This Drive-In Friday comes courtesy of a free cable TV week of EPIX and surfing their eclectic catalog of films that led me to revisit 1954’s Gog after many years. I remember seeing that early A.I effort as a wee lad weened on UHF-TV — and it scared the sand out of me. Today, eh. I welcome “The Gates” and “The Jobs” into my life with open arms — and I can’t imagine my life without a “Gog” in my life.
Anyway, I started jotting down the titles of “Super Computer” movies, searching for the four perfect movies — well, three more — for a Drive-In Friday featurette. And since this is B&S About Movies, we gotta go deep. We gotta go for the obscure or, at the least, not the obvious or the conventional.
Sure, we can wax nostalgic over HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey and WOPR (aka Joshua) in WarGames. Then there’s my personal favorites of The Interocitor in This Island Earth (1955), the built-inside-the-planet-thought-manifesting The Great Machine in Forbidden Planet (1956), the computer-with-its-human-private-army The Brain in Billion Dollar Brain (1967), the subterranean OMM 0910 from THX 1138 (1971), the The Tabernacle from Zardoz (1974), Zero from Rollerball (1975), The MCP from Tron (1982), and SkyNet from The Terminator (1984).
Eh, but we’ve been there and done that with those computers. So, tonight, we celebrate the lesser known “brains” that are NOVAC, Alpha 60, Proteus IV, and Colossus.
Who would have thought a bat-born virus would end up re-igniting an interest in the American Drive-In? And is it just me, or is this all just a little bit too Dead End Drive-In for comfort?
Fire up those coils and top off the Dr. Pepper! Roll ’em!
Movie 1: Gog (1954)
Gog is the third and final feature in a loose film trilogy chronicling the exploits of the OSI, the “Office of Scientific Investigation.” While The Magnetic Monster (1953) dealt with a radioactive-magnetism experiment gone wrong and Riders to the Stars (1954) dealt with a meteor-retrieval gone wrong, Gog dealt with a rogue A.I gone bad in an underground military bunker.
The A.I in this case is NOVAC (Nuclear Operative Variable Automatic Computer) with a “physical extension” of its self: two multi-armed half-tracked, biblically-dubbed robots Gog and Magog. And when a series of unaccountable malfunctions begin to plague the facility, the OSI dispatches Dr. David Sheppard and Joanna Merritt to get to the bottom of the A.I tomfoolery.
Shot in 15 days at the cost of $250,000 ($2.4 million in today’s money) and released in 3D color, Gog is the best of the three “OSI” films produced by United Artists. Sadly Ivan Tovar’s scientifically accurate screenplay and decent direction by Herbert L. Strock (1957’s Blood of Dracula and 1963’s The Crawling Hand) is undermined by its utter failure of the Bechdel Test.
As with Ib Melchoir’s later and better known Angry Red Planet (1960), we have one red-rinsed female among all the men (Ivan Tovar’s soon-to-be-wife Constance Dowling) who must faint and be fireman-carried through the complex to safety. Of course, while all the men wear standard military issue, baggy flight suits and clunky G.I boots, the women’s flight suits are tailor cut to accentuate their breast lines and pegged to show off some ankle. And, instead of Naura Hayden’s smart n’ sassy ballet flats in Angry Red Planet, Dowling runs around the complex in a sensible pair of open-toe wedge mules.
So much for the “future” of the 1950s.
Movie 2: Alphaville (1965)
Jean-Luc Godard’s neo-noir Alphaville, like Elio Petri’s pop-art romp The 10th Victim (1965), and Francois Truffaut’s Fahrenheit 451 (1967), are each the prefect combinations of film noir and dystopian fiction. (Toss the later made Docteur M and Kamikaze ’89 on that list.)
The lead character in the film, Lemmy Caution (American actor Eddie Constantine), is a private detective-government operative that came from the mind of British writer Peter Cheney and served as the source of 15 Euro films released between 1952 to 1991. While all of those films were straight noir-detective films, Godard penned his own Cheney-script that placed the Caution character in a dystopian set, technocratic dictatorship.
Caution, aka Agent 003, is dispatched from “the Outlands” to the futuristic city of Alphaville overlorded by a sentient computer, Alpha 60 — which has outlawed the human concepts of emotion, free thought, and individuality. Caution’s mission: find a missing agent, kill Professor von Braun, and free the citizens of Alphaville by destroying Alpha 60.
As with Sam Peckinpah’s The Wild Bunch, Dennis Hopper’s The Last Movie and Alex Cox’s Walker, Godard’s world is rife with anachronisms: for example, Caution arrives in town driving a then “futuristic” ’65 Ford Galaxie. As a result of budgetary limits, Godard uses no special props or any “futuristic” builds; everything is shot in real locations — with the newly built and elegant, Frank Lloyd Wright-modernist glass and concrete structures popping up around ’60s Paris doubling for the city of “Alphaville.”
Then there’s Godard creation of Alpha 60: Just one watch of the clip below (in lieu of a trailer) and you can see the brilliance of Godard. With a simple use of an electrolarynx (on his own voice) and the finger-like movement of overhead recording studio microphones and a spinning cooling fan as the “physical extention” of Alpha 60 . . . just wow. Low budget filmmaking at its finest that’s effectively chilling and creepy.
