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Warner Home Video presents
Twilight Zone: The Movie HD-DVD (1983)

"Hey, you wanna see something really scary?
- The Passenger (Dan Aykroyd)

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: October 25, 2007

Stars: Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Scatman Crothers, John Lithgow, Vic Morrow, Kathleen Quinlan
Other Stars: Burgess Meredith, John Larroquette, William Schallert, Kevin McCarthy, Jeremy Licht, Billy Mumy
Director: John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, George Miller

MPAA Rating: PG for (racial epithets, disturbing imagery)
Run Time: 01h:41m:10s
Release Date: October 09, 2007
UPC: 085391157144
Genre: horror

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B+A-A+ D+

DVD Review

One of the more notorious movies of the 1980s was the critically-panned Twilight Zone: The Movie, which also engendered several lawsuits and a small industry of books thanks to an on-set mishap. But although the picture has long been suppressed, Warner apparently believes that enough time has passed that the film can be released without creating a furor, and just might be able to be assessed for its own merits. So let's try that, shall we?

Taking its cue from the original television series, the movie version is an anthology of four pieces, each by a different director. John Landis offers up both the first segment and a brief prologue featuring Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks as two likeable doofs on a cross-country drive. Unfortunately, that prologue ends with a most un-Rod Serling-like jump scare that makes one suspect this isn't going to be quite the same experience as the original. Landis wrote the first segment, which at least in its sentiments towards tolerance and 'live and let live' is consistent with the Serling world view, while also taking into account his acknowledgment of the darker side of man's nature. Vic Morrow stars as Bill Connor, a cranky, resentful antisemite and racist who blames everyone else for his problems, but as he leaves the bar where he rants, he finds himself successively a pursued Jew in Nazi-occupied France, a black man being lynched and a Vietnamese man being hunted down by American soldiers. It's none too subtle, but Morrow offers a harrowing performance that would be his last. He would be killed in a helicopter mishap along with two children during filming. Nothing of that scene remains in the movie, which deprives the character of a redemption and leaves it a completely bleak sequence though it does at least still submit for your approval a lesson in empathy.

The other three sequences are reimaginings of shows presented in the original series. Steven Spielberg directs Kick the Can, a fluffy tale of hope and the lot of the elderly that Spielberg hoped would be an antidote to his kid-centric E.T. Scatman Crothers is the magical Mr. Bloom who offers a number of oldsters a chance at reliving their childhood, with mixed reactions. Crothers is always worth watching, but otherwise this is a saccharine mess, like so much of Spielberg's output. It feels singularly unimaginative, especially surrounded by its brethren episodes. A syrupy score full of twinkles and soaring strings doesn't help matters. The result is easily the least of the four.

Joe Dante presents the most different of the three re-hashes, with a wildly bizarre interpretation of It's a Good Life. Kathleen Quinlan stars as Helen Foley, a schoolteacher moving to a new town who accidentally hits young Anthony (Jeremy Licht) on his bicycle. When she gives him a ride home, she finds that his home life is distinctly unusual. Influenced by everything from Looney Tunes to Caligari, it includes some truly nasty visuals as we get a glimpse at the dark side of 1960s sitcoms and cartoons, propelling us into an entirely different dimension of sight and sound. Dante can't resist the in-jokes, many of which are quite enjoyable, such as Anthony's father being portrayed by William Schallert, the ultimate TV dad. While the monster effects aren't quite convincing, one can also defend them with the notion that they're supposed to be culled from a child's imagination, and thus might have more than a little whiff of the rubber suit about them. It's visually arresting and both whimsical and grim by turns; the ending won't satisfy some, but I found this to be my favorite of the four segments.

The closing episode, directed by George Miller, is an adaptation of that classic white-knuckle travel tale, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, with John Lithgow in the William Shatner role as John Valentine, a cerebral but terrified plane passenger caught in a lightning storm. When he thinks he sees some kind of monster out on the wing, Valentine creates a panic while trying to rescue the plane. Miller's direction is taut and fiercely suspenseful, with the high point coming from his playing upon the irresistible temptation to look behind the closed airplane window. Lithgow's twitchy and enjoyable (who knew he ever had that much hair?), but doesn't quite come close to the intensity combined with the tenuous hold on sanity of Shatner's portrayal. Miller gives it everything he's got, but the original is just too indelible to forget. Another original episode might have been a better idea for a conclusion. That's symbolic of the entire venture: there are some good ideas here, but more originality (a la the Dante segment) would have been welcome. It does have its heart in the right place though, signalled by bringing Burgess Meredith back to act as the narrator.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The HD transfer is quite good, with a nice rendition that gives the presentation a filmlike appearance throughout. Spielberg's segment is typically soft but there's good clarity in all of the others. For some reason the texture of the men's suits really pops off the screen with vivid reality. The closeups of Kevin McCarthy's unshaved delirium in the Dante segment offer a memorable visual in crisp clarity, and the cartoon effects sparkle with brilliant colors as appropriate. The shadowy moments (most notably in Landis' segment and the closing) have good detail and there are few issues that I spotted. Edge enhancement thankfully was nowhere to be seen.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrench, Spanishyes
DS 2.0Englishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The English audio is present in the original Dolby Stereo, a souped up DD+ 5.1 and an even better TrueHD track. On the latter, the music from the score has startling realism that seems as if the musicians are right in the room. How that was managed with a 1983 audio track, I can't imagine, but more such, please. The audio is very clean and free from noise. The racket of the thunderstorm and the plane coming apart mid-flight in Nightmare are intensely effective.

Audio Transfer Grade: A+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Scene Access with 22 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Chinese with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extras Review: Warner somewhat understandably chooses to dodge the ugly history of this picture entirely, offering nothing at all in the way of extras beyond the original trailer (which is in standard definition). That's a pity, but I guess I can't imagine you ever getting John Landis to talk on a commentary about this film. I'd sure have liked to have heard from Dante and Miller, though.

Extras Grade: D+


Final Comments

It's hard to believe that this movie is now as far distant in the past as the premiere of the series was when the movie came out; the distance of time allows a reappraisal, and for the most part it's not as bad a picture as its reputation would have one believe. It's nice to have it available for reappraisal, and the transfer is excellent.


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