Appellate Judge Kent Dixon worries any time he sees John Lithgow in the next seat on a plane.
"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."—Rod Serling
Few programs have had as significant or long-lasting an impact on the face of entertainment as The Twilight Zone. Since it has spawned everything from comics to pinball machines and even theme park attractions, there is little doubt that the modestly-budgeted CBS anthology series from the '60s paved the way for science fiction and fantasy programs for decades to come, including two revivals of the series itself, and the feature film Twilight Zone: The Movie.
Facts of the Case
After the weekly opening narrations by host and creator Rod Serling, each episode of The Twilight Zone (156 in the original run of the series) took viewers on a trip into the shadowy corners that lie just outside our perception, where déjà vu and chills up your spine are commonplace.
By employing stories about simple human fears or events outside normal human experience, the show directly addressed current events, delivered skillful social commentary on issues such as nuclear war, or left viewers with a strong moral conclusion. It was well within the realm of one of The Twilight Zone stories to have a relatively unremarkable tale end with a chilling or unexpected conclusion. It almost leaves you wondering if M. Night Shyamalan attended the school of The Twilight Zone, or at least the first few classes.
I'm not sure how it happened, but early in my childhood development, two things became important to me that remain important to this day—the original Star Wars Trilogy and The Twilight Zone. As a fan of The Twilight Zone, I've always been fascinated by how such often simple stories can take such horrific turns and cause my blood to run cold. In many ways, I prefer black-and-white suspense and horror films like Dracula, Creature From The Black Lagoon, and Psycho to anything the filmmakers of today can churn out. Falling well into that realm of my most beloved terrors is The Twilight Zone.
It says a lot that the original concept for the show, a 1957 teleplay written by Serling himself titled "The Time Element," was strong enough to spawn so many other projects. One of the most notable of these efforts was Twilight Zone: The Movie, a 1983 feature film produced by Steven Spielberg that included reimaginings of classic Zone tales, as well as one original story.
For any fan of The Twilight Zone, the film was exciting, since it not only introduced the classic to a new generation, but it also placed the sacred material safely in the capable hands of directors John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller, who directed individual segments of the film. I honestly can't do the film true justice without briefly addressing each segment:
On July 23, 1982, two child actors and the segment's lead actor, Vic Morrow, were killed during a helicopter accident. As the helicopter flew just 25 feet above the set, pyrotechnic charges used during a stunt severed the helicopter's tail rotor, causing it to crash into the actors below, killing all three of them. The unfortunate incident caused Hollywood to shy away from helicopter stunts until the advent of CGI effects, and it also brought an end to Steven Spielberg's friendship with John Landis, who Spielberg thought took unnecessary risks during filming.
In many ways, this segment is the most haunting story of them all, not only due to the tragedy behind it, but also due to the disturbing nature of the story itself. A bitter and deeply prejudiced man, Bill Connor (Vic Morrow) goes through life criticizing and blaming any race he can think of for his personal misfortunes. In typical fashion for The Twilight Zone, Connor is forced to endure nightmarish experiences with the ultimate goal of teaching both Connor and the viewer an important lesson about tolerance and understanding. Vic Morrow is amazing in his role as Bill Connor, making his untimely death all the more tragic.
Unlike the TV episode that inspired it, the film version treats viewers to a happy ending, rather than a darker—and some might argue more Zone-esque—ending. Familiar faces Kevin McCarthy, Kathleen Quinlan, William Schallert, and Nancy Cartwright (the voice of Bart Simpson) deliver excellent performances guaranteed to have you checking under the couch.
I don't know about you, but having a touch of claustrophobia, I start to go a bit squirrelly waiting for a plane to take off or waiting for everyone in the line in front of me to get off before it's my turn. Take that feeling and multiply it by a factor of about 100, throw in a decidedly creepy visitor outside the plane, and you'll have a pretty good idea of what John Valentine (Lithgow) experiences on his journey through The Twilight Zone. Watch for an appearance by Donna Dixon (no relation), wife of co-star Dan Aykroyd. Trivia buffs may also appreciate knowing that the original role of the terrified passenger was played by William Shatner in 1963.
Eyes and Ears
On the audio side, we're treated to a nice mix, with generous and appropriate use of the surround channels for both music and effects. For reference, check out the jungle firefight in the first story. Hear the bullets behind you and the birds during more quiet moments? Bottom line? This is a solid presentation that belies the true age of the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are no extras of any kind on this release, aside from one trailer for the film. It makes me crazy when studios produce releases like this. Can they honestly tell us they couldn't get John Lithgow, Dan Aykroyd, or Albert Brooks to record commentaries? And there was no behind the scenes footage or other treasures gathered during production? The film's directors are all still alive, and surely could have contributed something to this release. Fans have waiting a long time for a DVD release of this film and it's a real tragedy that the extras weren't given the attention they deserved.
Although not the ultimate DVD release fans have been waiting for and certainly deserve, Twilight Zone: The Movie finally delivers the film in a digital version that hard-core fans will want to pick up and casual fans should definitely take for a spooky spin.
Twilight Zone: The Movie is reportedly the highest-grossing anthology film in cinema history and will undoubtedly reach a whole new audience of fans with this DVD release. Warner Brothers should be fined for not delivering a suitable serving of extras, but ultimately Twilight Zone: The Movie remains true to the original series, in all the best ways. Perhaps one day, I'll look for the extra features myself. I'll no doubt find them waiting for me—somewhere in the Twilight Zone!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Theatrical Trailer
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