March 23, 2016

Blu-ray review: "Gog" in 3-D

Saved from near-oblivion by the 3-D Film Archive, the science fiction favorite GOG gets a new lease on life via this stunning 3-D Blu-ray from Kino Lorber Studio Classics

GOG Blu-ray 3D specifications
Distributed By: Kino Lorber Studio Classics
Video Resolution: 1080p high definition
Presented in original theatrical 3-D or alternate 2-D
Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1 widescreen
Audio: DTS-HD MA 2.0 (mono)
Feature Running Time: 85 minutes
Blu-ray street date: 03/1/2016
srp: $34.95
Blu-ray provided for review courtesy of the 3-D Film Archive

(GOG, 1954, directed by Herbert L. Strock, written by Tom Taggart and Richard G. Taylor from a story by Ivan Tors, produced by Ivan Tors, photographed in color & Natural Vision 3-D by Lothrop B. Worth, 1.66:1 aspect ratio, music by Harry Sukman; starring Richard Egan, Constance Dowling, Herbert Marshall, John Wengraf, Philip Van Zandt, Michael Fox, William Schallert; theatrically released by United Artists)

Studio Synopsis
In a remote, underground research laboratory two scientists, engaged in space travel research, are frozen to death in a cold chamber when their instruments comes under the control of an unknown power. A security agent, Dr. David Sheppard (Richard Egan, The 300 Spartans) arrives at the secret space research base, home of two experimental robots to investigate the possible sabotage. Early in his investigation, Sheppard finds that the underground laboratory under the control of the Supercomputer NOVAC and experimental robots GOG and MAGOG. Herbert L. Strock (The Crawling Hand) directed this Sci-Fi/Horror classic with a stellar cast that includes Constance Dowling (Black Angel), Herbert Marshall (The Letter) and William Schallert (TV's "The Patty Duke Show").

About the film
Fans of early 1950's science fiction films are in for a treat with this new Blu-ray release of Gog, the third in producer Ivan Tors' OSI Trilogy (The Office of Scientific Investigation): The Magnetic Monster (1951), Riders to the Stars (1953), and Gog (1954). The trilogy presented hard science fiction ideas in an entertaining - and occasionally juvenile - manner, surrounded by laboratory equipment, stoic leading men, lots of exposition, and colorful action. Gog is the culmination of the trilogy, telling its story of an underground space exploration lab besieged by unexplained sabotage. Is it caused by the Commies or an alien invasion? In 1954, you paid your 49 cents on a Saturday afternoon matinee and waited to find out. But unless you were in one of five California theaters, you didn't get to see Gog in its intended 3-D form. Its dimensional release was severely curtailed by distributor United Artists as it was coming at the very end of the 3-D craze.

Featuring an intriguing circular multi-level lab - which must have inspired the very similar design in Michael Crichton's novel and film of The Andromeda Strain - Gog was still a visual treat even in 2-D, color & widescreen and was fondly remembered by science fiction fans. Those fans were ill-served by the the film's television distribution where the majority of the prints were converted to black & white. During the DVD era, MGM released it via their manufacture-on-demand service, but again in only full-frame open-matte 2-D (harming the intended widescreen compositions) and from an element that had seen better days. For years, there didn't seem to be any hope to ever see the film again in 3-D. But that's where the story takes a happy turn and things get interesting.

About the Blu-ray & Restoration

As described in the Restoration Featurette on the disc, Gog was lost in its 3-D version for many years as the studio only maintained materials for the "right eye"; remember that 3-D movies contain two separate images: a "left eye" and a "right eye". The 3-D Film Archive tracked down the last surviving left eye print - in a totally faded-to-pink condition - nearly five decades later. Working in cooperation with MGM (who now owns the film) and supported by Kino Lorber, Bob Furmanek and Greg Kintz of the Archive began a months-long restoration to bring the film back to 3-D life for a Blu-ray release. Using numerous proprietary techniques, the Archive was able to return color to the left eye and then do a painstaking shot-by-shot matching of the color, image alignment, and cleanup of debris on the left and right prints. The result is an outstanding 3-D presentation on the Blu-ray. I was been lucky enough to see the original 3-D print a number of years ago in dual-projection polarized 35mm and this version gives a far better representation of the original film. The full story is told in the restoration featurette on the Blu-ray and on the Archive's website.

Lobby Card image courtesy of the 3-D Film Archive
Belying the myth the 3-D films from the 1950's were always filled with eye-poking off-screen effects, Gog instead uses depth to draw the audience into its environment. The staging of the scenes emphasizes the size of the underground laboratory. The use of depth betrays the low budget the film was produced under - all the sets look larger than they really are. Many scenes have multiple layers of action showcased - there's a particularly striking sequence about 7 minutes in that shows foreground action, background action and then another level of depth shot through a window. This type of depth exploitation has rarely been used in modern Hollywood 3-D films, with the possible exception of Martin Scorsese's Hugo, and is sorely missed. When the action gets moving in the final third, we are treated to a good selection of off-screen effects: notably a flamethrower and the wild gesticulating arms of the rampaging robots. Director Herbert L. Strock suffered from monocular vision (just as House of Wax's Andre de Toth did) so he relied on cinematographer Lothrop B. Worth (plus Natural Vision Supervisor M.L. Gunzberg, visual consultant Julian Gunzburg M.D., and Natural Vision consultant O.S. Bryan) to help him stage scenes to maximize the 3-D effects. The result is one of the best photographed 3-D films of its era, certainly equal to the efforts of the major studios. And all of it is presented for you ghost and artifact free on this Blu-ray.

