As part of a growing list of 3-D restorations on Blu-ray, Kino Lorber presents this classic Ivan Tors production, one of the first of a handful of 1950s science fiction pictures to utilize color photography as a way of prying viewers away from their television sets and into their neighborhood theaters.
At an underground U.S. government experimental base, scientists have perfected a way of safely dry-freezing animals (actually monkeys) in an experiment to send humans up safely into space, with the proposal that robots will man the controls. A scientist is accidentally locked in a freeze chamber, and along with his female assistant who haphazardly follows him in, quickly dies after it is set full blast. Due to the mysterious circumstances of these deaths, government security agent David Sheppard (Richard Egan, LOVE ME TENDER) is sent in to carry out a full investigation. Greeted by the head of the project, Dr. Van Ness (Herbert Marshall, THE FLY) and his old flame Joanna (Constance Dowling, who became the wife of Tors), Sheppard soon comes to the deduction that sabotage may be involved and that the culprit could be one of the staff, as more accidental deaths follow. As the entire base is controlled by the computer NOVAC and its two robots Gog and Magog, it’s possible that the menace is of a mechanical kind, with a strange aircraft showing up on the radar seemingly assuming full control of them.
With its futuristic themes of man vs. his own created machine (some 15 years before 2001 A SPACE ODYSSEY and a good 26 years before SATURN 3) and its concentration on technological modernization, GOG is innovative of its type. Although the film can be rather talky and spends too much screen time explaining things, the overall story is original and entertaining (in a rainy Saturday afternoon kind of way), and the climax is somewhat rewarding. It plays out as sort of a sci-fi “whodunit” and capitalizes on showing off its then-modern space center (a real military base combined with the impressive Hal Roach Studios sets) and its various robotics and computer equipment, but some viewers will be disappointed that the implied space flight, which it all seems to be building up to, never takes place. But seeing most of the space exploration films of the 1950s, shying away from in-flight drama and the type of special effects needed to properly pull it off was likely a good idea and make the film less dated today than others of this sort. A scene where two would-be astronauts fall victim to an out of control rotation wheel ride (similar to what Roger Moore’s 007 was victimized on in MOONRAKER) is pretty laughable considering the obvious stagnant dummies put in the actors’ places. The two identical robots of Magog and Gog (which for no significant reason ultimately won out on the film’s title) look like a cross between Mystery Science Theater 3000’s Tom Servo and the ever-threatening Daleks from the BBC “Dr. Who” series, which no doubt was inspired by this film. Both robots were operated by a popular “little person” actor; Billy Curtis (THE WIZARD OF OZ, THE TERROR OF TINY TOWN).
Producer Ivan Tors had dabbled in other science fiction features with THE MAGNETIC MONSTER (also coming soon to Blu-ray from Kino Lorber) and RIDERS TO THE STARS, making up for a notable cinematic “Office of Scientific Investigation” or “OSI” trilogy, but he’s best known for his various television series which include “Science Fiction Theater”, “Sea Hunt” and of course “Flipper”. Director Herbert L. Strock reportedly got flack from the Director’s Guild for having his opening director and editor credits combined on screen, something you don’t see very often. Strock, who does an adequate if workmanlike job here, is best known for helming AIP youth-oriented drive-in horrors such as I WAS A TEENAGE FRANKENSTEIN, HOW TO MAKE A MONSTER and BLOOD OF DRACULA. GOG’s cast also features a number of familiar faces including heavy-accented John Wengraf (THE RETURN OF DRACULA), Philip Van Zandt (a Shemp-era Three Stooges foil who also appeared in Universal’s HOUSE OF FRANKENSTEIN) and Michael Fox (THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS) all as scientists, as well as a very young William Schallert (THE MAN FROM PLANET X) as a lab assistant.
Shot in 3-D but issued theatrically in 2-D (with the exception of some limited engagements), the United Artists release of GOG was first officially released on home video when MGM issued it as manufactured-on-demand DVD in 2011. Kino presents GOG here on Blu-ray in 2D (flat) and 3D (with a new restoration by the 3-D Film Archive) for those who have both 3D televisions and Blu-ray players. We are not able to screen the 3D version since we only have a standard setup at present, but here’s the rundown on the 2D version: it’s presented in 1080p HD in its intended 1.66:1 aspect ratio (the previous MGM DVD was full frame). With compositions now looking correct, colors are terrifically rich, grain structure is pleasing, skin tones look natural, and there are only fleeting instances of film debris. Clarity and depth are sharp throughout and contrasts are also strong. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono audio is satisfying and never problematic, with dialogue, sound effects and music all sounding nicely in the mix. No subtitle options are on the disc.
GOG features a new audio Commentary by Film Historians Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek and David Schecter, all who speak individually. 1950s monster movie champion Weaver starts things off by talking about Michael Fox, as he was the only actor who appeared in all three films in Tors' sci-fi film trilogy, adding some of his interview quotes from the actor. Weaver, who takes up the majority of the commentary, mentions how the on-screen inventions and gadgets in GOG were innovative (predating numerous other movies, as well as future technical realities), reveals how some of the effects were done, shares quotes from Tors’ autobiography as well as bits from his own interview with director Strock, and he gives a thorough history of the “OSI” trilogy. Furmanek comes on later to talk about GOG’s place in the history of 3-D movies and its eventual restoration for this Blu-ray presentation. Soundtrack expert Schecter is on hand to scrutinize the score composed by Harry Sukman.
Included is a 2003 video interview with director Strock (8:26), which took place during a 50th anniversary 3-D screening. Strock, who starts by revealing that his monocular vision prevented him from seeing the 3-D process, shares quite a few anecdotes about the film in the short time allotted, and admits he doesn’t know why UA ultimately decided to release it flat (Strock passed away in 2005). There’s an archival interview (19:02) with the late director of photography Lothrop B. Worth, which was conducted in the Motion Picture Country Home shortly before his passing in 2000 at age 96. He talks about the “Natural Vision” process, in which he also used as a camera operator on the very first 3-D film, BWANA DEVIL, and he mentions his consultant work on HOUSE OF WAX, which lead to him being hired by Tors for GOG. Rounding out the extras are a “restoration demo” (6:49) which chronicles the film’s recent 3-D restoration utilizing the only surviving faded print, and narrator Furmanek assures us that the film was meant to be shown in widescreen. Rounding out the extras are trailers for GOG, THE MASK (1961), THE BUBBLE (1966) and THE BUBBLE’s reissue as FANTASTIC INVASION OF PLANET EARTH. (George R. Reis)
BACK TO REVIEWS