The Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)
By: Mr Intolerance on July 21, 2008  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Warner Brothers (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 5.1, English DD 2.0, , German DD 2.0, Spanish DD 1.0. English and German for the hearing impaired, Spanish, Danish, Finnish, German, Swedish, Polish, Portuguese subtitles. 97 minutes
The Movie
Director: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller
Starring: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan
Screenplay: John Landis, Richard Matheson, Josh Rogan, George Clayton Johnson
Country: USA
External Links
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"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 are moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas, you've just crossed into The Twilight Zone!"

In case you've been asleep, drunk or in a coma since 1959, The Twilight Zone was a revolutionary television show delving into the mysterious, the horrific, the science-fiction, the just plain odd-ball, the supernatural and the fantastic, hosted, and for the better part written by Rod Serling, Emmy award winning screenwriter and ex-military paratrooper and boxer. The Twilight Zone relished in the twist-in-the-tale ending as well as a whole mess of poetic justice being meted out to the kind of folks who really deserved it. It was a groundbreaking show for its (and indeed any) time, featuring fine writing and a range of performances by people who either were, had been or went on to become icons of the small and large screens. The show originally lasted for five seasons before the toll on the creator, and big business interference, sounded its death-knell. Serling went on to continue winning Emmys for his screenwriting and also to create a much more horror-centric show with Night Gallery alongside his academic career, but sadly never achieved The Twilight Zone's level of success again. It has had a profound impact on Western popular culture, referenced in too many shows to mention (although Futurama's "The Scary Door" is worth a mention as a loving homage), re-made twice, in the 80s for three seasons and again in the new millennium, to varying degrees of success – the Bernard Hermann score has become synonymous with anything even vaguely eerie or out of the ordinary.

So in the early 80s, we get a bunch of Hollywood directors (and one Australian with an eye for the main chance), all of whom had achieved a modicum of box-office success with movies like Gremlins, An American Werewolf in London, Jaws and the like, who decide to bring The Twilight Zone to the silver screen. Each takes their inspiration from an old episode of the show, with a framing narrative written by John Landis. Did it live up to the brilliance and the originality of the parent show? Read on and find out.

"Do you want to see something really scary?"

We start off with our framing narrative, with Aykroyd and Brooks as two yutzes in a car at night on a deserted road reminiscing about old TV shows. The Twilight Zone is mentioned (if referenced a little too heavily on how it was frightening – it was never intended as a horror show, as this movie, for its majority tends to portray it as) and then things go rather inexplicably awry. Cue the famous score and Serling's original intro to the show (as written at the head of this review), but narrated here by Burgess Meredith, a frequent resident of the Zone, and responsible for roles in some of the original series' more iconic episodes. Meredith takes over Serling's role as narrator introducing and signing off the segments of the film, but just simply doesn't have Serling's idiomatic and highly distinctive clipped diction – a failure of the later versions of the show as well.

Segment 1: This story is based on a famous episode from season 3 of the original show called "A Quality of Mercy" wherein Dean Stockwell plays an American lieutenant on the last day of World War 2 who fails to take pity on his battered and beleagured Japanese enemy, or the state of his own despondent, war-weary troops – he's given shall we say a unique perspective on the situation, and by the end of the episode things are markedly different. Here we have Vic Morrow, in what was tragically to be his last role, as William Connor, a bitter racist, a man fuelled by hatred who is forced to re-evaluate his thoughts and beliefs due to having to endure some truly horrifying events – all in line with the bigoted filth he spouts, and all of which lead to a chilling conclusion.

The real tragedy of the story is in what happened during the filming of the tale, where Morrow died in an accident caused, some would suggest, by an over-enthusiastic director going heavy-handed on the pyrotechnics. Morrow and two small children were grotesquely slain by a falling helicopter. The sequence naturally edits this out, although uber-creep Nick Bougas inserted it in his loathsome Death Scenes series of films. It was a horrible, tragic ending to a fine career as an actor, and worse yet, one that was totally avoidable for both Morrow and his two young co-stars. Word has it that the incident ended the friendship between Landis and Spielberg, already a-waver due to Landis' irresponsible use of live ammunition on the set. The legal wrangle lasted over a decade and had lasting effects on the film industry.    

Segment 2: As to be expected, Spielberg's entry in this film is the most saccharine and cloying. The residents of the Sunnyvale Rest Home are old people clinging to their past, abandoned by their families and otherwise forgotten by the outside world. Sticking very close to the original story (and Serling and his team of writers would often delve into the sentimental themselves) "Kick the Can", a stranger, Mr Bloom (Scatman Crothers) has arrived at Sunnyvale and has a unique proposition for his elderly campadres in order to help them regain something of their youth and re-live some old memories and dreams in a most singular way.
This is the least horror-centric of the segments of this film, and some ways the most faithful to the original series. Despite that, and being an avid fan of The Twilight Zone myself, I also consider it the weakest and also think that it slows down the pace of the movie too soon. A rather lachrymose sentimentality that Dante's segment almost equals at its end, but never quite gets the measure of. 

Segment 3: Taking it's cue from the original story "It's A Good Life", here we meet Anthony, a child with an unusual gift who lives in a house (with some upstairs architecture and lighting beamed in directly from The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari) in the middle of nowhere with his mother, father, Uncle Walt and sister Ethel. His other sister Sarah who was "in an accident" is in the house too, but we don't get to meet her at first. Anthony has brought Helen, a young woman who has met Anthony in an accident, back home for his birthday dinner – and woe betide when the entertainment starts. The syrupy Leave It To Beaver veneer of Anthony's home life is soon whisked away and we see something rather unexpected indeed.

Successfully lampooned on The Simpsons, this segment has an almost EC Comics feel to it (appropriate enough given a late sequence in the segment) – think of it as kind of like Creepshow-lite. It's also got a couple of pretty good OTT boo-scares that frightened the hell out of me when I saw it at the movies when I was 11. For the dedicated fan of the original series, see if you can spot the many sundry references from a range of different episodes, both in the personalities responsible and content of the stories.

Segment 4: Probably the most readily identifiable riff on the original show, this redux of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" from season 5 of the show is also one of the weak links in this film, and most of the reason for that is John Lithgow's characterisation of John Valentine, a rather nervous flyer who is convinced he's seen something terrible on the wing of the plane he's a passenger on. Now, when William Shatner played the same role back in the 60s, he gave it some depth and development, slowly amping up the craziness. Lithgow starts, as original writer Richard Matheson states on an interview on Image's box set of the fifth season, at "100 miles per hour." This obviously doesn't leave you too many places to go. The segment suffers from a lack of credibility as a result.

And then we're back to the framing narrative to finish off. And then we just groan and roll our eyes. Cue: the real voice of The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, to take us to the credits:

"There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. 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."
The transfer is sharp and colourful, and and presented in the films' original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 with 16:9 enhancement. Dirt and grain pop-up occasionally, but this generally a good transfer.
Your choice of English Dolby Digital 2.0 or 5.1 – or Spanish or German, if you feel so inclined. There is little difference between the 5.1 and 2.0 tracks though as the new remix isn't very agressive.
Extra Features
The theatrical trailer only. What a gyp. I hate vanilla discs like this, especially when the movie itself deserves so much more.
The Verdict
Maybe nostalgia made the whole thing more palatable, but ultimately this is unsatisfactory fare; a sad representation of a show that was originally brilliance incarnate. A movie that unless you saw it back in the day probably needs to be viewed with a more critical eye than mine. Disappointing on reviewing, basically, and that is putting it mildly.
Movie Score
Disc Score
Overall Score

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