Plot: A man (Richard Schaal) finds himself inside a strange room, all white and designed in squares, but with no apparent exit. This of course concerns the man, as he would like to leave the cube and return home, but that doesn’t seem possible. Soon he is visited by various people who are able to come in through doors, but once closed, the doors seem to vanish and or at least become inoperable. Some talk to him about the wonders of the cube and his situation, some warn him of potential dangers, and still others just talk about unrelated matters. A band comes in, a telephone is installed, and dozens of people manage to visit the man inside the cube, but can he ever manage to escape and if so, what awaits him outside of the cube?
Entertainment Value: This piece runs just under an hour and was created for the NBC Experiment in Television program, which showcased unusual and interesting stories for network television. The Cube was written and directed by Jim Henson, but it has a much different presence than his later work with puppets, which would turn into an empire and make him an entertainment legend. The premise here couldn’t be simpler, as a man is trapped inside a room and wants out, but is unable to leave. The concept is taken in wild, surreal directions however, always one step ahead of expectations and willing to throw convention to the wayside. The movie plays out like a series of random sketches or encounters, each distinct on its own, but part of a larger, connected arc, as the man is at the center of all of the interactions. These encounters can be humorous, bleak, or just random, strange situations, which creates a sense of the cube being some kind of grand experiment or engineered social construct.
The cast features numerous people, but Richard Schaal is at the heart of The Cube and factors into all of the encounters. I think he conveys a kind of normal, run of the mill guy trapped in an odd situation, which is one reason the concept works so well. If he was an unusual character himself, some of the charm would be lost, as seeing an everyman in this kind of situation is what makes it shine. His performance conveys the bewilderment, desperation, and eventual acceptance that the role requires, plus he plays off the others quite well also. Hugh Webster is another bright spot as Arnie, the handyman who installs the telephone for the man and has some of the most humorous interactions with him afterwards. The rest of the supporting cast is fine, with solid performances and most seem to embrace the surreal nature of the production. I am sure some will see this as dull or nonsensical, but I found The Cube to be an interesting curio, especially given Jim Henson’s prominent involvement. I also appreciate that television was open to this kind of content at one point. So if you like surreal cinema, Jim Henson, or unusual art, The Cube is recommended.