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Image Entertainment presents
The Twilight Zone: Season 1 (1985-1986)

"Travel into the fifth dimension once again..."
- backcover blurb

Review By: Rich Rosell   
Published: February 11, 2005

Stars: Bruce Willis, Robert Klein, Adrienne Barbeau, Morgan Freeman, Helen Mirren, Martin Landau, John Carradine, Elliot Gould, Steve Railsback, Frances McDormand, William Petersen, Peter Coyote, Victor Garber, James Coco, Eric Bogosian, Danny Kaye, Exene Cervenka, Bob Dishy, Mare Winingham, Brad Davis, Martin Balsam, Kenneth Mars, Tony LoBianco
Director: Wes Craven, Tommy Lee Wallace, Sigmund Neufeld, Robert Downey, John Hancock, Rick Friedberg, William Friedkin, Peter Medak, Paul Lynch, Bill Norton, Alan Smithee, Ted Flicker, J.D. Feigelson, Joe Dante, David Steinberg, John Milius, Gerd Oswald, Don Carlos Dunaway, Ken Gilbert, Martha Coolidge, Shelley Levinson, Allan Arkush, B.W.L. Norton, Claudia Weill, Sheldon Larry, R.L. Thomas, Noel Black, Bruce Bilson, Bradford May, Gus Trikonis, Paul Tucker, Jeannot Swarzc, Ben Bolt, Philip DeGuere

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 17h:00m:00s
Release Date: December 28, 2004
UPC: 014381243727
Genre: television


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B- C+C+C+ A-

DVD Review

It may have seemed like a good idea at the time, but is it ever really a good idea to remake classic television?

The original The Twilight Zone, for all its barebones production values and often stodgy acting, remains a unique part of television history, where decades of familiarity have boosted into the English language as something that means strange, bizarre and unexpected. For me, it is the Kleenex of anthology television, and in hindsight it seems odd that it took so long for a conceptual remake, in spirit at least, to take place.

This six-disc set from the new version of The Twilight Zone, which ran on CBS and debuted in 1985, gathers up all 24 episodes from the first season, and like the original series, is now of modest interest for the famous faces (Bruce Willis, Frances McDormand, Morgan Freeman) that appeared on it. The general storytelling premise is basically the same, except each episode was made up of two or three standalone stories, some of which were directed by the likes of Wes Craven, Joe Dante and William Friedkin. For the time, production values were vastly improved over the original, but in looking back on them now some of the effects shots seem positively primitive.

One of the initial flexibilities that this newer version had was that the individual stories were often not constrained by the half-hour format of the original series. Some, like the futuristic Examination Day (about a smart young boy about to take a very important test), are very short, leaving the remainder of the timeslot open for something a bit longer, and so viewers were never entirely sure how long a given tale would go. Sometimes this worked out well, but in the case of something like Harlan Ellison's Shatterday (featuring Bruce Willis in a dual role as a man confronting himself) it just took its own sweet time to tell an uncharacteristically dull story that may have been better served by being condensed, and as the series debut installment sets a bad tone for what's to follow.

That's not to say there aren't some gems here, because there most certainly are. It's just that the quality shorts are not the majority, which tend to be just so-so. The dangers of what lives under a young boy's bed in The Shadow Man (directed by Joe Dante), the mixed up vocabulary of WordPlay (directed by Wes Craven), or the a stopwatch that really stops time in A Little Peace and Quiet (another Craven ep) are truly dark enough to earn the Rod Serling seal of approval.

But getting to the good stuff means sitting through pointless things like Teacher's Aide, in which Adrienne Barbeau gets some bad gargoyle mojo coursing through her veins, in a woefully pointless exercise that goes absolutely nowhere. In fairness, Teacher's Aide is one of the most dreadful shorts in this entire collection, and its really casts an unpleasant stink cloud over the whole affair.

There is a lot here to sift through, so you have to expect a few duds to crop up here and there, though if you happen to pick-and-choose your way very carefully there are some entertaining bits to be had. Button, Button (based on a story by the generally brilliant Richard Matheson) finds a young couple in need of cash forced to decide if money is worth the chance to press a magic button that will kill someone they don't know in exchange for $200,000, and The Leprechaun Artist dips into the dark comedy about a vacationing leprechaun who crosses paths with three boys and grants their wishes with an exacting twist. And to provide a connection to the past, a few episodes get remade for this run (Night of the Meek, Shadow Play), while another gets a gender twist, with Dead Man's Shoes getting redone as Dead Woman's Shoes, featuring Helen Mirren.

It's a shame that this particular run of the series just looks so dated these days, because it doesn't seem to be for lack of discernible talent. Directors like Dante or Craven, or material from Harlan Ellison, Ray Bradbury and Theodore Sturgeon seem to all but guarantee an above the bar piece of television, and in spots those talents come through. There just isn't enough of it here to give the entire project the same kind of historical longevity that the original had.

Rating for Style: B-
Rating for Substance: C+

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicno


Image Transfer Review: All 24 episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect, and the transfers range from decent to awful, with a wide swing of the variance meter in terms of overall quality. The worst elements are the horrendously muddy black levels that render just about any night scene into a dark mass of hard-to-see images.

Image Transfer Grade: C+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglishno
DS 2.0Englishno


Audio Transfer Review: Depending on the episode, audio is provided in either mono or a flat 2.0 stereo presentation that offers a limited dynamic range that reduces the sound quality to being comparable to an above average mono track. I noticed a few examples of dialogue clipping on certain episodes, while others did not seem to have any major sound issues, aside from coming across very dull.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+

 

Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Production Notes
1 Featurette(s)
22 Feature/Episode commentaries by Wes Craven, Alan Brennert, Philip DeGuere, Bradford May, Harlan Ellison, James Crocker, Kerry Noonan, J.D. Feigelson, William Wu, Greg Bear
Packaging: Box Set
Picture Disc
6 Discs
6-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Photo Galleries
Extras Review: Image Entertainment has wisely stepped up the caliber of the extras for this spotty set, and once you step past the obligatory photo galleries and a Wes Craven interview that runs a scant 14+ minutes, what's left is excellent.

There are 22 commentaries for select episodes (with some getting two commentaries each), from the likes of Wes Craven, Alan Brennert, Philip DeGuere, Bradford May, Harlan Ellison, James Crocker, Kerry Noonan, J.D. Feigelson, William Wu, and Greg Bear. That's a pretty highfalutin' cast of commentators, and though legendary writer Ellison still can't get me to warm up to Shatterday despite his input, some of the things he has to say about the way his stories were treated might come as a surprise to some. Paladin of the Lost Hour was always one of my favorites from this run (though "directed" by the infamous Alan Smithee), and thankfully Ellison provides a solo track here to clear up some background. Craven and executive producer Philip DeGuere appear on a number of the commentaries, understandably, considering they were really the driving force behind this iteration of the series. This is certainly a case of the commentaries often being better than the episodes themselves.

The six discs are packaged in one of those thin cases that opens like a book, all housed in a cardboard slipcase.

Extras Grade: A-

 

Final Comments

The first season of the mid-1980s modernization on The Twilight Zone is a little loose, with a handful of strong stories wedged up against some real stinkers; the lineup of name directors (Wes Craven, Joe Dante, William Friedkin) is offset by some simply dreadful episodes.

On the plus side, this six-disc set has some wonderful commentaries from Craven, producer Philip DeGuere and Harlan Ellison, among others.

 


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