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Reviews » HD DVD Reviews » Twilight Zone - The Movie (HD DVD)
Twilight Zone - The Movie (HD DVD)
Warner Bros. // PG // October 9, 2007 // Region 0
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted October 27, 2007 | E-mail the Author
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The Movie:

It was a good idea:  Get four talented directors to make a movie that consists of four Twilight Zone episodes, both original and newly conceived.  John Landis and Steven Spielberg produce the flick and were able to get Joe Dante and George Miller to sign on too.  It should have been a great movie, but in the end it only partially succeeds with half of the stories being fairly mediocre.  Never the less Twilight Zone:  The Movie has some good segments and is well worth watching.

The film itself starts off with an excellent framing sequence involving Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks as two strangers driving cross country together.  With a startling twist it gets the film off to the right start.  Unfortunately the John Landis piece that follows doesn't keep the momentum going.

Bill Connor (Vic Morrow) is a foul-mouthed bigot who recently was passed over for a promotion.  The person who got the nod was Jewish, and that evening Bill rants to his friends in a bar about how the Jews, 'spear chuckers', and "gooks" are ruining the country.  Leaving in a huff when no one is willing to agree with him, Bill finds himself transported from one era to the next, always trapped in the body of an oppressed minority.  First he's a Jew in Nazi Germany, then a Black hunted by the KKK, and finally as a native in Vietnam during the war.

Unfortunately a tragic on set accident killed actor Vic Morrow and two children during the filming, and this segment had to be cobbled together from what was already shot.  That may partially explain why this story is so poor.  The abrupt ending and the lack of redemption, Bill never does admit that he was wrong or sees the error of his ways, are both certainly due to the horrible accident.  Even looking past that however this bit doesn't work.  The message, that racism is bad, may have been an appropriate sentiment for the original series airing in the 60's, but in 1983 it was significantly diminished problem.  Yes, judging someone by the color of their skin is wrong...we all know that.  That and the story is as subtle as a flying mallet.  Serling had stories with political overtones, "The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street" for one, but they weren't as overt and didn't pound the viewers over the head with the message as this story does.

Vic Morrow is an underrated actor, but you wouldn't know it from this performance.  He starts off well, making a believable racist, but after he leaves the bar things go down hill.  Early on he gets shot in the arm but forgets that fact a few minutes later.  He uses his wounded arm to move furniture, climb out on a ledge, and swim across a lake.  He looks more lost than scared.  It's too bad because he really did have some talent.

The next story improves upon its predecessor, but only a bit.  Steven Spielberg directs a remake of "Kick the Can" and it showcases all of his weaknesses.  When a new tenant (Scatman Crothers) moves into a retirement home he convinces the other residents that you're only as old as you think you are.  He talks them in to sneaking out one night to play a game of kick the can, and when they do, they miraculously turn into children again.

While the acting is wonderful, the whole production is dipped in treacle and is so sweet that it's sappy.  The music, composed by Jerry Goldsmith, grows and swells at the slightest plot point and is incredibly intrusive.  It's as if Spielberg thinks that audiences won't know what to feel unless the music is there to enforce the point.   The story's construction veers away from that of the original, and this incarnation is a lot less effective.  In the TV show it was only implied that the seniors reverted to children, and this more implicit telling ironically takes a lot of the magic away.

Things pick up dramatically in the second half of the film.  The third chapter is an adaptation of "It's a Good Life" one of the series more memorable episodes.  This version features Kathleen Quinlan as Helen Foley, a school teacher who's moving to a new town.  Leaving a diner where she at lunch, Kathleen accidentally hits Anthony (Jeremy Licht) who's riding his bike.  She takes him home and meets his family who are exceedingly strange.  The house is decorated in garish colors with a TV in every room and hallway.  The only thing the family seems to do is sit around watching cartoons and praise Anthony.  Dinner consists of junk food.  When Helen tries to leave she discovers why everyone is so deferential to the young boy:  He's omnipotent.  Anything he can think of comes true, and he's decided that he wants Helen to stay with him.  Forever.

