It's always been a shame that, when they are compared outright, The Twilight Zone gets so much of the smothering praise and The Outer Limits is usually left holding the rotting raspberries. Granted, Rod Serling's brilliant and sometimes breathtaking television show offered more than its fair share of startling ideas and engaging writing. Limits was almost always classified as clever junk, reducing its obvious special qualities into something resembling juvenile pulp comics. It was also referred to as the "Monster of the Week" show, since there was a reliance on aliens, robots, demons, and beasts as the means of crafting fear and dread. Zone loved to flaunt its "psychological" terrors and fright, hoping you'd be inspired to think as well as shrink in your seat. But pound for pound, The Outer Limits really outdid Serling's showcase in the true science fiction arena.
Much more than ideas played out subtly, Limits went for broke, exposing outright the bug-eyed ants, floating Venutian apparition or the alien Kyban assassins. Did the lack of stellar special effects mean that, occasionally, the zipper and strings were readily apparent? Yes. Did this factor detract from the show? Absolutely not. If anything, they reinforced the post-50s ideal about space, the supernatural, and the scientifically sinister. The Outer Limits indeed pushed the envelope of believability. But more times than not, they managed to totally ignite the imagination. So it makes sense that, after years in the wilderness, Limits would follow Zone's example and try to modernize its mythos for a late '90s audience. Initially seen of Showtime, The New Outer Limits eventually found a home on the fledgling Sci Fi Channel where it stayed in first run and syndication until the late 2000s.
Hoping to learn from its past, this New Limits strived to emphasize the science in its genre. They also could take chances that the original '60s series was barred from attempting. Over the course of its seven seasons, we saw works by such influential authors as Harlan Ellison, Stephen King, Larry Niven, Richard Matheson, and Mr. Game of Thrones George R. R. Martin adapted, among others. There was also an increased production value that came with the arrival of CGI as well as pay cable backing. This doesn't mean that the New Limits was consistently great. On the other hand, there were far more hits than misses during its relatively long run (the original could only make it through two series - 49 episodes total).
For the last season, it is best to deal with each installment individually. This way, we can gauge how effective The New Outer Limits was in its final days, as well as how, overall said episodes shape up against the overall effectiveness of the show itself (each one runs approximately 44 minutes in length).
Title: Family Values
Plot:A harried father buys a robot to help around the house. The automaton eventually replaces him
Mini Review (**1/2): A typical take on the material. Tom Arnold adds nothing to the mix.
Title: Patient Zero
Plot:A soldier is sent back in time to prevent a woman from becoming the carrier of a deadly virus
Mini Review (***): Gee, where have we heard that before? Still, a decent entry in the series.
Title: A New Life
Plot:A preacher starts a cult, leading his followers to a secret enclave with a mysterious motive
Mini Review (**): Not very effective. Too cliched, with an ending that seems obvious almost from the start.
Title: The Surrogate
Plot:A struggling artist agrees to be a surrogate for infertile couples. It doesn't work out that well.
Mini Review (***): Again, the ending seems predetermined, but getting there is more fun than you'd think.
Title: The Vessel
Plot:After surviving a spaceship crash, a layman astronaut is suddenly gifted with strange powers.
Mini Review (**): What is this? The Incredible Melting Man? All joking aside, the narrative strains over the obvious creative contrivances.
Title: Mona Lisa
Plot:A machine assassin has her fail safe protections disabled, and goes about discovery the realities of Earth
Mini Review (***): Fairly action-packed (for TV) but offers little else.
Plot:A scientist clones his comatose wife
Mini Review (**): Tries for some emotional resonance amidst the sci-fi, and fails.
Title: Think Like a Dinosaur
Plot:A dinosaur-like alien race try to teach humans the secrets to interstellar teleportation, with disastrous results.
Mini Review (***): Ummm...okay. What was that supposed to be about again?
Title: Alien Shop
Plot:An extraterrestrial shape-shifter runs a curio shop filled with cursed objects
Mini Review (***1/2): Actually, one of the better installments here. The premise has potential and the execution finds some fun ways of realizing same.
Title: World's Within
Plot:Scientists try to save a mutant child from government forces.
Mini Review (**): Another episode striving for the human angle in an otherwise speculative setting. A bit more successful than others, but not much.
Title: In the Blood
Plot:An experimental journey into a tear in the space-time continuum threatens the entire Universe
Mini Review (***): Not bad. Has some decent ideas spread out among the early 2000 level F/X.
Title: Flower Child
Plot:An alien flower comes to Earth, looking to mate
Mini Review (**): Oh brother.
Title: Free Spirit
Plot:A ghost leaps from body to body, killing schizophrenics in a sanitarium
Mini Review (***): An attempt at terror, with the unseen force driving the already insane even more mad. Has its moments.
Plot:A doctor nearly destroys herself testing a psychological tool that allows her to read people's minds
Mini Review (**): Not impressive. Dull and talky.
Title: Time to Time
Plot:A time travel is given a chance to go back to the day her dad died.
Mini Review (**): When time travel is done right, it can be truly mesmerizing. It's not done right here.
Plot:An alien abducts five high school students, mandating they choose one of their own to die
Mini Review (**1/2): The kids are all right. The storyline stinks.
Title: Rule of Law
Plot:A judge tries to bring order to an alien world
Mini Review (**): Subpar subtle satire stuck in a show which shun such shading (see what I did there?)
Plot:A failed high school wrestling coach uses unusual PEDs to turn his team around, with horrific results
Mini Review (***): This was actually pretty good. The set-up is sold with efficiency and the payoff is really fun.
Title: The Tipping Point
Plot:The development of an universal computer language leads to a worldwide threat.
Mini Review (***): By this time in our genre genesis, we've seen this storyline a million times. It doesn't get any more interesting here.
Title: Dark Child
Plot:The mother of an unusual teenage girl tries to convince the world she was abducted by aliens
Mini Review (***): I liked this. Reminded me of one of the ABC Movies of the Week from the '70s.
Title: The Human Factor
Plot:A space commander in charge of saving the human race must make a crucial decision about mankind's fate.
Mini Review (***): Good tension. Decent suspense. Kind of falls apart at the end. Still, decent.
Title: Human Trials
Plot:During tests for a super secret mission, a military man finds the line between reality and simulation blurred.
Mini Review (**): Tries to be trippy. Ends up being tired.
Spread out over five discs, The New Outer Limits box set is fairly derivative of lower end product. There are no bonus features, the material seems culled from past masters, and the visual and audio aspects of the release are relatively limited in both polish and presentation. Because of the era in which the show was made, the image is 1.33:1. It suffers from softness, occasional fuzziness, and a real lack of detail. Not even the typical HD player upscaling makes a difference. The sound situation is also pretty mediocre. The Dolby Digital Stereo offers no ambience and a real lack of crispness. The dialogue is easy to understand but there's little range here. Again, don't look for any added content. This is a bare bones collection at best.
As you can see by most of the mini-reviews presented, the modernized Outer Limits (at least in its final season) was woefully mediocre. It did a few things right while more or less squandering a significant part of its past reputation. For those who are fans, the cheapness of this box set will far outweigh its aesthetic aspects. For anyone else, a Rent It is in order (or better yet, check it out on streaming services like Hulu before buying). You'll enjoy some of what's seen here. The vast majority of the time, you'll marvel at how outdated and old some of these stories are. Back when Limits battled Zone for supremacy, only one was given a chance to shine. Now, reinvented and reimagined, the New Outer Limits is a loser again. It's limited and lame.
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