Bonus features on the Blu-ray include an informative Audio Commentary by Tom Weaver, Bob Furmanek and David Schecter; a lengthy featurette on the restoration, archival interviews with director Herbert L. Strock and cinematographer Lothrop B. Worth, and trailers.

For fans of vintage 3-D, you can't go wrong with GOG. Highly recommended - buy it now.

Here is a brief peek at the restoration (the full version of the Restoration Featurette is on the Blu-ray; as an added bonus this short is filmed and presented in 3-D):

The original trailer (unrestored version):

For even more information on Gog, visit the 3-D Film Archive website.

Reviewed via a Vivitek DLP 1080p 3-D projector (ISF calibrated), EstarAmerica DLP-Link glasses, custom acoustically-transparent screen (100" diagonal), Sony Blu-ray player, Denon receiver, Paradigm speakers.

Blu-ray Review: "Experiment in Terror" from Twilight Time

Blu-ray specifications:
Distributed by Twilight Time under license from Sony Pictures
Video Resolution: 1080p high definition
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1 widescreen; Film Audio: DTS-HD Master 5.1
Feature Running Time: 123 minutes
srp: $29.95
Limited Edition of 3000 copies, still available as of 3/22/2016 exclusively from Screen Archives Entertainment
Source: Reviewer purchased copy

"Did I wake you up Kelly?"

Experiment in Terror
1962, Theatrically Released by Columbia Pictures
Produced & Directed by Blake Edwards
Written by The Gordons, based on their novel "Operation Terror"
Music by Henry Mancini
Starring Lee Remick, Glenn Ford, Stefanie Powers

Review note - Very strange, I found this in my draft folder and realized I never published it so made a couple for quick revisions and here you go.

Studio synopsis
Experiment in Terror (1962) is director/producer Blake Edwards’s chilling excursion into atmospheric neo-noir, focusing on a San Francisco working girl (Lee Remick) stalked by a wheezing psychopath intent on forcing her to rob the bank where she works…or else. Fearing for the safety of her younger sister (Stefanie Powers) even more than for her own, our heroine pluckily makes secret contact with an FBI agent (Glenn Ford), hoping to foil the psycho before he can carry out his sinister threats. 

About the film
Experiment in Terror is slick thriller brought to the screen with the best that Hollywood could offer. Featuring a strong and intelligent female lead, especially for its time, it has aged very well. The villain is a creepy psychopath who wouldn't be out of place in a David Lynch film (check out the Main Title sequence linked below for another Lynch reference) - and who might have inspired Dirty Harry's Scorpio Killer. I don't feel I should discuss too much more of the film's plot as it unfolds very deliberately and remains extremely suspenseful.

About the disc
Sony has provided the independent label Twilight Time with an impressive 1080p high definition transfer in the original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1. The contrast and sharpness in the HD rendering of this black & white film are exemplary. Coupled with artifact-free authoring/mastering and you get a near reference quality image - this is one of the best high definition black & white film transfers I've viewed. The film's audio track is a new DTS-HD Master 5.1 remix (all original release prints were in mono) that uses the original stereo music recordings and mono dialogue/effects tracks. The stereo separation and surround usage is minor; the music, not surprisingly, is the chief beneficiary of the remix, particularly the creepy organ chord that plays as an undercurrent for the villain. Henry Mancini's menacing score, one of his best dramatic works, sounds terrific. It would have been ideal if Twilight Time had also included the original mono track (especially in lossless format), but Sony might not have offered that to them for this disc.

Extras include an isolated music track (in DTS-HD Master 2.0 stereo) and a quartet of trailers and TV spots that, surprisingly, do not spoil the plot. Julie Kirgo supplies a thoughtful essay about the film in the eight page insert, though it does contains major spoilers so don't read before watching the film.

This disc gets my highest recommendation - it's a limited edition of 3000 copies, and as of this date, is still available at Screen Archives (link above).

Disc Source: Reviewer collection.

Opening Titles:

March 19, 2016

Home Projection Update

New video projector installed, so I finally have working 3-D in the house.

And by "new projector", I mean I found a great deal on a second hand Vivitek H1186 DLP with low hours and 30 months of warranty left.

Told you I was cheap.

Full report on the projector to follow, but first up will be a review of the 3-D science fiction favorite from 1953: GOG, released on 3-D Blu-ray by Kino Lorber Studio Classics from an astounding film and digital restoration by my friends at the 3-D Film Archive.

Bye-Bye, Warner Archive Instant

No, the Warner Archive Instant Streaming service isn't going away (as far as I know), but I have cancelled my subscription after being with it since 2013.

As detailed in my post from last May, it's a streaming service for classic movie lovers and I highly recommended it then. Unfortunately, since that time, the service has added almost no new content (new titles have appeared, but most of them have already been on the service). What new content that has arrived has consisted of a lot of standard definition transfers of fair-to-middling TV movies from the 1970s and little remembered B-features.

It's a disappointing turn of events for this service, which seemed like a model the other studios could emulate.