Judge Erich Asperschlager likes his with a twist.
Our reviews of The Twilight Zone: Season One (Blu-ray) (published October 29th, 2010), The Twilight Zone: Season Two (Blu-ray) (published December 9th, 2010), The Twilight Zone: Season Three (Blu-ray) (published February 15th, 2011), The Twilight Zone: Season Four (Blu-ray) (published May 17th, 2011), and The Twilight Zone (2002): The Complete First Season (published October 6th, 2004) are also available.
"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension—a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into…the Twilight Zone!"
The Twilight Zone barely avoided cancellation after its third season. It returned for a fourth season under the requirement that, as a mid-season replacement, it expand to fill an hour-long slot. The change was not a positive one for a show built around tight stories with twist endings. After 18 mostly sub-par episodes, the network and show creator Rod Serling agreed that, for the show to continue, it needed to return to its old half-hour length. The fifth season was a return to format, if not a return to form. Despite some all-time classic episodes, this was to be the show's final season. Now, less than a year after Image Entertainment first brought the series to Blu-ray, they wrap things up with The Twilight Zone: Season Five, a fitting finale to one of the best hi-def TV collections.
Facts of the Case
The Twilight Zone: Season Five brings the series' last 36 episodes to Blu-ray, across five discs:
By the show's fifth year, even Rod Serling was complaining about the dip in quality. As a whole, Season Five has plenty of solid episodes, but it would be hard to argue that the stories are anywhere near as fresh as the first few seasons. Recycled ideas and tired plot devices abound. Some episodes—like "Uncle Simon" and "What's in the Box"—stumble out of the gate, while others waste neat set-ups with endings that fizzle out. "Probe 7, Over and Out" and "The Jeopardy Room" start out as taut sci-fi and spy thrillers, respectively, but are undermined at the very end by hackneyed twists. "Ninety Years Without Slumbering" introduces the idea of an elderly man whose fate is tied to a grandfather clock: as long as it keeps ticking, he stays alive. Unfortunately, the dramatic tension—changed from the original ending—is jettisoned in favor of a syrupy closing sequence that the author of the short story it was based on hated.
Some episodes waste their potential. Others simply don't work. When The Twilight Zone began, "written by Rod Serling" was a hallmark of quality. By the end, Serling's episodes were just as synonymous with overwritten dialogue and moral grandstanding as inventive storytelling. "The 7th Is Made up of Phantoms" could have been a nifty time travel story about modern weapons turning the tide at the Battle of Little Bighorn. Instead, it's a labored history lesson with an awkward nod to Manifest Destiny. "A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain" suffers from unconvincing character motivations and a predictable twist that rings hollow. "Sounds of Silence" is a goofy tale about a blowhard obsessed with loud noises and ships. Despite a bravura performance by John McGiver, the "poetic justice" served up at the end is arbitrary at best. Serling wasn't the only old-timer to stagger to the finish line. Earl Hamner Jr.'s "Black Leather Jackets" has none of the lyrical charm of his best stories, focusing instead on a B-movie story about alien invaders masquerading as a motorcycle gang. "The Bewitchin' Pool" is closer to Hamner's world of fishing holes and backwoods hollers, but stilted dialogue, bad acting, and the baffling decision to have voice actress June Foray re-record the young lead actress's lines, make it one of the season's worst.
Even with the weaker entries, Season Five has plenty of good episodes, too—many of which were written by Serling. Along with solid sci-fi stories like "The Old Man in the Cave," this season continues the trend towards horror and suspense. "Mr. Garrity and the Graves," Richard Matheson's "Night Call" and Earl Hamner's "Ring-a-Ding Girl" are effective supernatural tales, and the spooky ending to "Queen of the Nile" could have come right out of EC comics.
Season Five also boasts some of the series' best-loved episodes. "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" stars William Shatner as an airplane passenger who sees a monster out his window. Written by Matheson and directed by Richard Donner (yes that Richard Donner), this classic is almost worth the price of admission by itself. Rod Serling's "The Masks" is a wicked revenge story with a grotesquely satisfying ending; the creepy "Living Doll" (credited to an ailing Charles Beaumont, but actually ghost written by Jerry Sohl) features Telly Savalas as a mean stepfather who tangles with an even meaner toy by the name of Talky Tina; and "Number 12 Looks Just Like You" plays like a companion piece to Season Two's "The Eye of the Beholder," with a chilling vision of a conformist future. Season Five also has what is perhaps the strangest episode of the series, a French film adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge." Brought in to fill out the schedule and save money, the Cannes and Oscar award winning short film might be stylistically out of place with the other episodes in this set, but it's an elegant addition to the series.
