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