“There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.”
It would be very hard, indeed, to argue against the impact that The Twilight Zone has had on television. To say that the series was a milestone in that medium would be an understatement of the worst kind. When Rod Serling brought his landmark series to CBS in October of 1959, television was still very new. No one was quite sure what the future held for that magical box. But that box was part of an invasion. The television set would change the face of the world. It would become the social center of our homes. It would influence who we choose as our leaders. In 1959 those fortunate enough to already have television sets in their homes would become the first to see that future. They were given a glimpse of what life might or would be. It was a gift that has continued giving 50 years later. Now it’s out on high definition Blu-ray, and that gift just got better than it’s ever been. Still, it’s important to give credit where credit is due. The Blu-ray box might say Image Entertainment on the cover. But this gift card is signed: All The Best, Rod Serling.
For five years Rod Serling would enter our living rooms with the most bizarre tales we’ve ever seen. But no matter how exotic and strange the stories might appear on the surface, Serling always brought our own humanity into vividly sharp focus before it was over. Serling himself would pen some of the memorable tales. But he didn’t stop there. The show would feature some of the sharpest writers of their time. Richard Matheson would become one of the most prominent of those writers. Like Serling himself, Matheson had a flair for the twist ending and for placing us squarely into these alien environments and fantastic tales. We might travel to the ends of the vast universe, but always, before the final epilogue was delivered, we were suddenly reminded that we never traveled farther than our own town. It was a magical show that has been revised twice already, but never with the same success as the original. There have been countless copies. Some have come close to delivering that unique formula. Shows like The Outer Limits likely came the closest. But, no one will ever reproduce what was uniquely Serling and his talented team of writers.
Then there are the guest stars. Looking at a list of stars for the first season alone reads like a who’s who of Hollywood at the time. Not only were established stars flocking to do the series, but Serling was quite a judge of talent. Some of the names he had on this show were unknown at the time, but went on to become household names. In the first season alone, look for stars like: Doug McClure, Martin Landau, Dan Duryea, Martin Balsam, Ida Lupino, Ron Howard, Jack Warden, Ted Knight, Burgess Meredith, Richard Conte, James Franciscus, Rod Taylor, Ross Martin, Beverly Garland, Bob Hopkins, Fritz Weaver, Dick York, Warren Oates, Jeff Morrow, Vera Miles, Claude Akins, the recently deceased Kevin McCarthy, Roddy McDowall, Jack Klugman, Anne Francis, and, of course, Rod Serling himself.
Join me for a look at some of the very best episodes of this or any other television show.
The first season is a collection of 36 half-hour shows. All uniquely Twilight Zone. All hallmarks of quality. Everyone has their favorites. It’s hard to describe these kind of twist-ending shows without giving away the goods, so excuse me for being a bit vague. Here is list of mine from the first season:
One For The Angels:
What if you could cheat death? What would you give to have time to complete a masterpiece? What price would you pay? What if a little girl had to die in your place?
A convict has been imprisoned on a barren asteroid. For company he’s given a robot that looks and acts exactly like a real woman. At first he rejects the creation. But, when an unexpected pardon comes, will the convict be willing to leave the robot woman behind?
Time Enough At Last:
This one ends up on most favorite lists. Burgess Meredith is a man who loves reading more than anything else. He simply doesn’t have time enough to read as much as he wants. When a nuclear devastation kills everyone but him, he’s left with a world full of books and all the time he could ever want. You know what happens next.
I Shot An Arrow Into The Air:
When an experimental spacecraft crashes on a desolate world, the survivors are left to make a horrible decision when the supplies run out. But, where are they really?
The Purple Testament:
How horrible would it be if you were at war and could see who was about to die by looking into their faces? You might want to stay away from a mirror.
The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street:
When a neighborhood appears to be cut off from civilization paranoia begins to set in. This episode certainly appears relevant today as much as it did in the height of the Red Scare days of the 1950’s.
The After Hours:
This is another one of those very popular episodes. A woman in a department store is having the time of her life, only to find that she’s not exactly what she thinks that she is.
Of course, there’s really not a bad episode in the bunch.
Each episode s presented in its original full frame aspect ratio. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC/MPEG-4. You might be reluctant to trust that a 50-year-old black & white television show could be worth releasing in high definition. You would be correct to consider that situation. Consider no more. These episodes look better than they have ever looked in any format, any place. The contrast is so striking that the black & white renditions look like they were just filmed now. Black levels are the real key to the whole presentation. The high definition bit rate eliminates compression artifacts and smoothes out the black levels. Now you see so many shades and levels of detail that you will likely feel like you’ve never seen the series before at all. I can’t imagine it ever looking any better. This is a showpiece release and the image presentation lives up to that standard.
The PCM Stereo audio presentation certainly won’t blow you away like the image will. There just isn’t as much to work with here. The originals were in mono and recorded with equipment inferior to what you have in your own home today. Still, any evidence of hiss or distortion has been completely eliminated. I was particularly impressed that the higher-end tones no longer splatter as they did even on the more recent DVD’s. Dialog is clear as can be. Are there some noticeable flaws? Yes, there are. There isn’t going to be the dynamic range you’ve become used to. But this doesn’t sound like it’s 50 years old either.
Here is where Image Entertainment really shines with this release. To list all of the extras here would take pages. Almost every episode comes with multiple bonus features that include Audio Commentaries, Isolated Scores, Radio Dramas of that particular story, Interviews with the cast or crew, and syndicated promo spots. In addition to this treasure chest of features, you get the following:
Rod Serling Audio Lectures from Sherwood Oaks College
Original Unaired Version of the Pilot episode
Emmy Award Footage
Tales Of Tomorrow Episode “What You Need”
Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse “The Time Element”
You really can’t ask for more jam-packed extras in the release.
I know that these episodes have been released several times over the years in various forms. It’s fair to ask the question: Is all of this worth the price of buying them again? The answer is: Absolutely. Image went the extra miles here to bring us so much extra stuff that you’ll spend tons of time with this set long after you’ve watched the episodes. They could have just given us the shows and a few things ported over from the DVD sets and still sold the heck out of the sets just for the restored value of the episodes themselves. This is how vintage television should be released on Blu-ray. Let this serve as a lesson to all studios out there contemplating the release of classic shows in high definition. Make it a collection to be treasured. Don’t have a Blu-ray player? Check out my friends at Oppo Digital and buy one now. This is the first of 5 seasons that Image will be bringing out on Blu-ray. The next streets in November. You’ve just ran out of reasons to not buy Blu-ray. Just sayin’ “submitted for your approval”.