In 1959 Rod Serling changed the face of television. This unimposing thin man stepped in front of a camera and told us we were entering a world of shadow… the Twilight Zone. The anthology series ran for 5 years and included some of the best genre tales ever told. We all have our favorites, and my list is too long to go into here. Even years after when Serling himself had passed it never truly died. Syndication found a huge new following for the series, and it inspired not only revivals of itself but a long list of other anthology shows over the years like Tales From The Crypt and Tales From The Darkside, but none of these imitators ever came close. Serling was a genius in not only picking out great material, but he was a master presenter as well. So in 1983 when 4 of the world’s leading genre filmmakers banded to do a Twilight Zone Movie, the expectations went through the proverbial ceiling.
The film opens with an introduction segment starring Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks. The two men a tooling down a deserted highway to the nostalgic sounds of CCR and The Midnight Special. When the tape is eaten they resort to various games to keep themselves entertained, finally warming up to reminiscences of the old Twilight Zone. A moment of shock jars us to the film’s first segment.
All but this opening piece were reworkings of original Twilight Zone Stories. John Landis gives us the first tale. Bill Connor (Morrow) is a bigot. He’s no lovable Archie Bunker bigot either. He blames everyone but himself for his failures in life. He doesn’t mind letting everyone and anyone know it. His perspectives suddenly change when he finds himself on the other end of the discrimination fence. He finds himself a Jew in Nazi Germany, a black in the early south, and a Vietnamese during the war. Unfortunately this segment would make huge news when Vic Morrow and two others were tragically killed in a helicopter stunt gone bad. For me the reality of Morrow’s death added made this story far more surreal and likely more effective than it actually would have been.
Steven Spielberg takes the next story. This has all of the ET era Spielberg trappings. There is an overall warmth about the piece that might be a little thick played against light whimsical music. Mr. Bloom (Crothers) comes to the Sunnydale Rest Home with big talk of being only as old as you feel. He promises the group a night of youth and fun if they would meet him for a midnight game of Kick The Can. The game not only makes them feel young but actually turns back their clock. In typical Spielberg fashion, however, most realize they were actually happy as they were and vow to live life more to the fullest from now on. Of course, one such child decides to keep his youth in buccaneer exuberance. This piece was also the topic of news stories, as Spielberg was criticized for ignoring the real problems the elderly face and oversimplifying their plight. Get a life, folks. This is a story. Spielberg never made claims of changing the world.
Joe Dante provides the weakest story as he tackles one of the more popular Zone tales, It’s A Good Life. Bill Mumy has a small role. He played the original Anthony in the series episode. Here Kathleen Quinlin plays a teacher who encounters Anthony (Licht) and is manipulated into going home with him. There she encounters his family, in reality a group frightened to death of his ability to destroy them with his mind. The highlight here is a totally crazy Kevin McCarthy from Invasion Of The Body Snatchers fame. The kid is really bad and quite wooden. The story is overdone with Chuck Jones style cartoon f/x and a far too drawn out plot.
The fourth tale is by far the strongest. George Miller allows brilliant writer Richard Matheson to adapt his own original episode Nightmare At 20,000 Feet. Originally William Shattner sat in the airline seat over the wing where he witnessed a creature ripping apart the plane. In this version John Lithgow does a sweet job of portraying the fear of being trapped in a plane about to crash. This is the best Lithgow performance I’ve yet seen. The segment pretty much follows the original while managing to stand out on its own.
Landis brings us a closing piece where Lithgow’s character is tooling down a deserted highway to… you guessed it, CCR and The Midnight Special.
Today the film is actually far more dated than the series that spawned it. It never met the high exptations and disappeared rather quickly from the mainstream. These directors all made the mistake of thinking that more modern f/x and equipment would mean a better version of the classic. The show was never about the f/x, but the stories and they way they were told. One of these days someone will consider a revival based on that premise and not “newer must be better”.
The Twilight Zone is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1. For all the hype about making this a shinier new Twilight Zone, the film’s production was a bit thin. It is perhaps the print itself that dates the entire movie. Except in certain parts of the It’s A Good Life story, colors are rather muted throughout. There is a steady bit of grain forcing black levels and detail to suffer. Colors are quite vivid during the animation sequences. The Kick The Can section also looks quite a bit cleaner than the others. The whites are particularly bright and very clean without glare or blurring.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track works fine. There is some nice surround work. The Morrow segment makes particularly good use of the rear channels. Don’t expect much sub action even from the explosions of the Morrow episode. Dialog is clear, and the score comes through fine. A very average effort all the way around.