Image Entertainment // 1959 // 930 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // October 29th, 2010
There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man...
A man stands in front of a plain grey wall. He has neat black hair, wears a neat black suit, and is holding a lit cigarette. His name is Rod Serling. About fifteen feet further along that same wall, there's another man. He has brownish hair, wears a pair of cheap blue jeans, and is not a smoker. His name is Erich Asperschlager. He points to a third man, who sits wide-eyed and motionless in front of a computer, and begins to speak:
Meet Judge Tom Becker. Mr. Becker spends much of his time watching and writing about movies for the world wide web. A well-respected man in his chosen profession, Mr. Becker has never met a DVD beyond his intellectual and technological grasp. Until today. You see, Mr. Becker has been sent a package containing the first season of one of the most popular and influential science fiction anthology programs of all time. He, like many fans, has been looking forward to its release on the high-definition format called Blu-ray. What Mr. Becker does not realize, however, is that trying to watch this set will take him down dark and twisted paths not unlike those depicted in that very same series. Beyond plastic and metal, wires and buttons, Mr. Becker's attempt to review The Twilight Zone: Season One will take him into a place we call...well...the Twilight Zone.
A twisting tale in itself, The Twilight Zone: Season One on Blu-ray is only the most recent appearance of the series on a home video format. From varied VHS releases to DVD episode collections, to the "Definitive" season and full series sets released by Image Entertainment starting in 2004, Rod Serling's masterpiece has been sliced up and doled out many times to eager fans. This latest promised to be something truly special, though. More definitive than the DVD box sets that bore the superlative, the series debuts on Blu-ray with exhaustive bonus features and all-new high-definition transfers created from the original negatives.
Before we examine the quality of this set, however, let us examine its contents. All 36 episodes of The Twilight Zone's first season, acrossfive discs:
Disc One * "Where Is Everybody?"
* "One for the Angels"
* "Mr. Denton on Doomsday"
* "The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine"
* "Walking Distance"
* "Escape Clause"
* "The Lonely"
Disc Two * "Time Enough at Last"
* "Perchance to Dream"
* "Judgment Night"
* "And When the Sky Was Opened"
* "What You Need"
* "The Four of Us Are Dying"
* "Third From the Sun"
* "I Shot an Arrow Into the Air"
* "The Hitch-Hiker"
* "The Fever"
* "The Last Flight"
* "The Purple Testament"
* "Mirror Image"
* "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street"
Disc Four * "A World of Difference"
* "Long Live Walter Jameson"
* "People Are Alike All Over"
* "The Big Tall Wish"
* "A Nice Place to Visit"
* "Nightmare as a Child"
* "A Stop at Willoughby"
Disc Five * "The Chaser"
* "A Passage for Trumpet"
* "The After Hours"
* "The Mighty Casey"
* "Mr. Bevis"
* "A World of His Own"
Having established the facts, we return our attention to Judge Becker. Illuminated by the soft blue light of the computer screen, he continues his current task of reading the review he has written so far:
From its premiere in 1959, The Twilight Zone was like nothing that had appeared before -- or since. It was not merely spooky and twisty; many of the episode offered complex, rich characters and emotionally involving, philosophically challenging mini-dramas. One of the leading lights of the "Golden Age" of television drama, Rod Serling might not have created the anthology format, but he certainly helped elevate it.
The folks at Image have outdone themselves with this release, taking everything that made the earlier, "Definitive Editions" great -- and adding even more.
Let's start with the transfers: They are outstanding. I doubt these episodes looked this good during their first network runs. Detail is excellent, and there's a fine grain to remind you that these were shot on film. Audio has been remastered in PCM mono, and quality-wise, it's every bit as good as the video -- clear, crisp, and distortion-free. You're given the choice between the remastered track or the original, and remastered is the way to go. Each episode has subtitles, which is good, but a small quibble, as the white print is so large, it takes up around one-third of the screen.
The amount of bonus material on this set is mind-boggling. Ported from the earlier set are the commentaries by Earl Holliman, Martin Landau, Rod Taylor, Martin Milner, and Kevin McCarthy; the interviews with Burgess Meredith, Anne Francis, Douglas Heyes, Richard L. Bare, as well as Buck Houghton and Richard Matheson; the Serling lectures from Sherwood Oaks College; promos; the unaired "Where Is Everybody?" pilot; and archival footage of the Emmy Award ceremonies at which The Twilight Zone picked up awards (Serling twice won for writing and George T. Clemens won once for cinematography).
Add to this the following Blu-ray exclusives: * The "unofficial" pilot, "The Time Element," which aired in an hour-long slot on Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse hosted by Desi Arnaz; Lucille Ball turns up during the episode's closing. Evidently, this is the first time this program has been released on home video. * Interviews with actors Dana Dillaway, Suzanne Lloyd, Beverly Garland, and Ron Masak. * The Tales of Tomorrow version of "What You Need." * A vintage audio interview with Cinematographer George T. Clemens. * 1977 syndication promos for "A Stop at Willoughby" and "The After Hours." * 18 Radio Dramas -- In 2002, radio adaptations of Twilight Zone scripts were produced and syndicated nationally. The dramas included here feature actors such as Fred Willard, Lou Diamond Phillips, Blair Underwood, and Morgan Brittany, who as a youngster appeared in a number of Twilight Zone episodes, including "Nightmare as a Child." * 34 Isolated Music Tracks
* And finally, 19 new audio commentaries. These are really great -- fun, insightful, and trivia-packed, featuring people who clearly loved the program. Marc Scott Zicree, who wrote the essential The Twilight Zone Companion, leads the pack here with nine great tracks, with writer Gary Gerani a close second with six. Also contributing are music historians Steven C. Smith, John Morgan, and William T. Stromberg; Writers David Simkins (Warehouse 13) and Mark Fergus (Iron Man); Actor William Reynolds, who appeared in "The Purple Testament"; and Ted Post, who directed "A World of Difference."
