A lot of this is going to sound ridiculous. There’s no way around it. Rubber is a film about a tire with psycho-kinetic powers that prove strong enough to blow people’s heads off. And the tire is named Robert.
We’ll call him “Bob” for short.
As stupid as this may sound, the effects are superb. No, not the heads popping off shoulders as if they’re being microwaved, but the tire. There doesn’t seem to be any logical means for the tire to move. It feels alive. It rolls, it falls, it gets back up, continues on, and then looks around. This tire has a face… err, at least it seems like it has one buried in the treads. That’s how seamless this all is as a package.
How does the tire work then? Turns out there’s a mixture of simple puppetry and a weighted remote control car on the inside that pushes it forward. It’s that simple, and that’s the type of ingenuity that salvages Rubber. The old, “How did they do that?” question has been removed from the realm of cinema for the better part of a decade now, and Rubber fools everyone with a tire.
There’s no question this one succeeds when focused on Bob, his frustrations felt as he tracks down the woman of his dreams (an actual woman, not a female tire) or visits a local tire fire. He sort of looks depressed and angered as the shot views Bob through the flames. And yes, that line is dead serious.
Rubber isn’t that simple though. French director Quentin Dupieux turns this into a movie with multiple planes of viewing, i.e., people sit on the sidelines watching the whole thing happening as an audience. There’s even a discussion of movie piracy. That sub-section of the story takes on its own narrative flow, eventually merging with the reality of the tire. Bizarre doesn’t cover it, and it’s a mystery as to why the human side comes across as weirder than the tire stuff.
There’s room for parody, satire, or general comedy in this frame, Rubber instead becoming a somewhat pretentious, avant garde arthouse piece. It’s as if a movie about a living, breathing (!) tire wasn’t enough, and those layers somehow give it a purpose. Well, it doesn’t, and the brilliance of a conversation between local law enforcement discussing the killer’s identity loses its punch placed into a world on top of a world. So does most of Rubber.
An interview with Quentin Dupieux on the disc praises the decision to go digital and condemns the use of 35mm, and the results speak for themselves. Rubber is forever “gifted” with the worst case of consistent aliasing seen to date. Captured with the Canon EOS 5D Mark II, the movie lurches along with constant break-up, from car grills to the tire and even people. Aliasing is a constant bother, and nothing seems safe from it.
Other imperfections include occasional rounds of halos and a bothersome flicker if the shots involve any complexity. Early, the tire rises from its desert grave into a bushes and debris, all of it ill-defined and sloppily rendered. Distance shots struggle to remain intact, part of that the aliasing, another part likely an artifact of the source camera itself. It’s hard to imagine anyone wanting images to appear this clumsy.
Images are not entirely impure, a handful of close-ups of people or the tire revealing textures appropriate for this resolution. Whatever isn’t suffering from excessive shimmering has a clarity and precision expected of it as well. Rubber is handed a standard, untouched color palette, leaving flesh tones alone and the desert to settle into natural hues. A few sunsets also shine with natural brightness.
Since the majority of this one takes place during the day, a splendid contrast will align with rich black levels to offer firm depth. Magnolia’s AVC encode is powerful enough to keep most artifacts at bay, a glimpse of banding the only detriment from the Blu-ray transfer, and that still could be the source.
Rubber will stick to the front channels, as the photography doesn’t do much traveling or allow the tire to roll out of the frame. The action sits right where it should in front of the lens, the audio design replicating that.
There a few break out moments, quite startling given the deadened audio previous. A gas station captures squeaking light fixtures moving with the wind in the rears, and heads popping will gruesomely splatter into other channels. It’s loud too, a bit of a break from the quaintness prior.
Dialogue carries enough clarity and balance to get by despite being a cheaper production. Without much to do, the DTS-HD track performs up to par, captures the directionality as need be, and ensures balance. Sufficient.
Four interviews reside on the disc, one with director Quintin Dupieux (the longest at a little over eight minutes), the rest with cast members Roxanne Mesquida, Stephen Spinella, and Jack Plotnick. A short 49-second camera test shows the tire rolling around to see how it would turn out, and an HDNet preview is a promo for their initial showing. There’s a trailer and some BD-Live access too.