Review: Gog (1954)

    1954’s Gog is interesting artefact of ’50s Americana. To watch it now is to look at a vision of the future from the past, answering science fiction’s most pertinent question: what if?

    Gog is about an underground electronic brain called NOVAC (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer). Buried in the desert, the secret facility that hosts NOVAC is developing new technologies. Most significantly, a space station is under construction powered by solar energy collected from massive mirrors. When mysterious murders plague the base, Doctor Van Ness (Herbert Marshall) calls upon David Sheppard (Richard Egan) to investigate. Is it possible that NOVAC itself is committing the murders? Or is someone else to blame?

    Released in 3D and colour in 1954, Gog is a flawed but fascinating look at technological possibility. Part of its appeal now is in seeing a depiction of the futuristic that’s so evidently rooted in the past: robots instructed by paper slips; an underground electronic base with a paper filing system; a scientist stood in a technological supercomputer insisting that the human body will never go into space.

    There are a number of interesting ideas at play, too. NOVAC, and the facility which houses it, are both tools of warfare. Every part of the proceedings is entangled in Cold War fears. The space station under construction is a marvel, but the urgency that underpins its development is in the name of getting it before they do. Because of the immense power of its solar mirrors (effectively producing giant lasers), we (read: America) must be the first to have it lest it fall into the wrong hands (read: the Soviets). There’s an implication that we can possess terrifying weaponry but they can’t because they would obviously use it – quite unlike us. The wonder of these scientific achievements is therefore tempered by their hidden and suspicious nature, shrouded by the desert away from prying eyes.

    And so, when NOVAC runs amok, we see a possible remark about how over-reliance on defensive technology can also be one’s undoing.

    A lobby card for Gog’s 1954 release.

    That said, the film’s ending undercuts those same ideas about the follies of Cold War defence. Without spoiling too much, certain theories about the cause of NOVAC’s problems are less introspective than one might appreciate – effectively vindicating any and all concerns about us versus them. Interestingly, the mirror-powered lasers of Gog bear a resemblance to the Strategic Defence Initiative developed under Ronald Reagan’s administration. That Reagan’s presidency effectively ushered in a nostalgia for ’50s conservatism chimes all the more with some of Gog‘s clunkier messaging.

    Ultimately, this is a film carried by its themes and ideas over action – of which there is very little. In fact, one questions why this film was released in 3D as none of the proceedings really lend themselves to the format. This is unlike its 3D contemporaries (like It Came from Outer Space or Creature from the Black Lagoon) which play to the format considerably. Having said that, director Herbert L. Strock (who would go on to direct 1957’s I Was a Teenage Frankenstein) explained – in an interview with Tom Weaver – that the 3D seemed rather effective at the time, with audiences screaming out during the climax. Who knows, then, maybe I’m just cynical.

    Other than its bright colour photography (which is very pleasant to look at), Gog is visually unremarkable. Scenes are staged flatly and without character.

    For any review of Gog, it would be remiss not to address the robots in the room. The “Gog” of the title refers to one of two robots: Gog and Magog. These twin contraptions perform tasks when instructed to, and eventually turn murderous when NOVAC goes berserk. They look similar to the early concepts for Doctor Who‘s Daleks. One of the machines even sports a flamethrower attachment, reminiscent of the ones used by Terry Nation’s creatures in both the 1965 serial, The Daleks Master Plan, and the Peter Cushing film of the same year, Dr. Who & the Daleks.

    Despite its flaws, Gog is a very watchable film. Even though the ideas played with are tinged with overt Cold War anxieties (many of them reactionary in nature), the film’s vision of futuristic possibilities is still fascinating. Even as simply an artefact of a different cultural reference, Gog is well worth checking out.

     

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