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THE CUBE

A fascinating made-for-TV experiment by the late Jim Henson, proving his talents extended far beyond the Muppet arena.

The Package
     Jim Henson (1936-1990) co-wrote, produced and directed this 53-minute film for NBC’S EXPERIMENT IN TELEVISION variety series, which was a like a psychedelic variant on THE TWILIGHT ZONE. The year was 1969 (the same year, FYI, Henson’s Muppets debuted on SESAME STREET).
     At that time Jim Henson was already an experienced puppeteer and television veteran who occasionally branched off into more grown-up fare, like the surreal short TIME PIECE (1965) and this equally strange telefilm.

The Story
     A man finds himself trapped inside a featureless cube-shaped room. Several people enter the area and then leave through doors that open up in the sides of the cube, but when the man tries to exit through those doors he finds they won’t open. A suit-wearing guy enters for a brief chat with the protagonist, intimating that this particular cube is just one of several.
     Next two cops break into the cube to “search” the place, and leave the man handcuffed. He remains immobilized as an irritating middle-aged woman enters, looking to redecorate the cube. A musician then turns up with a guitar, and also a key to unlock the handcuffs.
     Following this a desperate man crawls into the cube, claiming he’s an escapee from another cube who misses his confinement. The latter crawls back out and a hot chick enters, with a liquor bar and a couch appearing with her. The woman seduces the man, only to reveal that she’s really a cold-hearted doctor conducting an experiment in sexual response.
     The next person to enter the cube is a TV executive who announces that the protagonist is part of a teleplay. To prove it a TV set appears, screening a “happy” ending showing the protagonist romancing a young woman in the cube. The man is not impressed with this ending!
     A black guy shows up to praise the construction of the cube, but he has one criticism: “It’s white!” A bunch of vile partygoers turn up who are apparently “projected,” followed by a bearded shrink who discusses the nature of quantum physics and a mini-skirted babe who cautions that “things will only get worse before they get better.”
     Next the suited man returns to ask the protagonist to exit the cube, and opens a special door for him to do so. Thinking a trick is being played on him, the protagonist refuses to leave. Thus he’s stuck in the cube as a couple of clowns, a kid on a tricycle and a freaky mystic turn up. Following this a coffin appears from which the man extracts a gun…to shoot himself, apparently!

The Direction
     This film is very much a product of its time, seemingly intended as an absurdist view of late-sixties America. Concepts brought up include the slippery nature of reality and identity, the limits of perception and the foundations of existence--pretty heady stuff for a TV movie (even a late-sixties TV movie)!
     Jim Henson doesn’t demonstrate the type of imagination and ingenuity here that Vincenzo Natali did in 1997’s similarly themed CUBE; visually this CUBE is never especially interesting, and has nothing resembling any sort of dramatic structure. Henson does nonetheless make the most of his limited setting: the script, written in collaboration with Henson’s longtime collaborator Jerry Juhl, demonstrates a remarkable wealth of invention in its rapid-fire succession of surreal gags. The film may be silly, pretentious, drawn-out and often downright irritating, but it’s definitely not boring.

 
Vital Statistics

THE CUBE
Henson Associates/National Broadcasting Company

Director: Jim Henson
Producer: Jim Henson
Screenplay: Jim Henson, Jerry Juhl
Cinematography: Howard Galbraith
Editing: Ed Brennan, Keith Robinson
Cast: Richard Schaal, Hugh Webster, Rex Sevenoaks, Jack Van Evera, Jon Granic, Guy Sanvido, Eliza Creighton, Don Crawford, William Osler, Jerry Nelson, Sandra Scott, Claude Rae, Don McGill, Ralph Endersby, Trudy Yong, Ruth Springford, Moe Margolese, Alice Hill, Loro Farrell, Eric Clavering, Jean Christopher
 

     

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