As for the shows themselves? The Twilight Zone is a classic, and this season is a perfect example as to why it's a classic. More than 50 years later, The Twilight Zone holds up not just as "spooky" stuff, but as good drama. With exceptional performances by actors like Jack Klugman and Burgess Meredith, and unforgettable episodes like "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street," and "The Lonely," this is TV at its finest.
Here, Mr. Becker pauses. Having reached the bottom of the page, he knows that it is time to stop reading and start writing again. Everything he has said is true. He knows that. The Twilight Zone has never looked better, and with so many bonus features, it's an easy recommendation to fans old and new. But he also knows that these thoughts were written before he took that wrong turn -- the one that sent him tumbling from the summit of his knowledge to the pit of every reviewer's worst fears. With a sigh, Judge Becker raises his fingers and resumes typing:
When I wrote my first impressions of The Twilight Zone: Season One, I had only watched one of the discs. Everything seemed fine, until I checked the rest of the discs and found that two of them -- Discs One and Four -- would not play in my machine. The others played fine, but these two would not load, and my player kept giving me error messages. I gave one of the discs to a friend to check on his machines. He had the same results.
DVD Verdict contacted Image, and they graciously sent out a new set. I put the new discs in my player and -- same thing. Discs Two, Three, and Five play fine, while Discs One and Four will not load. A quick search online showed that I was not alone. Other people who purchased the set are complaining of the same, and similar, problems getting the discs to load and play correctly.
Is it possible that there's a problem with my player, a fairly common and reliable consumer model? Sure, anything's possible, though every other disc I've put in plays fine, including three of the five from this set. Is it possible that my friend's three players have the same problem that my player has? Again, anything's possible. But when the same two discs from two different sets won't work -- one tested in four different players -- I have to think that the problem lies elsewhere.
Maybe there was just a "bad lot" during production, and the discs I (and the people who are complaining online) received came from that lot. All I know is that based on two bad discs in two completely separate sets, I cannot give this set the unqualified recommendation that I would like. It's a shame, because the three discs that do play are spectacular.
Having written these words, a frustrated Judge Becker leans back in his chair and once again takes up the task of re-reading his review. Trying in vain to remove the very large flaw from a very large diamond, trapped in the rock of a mountain climbing up into the heavens, at the center of...the Twilight Zone.
My part in this sorry tale began a few weeks ago, when I purchased my copy of The Twilight Zone: Season One. Like lots of people, I'd been looking forward to this release, and when I found a good deal on Amazon I bit. Then I found the forums. People complained about discs freezing, skipping, or just plain not loading. I contacted Tom and asked him if he was having similar problems. As you already know, he was. I got my set in the mail and popped in the discs, fully expecting to have to return my purchase the next day.
Thankfully, I haven't had any problems with my set. Every episode I've tried to play has worked, and every disc loads just fine on my PS3. I'm not alone in that. It appears that plenty of people who bought this set have been able to watch it without any problems at all. We're the lucky ones. Like Tom, plenty of other people have tried and returned multiple sets each because they just won't work.
Even worse is that, nearly six weeks after release, Image has yet to offer any kind of official statement. Prior to street date, they suggested that Tom's problem was probably a firmware issue. Maybe it is, or maybe it was a bad production run and subsequent pressings will be fine. Either way, the fact that so many people have been unable to experience this amazing set is a real shame, not only for fans but for Image Entertainment, who obviously put a lot of effort into making this a true collector's edition.
I will echo everything Judge Becker wrote in the first part of his review. Besides being some of the best TV ever made, these episodes look outstanding. The clarity and warmth of the picture is stunning, and frankly better than a lot of the high-def content I've reviewed for this site. The quality of the content and bonus features are nothing short of astounding. I just hope that Image is able to fix whatever is keeping the quality of the actual discs from matching what's on them.
I wish I could recommend The Twilight Zone: Season One without qualification, but I can't. Although the episodes, transfers, and extras are stellar across the board, too many people have had problems playing the discs, including our own Judge Becker. Hopefully it won't be long before Image figures out what is going on and fixes the set's issues. Until then, this release sits in the unfortunate and ironic "middle ground between light and shadow" of...well, you know.
Postmortem Addendum: Apparently, Image has done a re-pressing of the "problem" discs. Judge Tom Becker received new copies of Discs One and Four, and they play without problems. Judge Becker concurs heartily with Judge Asperschlager's review of the set.
The Twilight Zone: Season One on Blu-ray isn't just definitive; it's essential.
Review content copyright © 2010 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Top 100 Films: #29
Studio: Image Entertainment
* Full Frame (1080p)
* PCM 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 930 Minutes
Release Year: 1959
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Pilot Episode
* Archival Footage
* Isolated Music Tracks
* Bonus Episode
* Promotional Material
* Liner Notes
* Twilight Zone Radio Dramas
* Twilight Zone on SyFy Channel