field. It is a role that is literally written for Willliams, and his charming portrayal is quite a notch over some of his efforts in other movies.

The Flubber-mobile

The main star of the film is clearly Flubber however, the computer generated goo that slips, slides, dances, giggles, bounces, and flies. Flubber is the result of the tireless work of the computer graphic wizards from Industrial Light & Magic. Once again, they have managed to breathe life, character, and personality in their creation, making it an essential part of the overall film. There were 550 effects shots that needed to be created for this film, and all of them were supervised by Peter Crosman. To get all the work done in the film’s allocated shooting time, the second unit  mainly used for the effect shots  worked concurrently with the first unit

A Polalroid taken by Weebo

throughout the production, a procedure that is very uncommon as both units can easily block each other out if they don’t get their shots done on time. 70 shots with the flying Thunderbird car of the Professor were created by Disney’s Dream Quest Images effects studio and both ILM and Dream Quest still had to outsource work to more than a dozen effects houses in order to finish all the effect shots on time.

While Flubber was created through computer images, Weebo, the Professor’s flying sidekick was an actual robot on set. Although it would have been easy to computer generate the robot, Robin Williams had particularly asked to have a live robot he could interact with.

Flubber then was created with Softimage’s Metaclay, a software package that allows the artist to assemble and deform balls of “matter” to create shapes. It gives a more organic look than conventional polygon models and since Flubber, the constantly shape shifting piece of gel, makes many quick transformations, high resolution models were out of the question. This brought up a completely new challenge, because Metaclay does not support animation like polygon models do. Once again, ILM had to craft their own software tools to animate and create the necessary motion blur and shadows for the Metaclay object to believably combine it with the live action shots. Still, the biggest challenge was the mambo scene with the Latin-style music by Danny Elfman, in which 22 Flubber jellos are dancing

Flubber-Mambo

during a two minute sequence. Nevertheless, ILM have outdone themselves and their painstaking work has fully paid off in this memorable scene.

Disney brings you “Flubber” in its original theatrical 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. The disc’s transfer is clean and sharp with lots of shadow detail. Digital artifacts or pixelation are not evident in this crisp and brilliant transfer. Colors are very well balanced in both the bright outdoor shots as well as in the film’s numerous interior sequences. There is no hint of chroma noise or color smearing in the image and flesh tones are natural.

Gotcha!

Much of the film’s charm can be attributed to Danny Elfman’s excellent orchestral music score. Elfman, a master of hitting the right notes and pulling the right strings, especially in rather intimate movies, once again proves his talent and capabilities as a composer. His musical vocabulary seems to be endless and continually fresh, while always carrying his special trademark  contrasting low bass figures and staccato brass sections overlaid with soaring melodic strings. This time he manages to create a score that is as intrinsically light hearted as the film itself. The score has found its way to this DVD in an excellent and dynamic 5.1 channel Dolby Digital mix. The soundtrack is active and always bustling, making good use of the wide surround soundstage, without being obtrusive at all. The disc

comes fully dubbed in English, French, and Spanish with English captions and also contains the movie’s theatrical trailer as a bonus.

Without a question, “Flubber” is the right movie for a nice Sunday afternoon at home. It is exactly the high spirited kind of movie we were dying to see when we were kids and it is the kind of movie your kids will remember for a long time. It is not just for kids, mind you; it is a movie that also sparks adults, giving us the liberty to enjoy this unencumbered film as pure entertainment and allowing us to forget the world around us for a little while… just like Professor Brainard.

 
 

July 1998

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