Though materially different than the original TV show, this adaptation was wonderful.  It took the characters (originally played by Bill Mumy who has a bit part here) and looked at them in a slightly different light.  The second act, where Kathleen is seeing what Anthony's home life is like, is very eerie and effective.  The fact that everyone is acting so strange points to the fact that Anthony is holding something over them, but what could a young boy do to cause such a reaction?  A creepy episode that finally kicks the movie up a couple of notches.

The final episode is an adaptation of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" directed by George Miller (Mad Max).  John Valentine (John Lithgow) is a nervous flyer, and when the plane he's traveling on has to fly through a storm, he just about looses it.  The stewardesses try to calm him, but things go from bad to worse when he looks out the window and sees some sort of creature on the wing.  The wind and rain don't seem to bother it, and when it crawls onto an engine and raises its arms, lighting hits the gremlin and blows out the engine.

At this John freaks out.  No one believes that there's anything on the wing, naturally, but Valentine knows what he saw.  The 1st officer eventually comes out to calm him, and when he confirms that they did loose one engine, it only reinforces the man's belief that the creature is out to kill them.  Looking out the window once more, John sees the gremlin again, but this time it's sabotaging the second engine.  He realizes that if they are going to live, he'll have to take matters into his own hands.

Spooky and thrilling, this story stays close to the original and is the high point of the movie.  Lithgow plays the paranoid and terrified passenger perfectly and Miller is able to create a claustrophobic feel for the segment.  The lighting is perfect, especially for the plane's exterior.  The gremlin is hard to see at first, and may not even be there.  The dimness of the cabin helps create a trapped feeling that adds a lot to segment too.  A creepy piece that ends with a nice little bit that brings the movie full circle.

The HD DVD Disc:


Video:

This movie comes with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio preserving the way it was shown theatrically, and the VC-1 encoded disc looks pretty good overall.  The four segments, each made with a different crew, all have a different look.  The Spielberg piece is filled with soft, colorful lighting and subdued hues and the Landis segment is dark and brooding, but that's to be expected with four different DPs working with four different directors.  The Dante contribution, segment three, looks the best and has the widest visual style.  There's some great Caligary-like lighting in the upstairs part of the house, while the downstairs has the look of a real-life cartoon.  The only segment that disappoints slightly is the final one directed by George Miller.  This dark and claustrophobic piece looks a little rough and has a bit of grain.

On the digital side, I was surprised to see a fair amount of jiggling lines.  When the camera pans over finely detailed objects, like the trees at the opening of the second segment, instead of moving smoothly across the screen they seem to make a series of quick jumps.  A good example of the effect is in the third story just after Kathleen Quinlan hits Jeremy Licht with her car.  When she gets out and runs to see if he's okay, the silver trim to the back window and several of the lines on the back of her car shimmer like this.  It's a subtle flaw and probably won't bother (or will even be noticed) by most viewers, but I was expecting more from the HD DVD.

Audio:

Viewers have a choice between Dolby Digital Plus and Dolby TrueHD 5.1 tracks in English and mono dubs in both French and Spanish.  Like the video, the audio profiles are different for all four parts of the film.  The movie starts off well with an impressive update of the classic Twilight Zone opening, narrated by Burgess Meredith.  There's a lot of directionality and well defined effects in this piece, unfortunately it goes down hill from there.  The first segment was surprisingly lackluster given the settings.  There wasn't much use made of the surrounds and the whole section seemed a bit drab.  The next part was a little better, but being a dialog based piece there wasn't much need for fancy panning or audio gymnastics.  The over-the-top score was piped through all speakers, but that just exacerbated the sappyness of the music.  Happily the final two parts did much better.  Dante's eerie section has some very good audio effects, especially when the Tasmanian Devil cartoon creature emerges from the TV.  The final part is the most active of the segments and the soundtrack does a great job at putting the viewer right in the plane.  The rears are going through most of this segment and are very effective.  A mixed bag for sure, but none of the sections suffered from audio defects.

Extras:

The only bonus item that is found on this disc is a trailer to the film that has seen better days.

Final Thoughts:

This is half really good movie, half not so good one.  The first two segments aren't that great, and honestly the movie would have been a lot better if they had just cut the first story altogether.  The second half is well worth watching however, and based on the strength of those the disc is worth picking up.  Recommended.

Note: The images in this review are not from the HD DVD and do not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.
 

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