Whatever the relative quality of the writing in the show's final season, The Twilight Zone: Season Five's Blu-ray release is every bit as stellar as the first four sets. With the exception of a unfortunate, and long-since fixed, issue with certain pressings of the first season set, Image Entertainment has done a flawless job bringing Twilight Zone into the 21st Century. Going back to the original film negatives and rescanning them in high-def, these AVC-encoded 1080p episodes have never looked better. Instead of a tonal range of light grey to dark grey, these episodes go all the way from bright whites to deep blacks. Detail of everything from faces to fabric to background objects is crisp and clear (at times too clear, as evidenced by the frequent and unconvincing aging make-up). The few places where visual quality dips—a couple of too-soft outdoor shots in "Black Leather Jackets," for example, or the odd speck, dirt, or scratch—reflect issues with the source material and not the transfer. Twilight Zone was shot on film, which served the show well when it aired, and is the main reason it looks so great now. The black and white image is warm, with a satisfying film grain that is unobtrusive in all but the rarest cases. In addition to the new video transfers, the episodes feature both the original mono soundtrack and a remastered, uncompressed 2.0 mono mix. The remastered audio is as impressive as the visuals, making it even harder to believe that these episodes are almost fifty years old.
The stunning hi-def transfers are only half of the reason Image Entertainment's Twilight Zone sets are the best that TV-on-Blu-ray has to offer. The other half comes in the form of exhaustive and informative bonus features:
• Audio commentaries for 22 episodes, featuring writers and film historians, including The Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree, Earl Hamner, Gary Gerani, Neil Gaiman, Bill Warren, Scott Skelton, Jim Benson; directors Richard Donner, Ted Post, and Robert Butler; and actors like June Foray ("Living Doll"), Mickey Rooney ("The Last Night of a Jockey"); Bill Mumy ("In Praise of Pip"); Martin Landau ("The Jeopardy Room"); and George Takei ("The Encounter").
• Video interviews with Earl Hamner, Richard Matheson, George Clayton Johnson, Bill Mumy, June Foray, Carolyn Kearney ("Ninety Years Without Slumbering"), Michael Forest ("Black Leather Jackets"), Nancy Malone ("Stopover in a Quiet Town"), and Terry Becker ("I Am the Night—Color Me Black").
• Isolated musical scores for more than half the episodes.
• The fifth and final part of Zicree's audio interview with director of photography George T. Clemens—a half hour of Clemens' recollections about filming Season Five.
• 22 episodes of The Twilight Zone Radio Dramas.
• Sponsor billboards for every episode.
• A promo for CBS's Friday night line-up presented by Alfred Hitchcock, whose show aired immediately following Twilight Zone—talk about your must-see TV.
• Two minutes of George Clayton Johnson's silent home movies, presented with (unrelated) audio of Johnson talking about his relationship with Serling.
The past couple Twilight Zone sets were light on extras beyond the commentaries and interviews. Seasons One and Two came with bonus episodes of Serling-penned TV shows, while Seasons Three and Four came with beer ads, Twilight Zone periphery, and a Serling-hosted episode of an unrelated game show. Season Five gets back to basics with extras that feature Rod Serling, not as spokesman or celebrity, but as writer and television genius:
• "Conversations with Rod Serling": Three clips, totaling just over half an hour, of Serling discussing television writing with students at Ithaca College in the early '70s.
• "The Mike Wallace Interview": A 21-minute episode of Wallace's interview program, recorded in 1959 shortly before The Twilight Zone began. A fascinating piece, in part because Serling has no idea just how big his little TV show is about to become.
• "Netherlands Sales Pitch": It's hard to imagine anyone not knowing what The Twilight Zone is about, but Serling tries his darndest to explain it in this filmed pitch to a TV network in the Netherlands.
• Two audio clips taken from Rod Serling lectures at Sherwood Oaks College—one that plays over the first six minutes of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" and the other a 12-minute excerpt paired with a slideshow of behind the scenes photographs.
It's fair to call The Twilight Zone: Season Five a mixed bag, if only as compared to the excellence of the series' first few seasons. As the show approached its 156th episode, Rod Serling and the writers who had made The Twilight Zone a success were being crushed by the weight of the lofty expectations they had created for themselves. Although this final year had some of the series' weakest episodes, it also had some of its best. In between those extremes are some very fine stories that fall just short of greatness. Even though critics might have heaped higher praise on the series as a whole if it had ended before the creative downturn, the world would have been robbed of some truly great television. Season Five has its problems, but it deserves to be seen, especially in the form of this most excellent Blu-ray release. Image Entertainment has given fans a great gift, one worthy of the dedication Serling poured into his creation. These Twilight Zone sets are both a reminder of the golden age of scripted television as well as a look into the bright future of hi-definition home media.
Whatever dimension you're in, The Twilight Zone is not guilty!
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Image Entertainment
• Episode Commentaries
Review content copyright © 2011 Erich Asperschlager; Site design and review layout copyright © 2013 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.