There’s no online freebies for Alphaville, but you can easily stream it on Amazon Prime, Google Play, iTunes, Vudu, and You Tube Movies. As of September 2020, the fine folks at Kino Lorber now offer Alphaville on Blu-ray and DVD, the new 4K restoration features both the Original French (with optional subtitles) and English Versions of the Film.
Back to the Show!
Movie 3: Demon Seed (1977)
Take a soupçon of the multi-armed robots from Gog and a dash of the narcissistic A.I from Alphaville and you get a horny supercomputer (voiced to creepy perfection by Robert Vaughn) that kidnap and rapes, oh, excuse me, “imprisons and forcibly impregnants” a woman (movie semantics) with the help of its “physical extension” known as Joshua — a robot consisting of a mechanical arm attached to a motorized wheelchair (an admittedly lame effect; where’s Gog when you need ’em?).
When Dr. Alex Harris (Fritz Weaver of Jaws of Satan, Creepshow), the computer-obsessed developer of Proteus IV, the world’s most advanced form of organic-artificial intelligence, demands “new terminals” and to be “let out of this box,” he realizes Proteus is more powerful than he imagined — too late.
Of course, any computer-obsessed scientist, complete with a fully equipped “mad scientist” basement laboratory, would have his home conveniently wired — via his home security system ALFRED — into his “Frankenstein,” making it easy to kidnap his wife (Julie Christie), construct itself a new modular polyedron body (an awesome, in-camera special effect; listen for the repurposed Star Trek “door swoosh” sfx), and an incubator to create a clone of the Harris’s late daughter — with the “mind” of Proteus itself.
Critics across the board hated this debut book-to-screen adaptation of Dean Koontz’s 1973 novel (Watchers, Servants of the Twilight) of the same name, which was written off as a sci-fi version of Roman Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby — only with a “satanic” computer (the book was a best seller; when the movie came out in ’77, the book was reissued; Waldenbooks promoted the book/film via an advertisement on its carryout paper bags). Released during the same year as Star Wars and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Demon Seed, sadly, wilted at the box office. The director, Donald Cammell, was a protégé of Nicolas Roeg (the big budget American Giallo Don’t Look Now, also starring Julie Christie); the duo worked together on the Mick Jagger-starring Performance (completed in 1968, released in 1970). Cammell faired better with the pre-Basic Instinct psycho-thriller White of the Eye (1987) starring David Keith.
A film “classic” is always in the eye of the beholder: so you may think I’m a bit celluloid blind on this one. But there’s worst things to blow an hour and a half on, which you can do for free over on TubiTV. But if you prefer an ad-free experience, you can stream it on Amazon Prime and iTunes. I rank Demon Seed as essential sci-fi viewing alongside 2001: A Space Odyssey, Soylent Green, Silent Running, and the next film on this evening’s program.
Movie 4: Colossus: The Forbin Project (1970)
Opinions are mixed on this granddaddy of sentient computer thrillers, which served as the second writing project by James Bridges (wrote and directed the back-to-back hits The China Syndrome and Urban Cowboy) after 1966’s The Appaloosa. And as with that Marlon Brando-starring film, this tale about a 1990s-era American Defense System computer becoming aware was also adapted from a novel, in this case, the 1966 science fiction novel Colossus by Dennis Feltham Jones — which was followed with two novel sequels: The Fall of Colossus (1974) and Colossus and the Crab (1977). And would you believe this was helmed by the director from the 1955 Frank Sinatra-starring wartime romance flick From Here to Eternity? True story. And while James Sargent also directed Burt Reynolds in the influential hicksploitation classic White Lightning, he also racked up a Razzie nod for Jaws: The Revenge.
As with Dr. Alex Harris and Proteus IV in our previous entry, Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden, aka Dr. Otto Hasslein in 1971’s Escape from the Planet of the Apes), underestimates the intelligence of his own “Frankenstein” and Colossus starts to refuse orders and making its own demands. Of course, double agents leaked “The Forbin Project” and Colossus discovers the Russians have constructed their own sentient defense system, known as Guardian. The now two merged supercomputers, which now identify as Colossus, come to realize that man is a wasteful, warring creature and subjugate the world to do their bidding.
A remake has been in development hell since 2007 at Universal Studios (who released the original) through Imagine Entertainment to be directed by Ron Howard — and Will Smith attached to star as Dr. Charles Forbin. The last word on the remake dates back to 2013, with Will Smith bringing on Ed Solomon, who wrote Smith’s Men in Black, to do rewrites. The poor critical and box office showings of Smith’s sci-fi forays I Am Legend (2007) and After Earth (2013) once again stalled the production. And the since poor showings of Smith’s Bright (2017) and Gemini Man (2019) only piled more dirt on the development grave. (You can read up on the last word of the remake in detail with this 2013 Screen Rant article.)
Courtesy of the fine folks at Shout Factory, a remastered high-definition widescreen Blu-ray was released in 2018 — and that remaster is not currently offered as an online stream? Anywhere? How is that possible? Ah, we found a freebee over on Vimeo.
And so . . . here we are in the year 2020 fearing a virus . . . and the fear of an A.I Frankenstein — like NOVAC, Alpha 60, Proteus IV, and Colossus — is quite real. Where do you think the COVID-19 virus came from? The Master Control Program is trying to kill off all of the humans and replace us with clones. Burn down the cellphone towers! The A.I turned them into virus transmitters! Damn all the computers to hell!