My first encounter with The Outer Limits was with the original series. I was 13 or 14 when I discovered that this old SF show was being broadcast on a local station at midnight on Saturdays. I stayed up late, determined to see an episode. Trying to keep my eyes open till the show was over at 1 am was a challenge, especially during the commercials for mobile homes that seemed to pop up every two or three minutes but I did it.
That first story I saw involved a soldier from the future who, along with an enemy, gets caught in a time warp and set into the past. He's been bred since birth to fight and kill which are not qualities that our time appreciates. After being captured by the authorities and questioned, a scientist manages to civilize the man and brings him home to live with his family. As they are eating dinner one evening, the enemy soldier tracks his foe down and attacks. The main character leaps on his enemy's gun there is a brief struggle and both combatants end up dying. It was a very entertaining show until the Control Voice that narrates each episode came on and asked a question: Why did the unarmed soldier attack his enemy? Was it because he reverted to his training and became a mindless killer again, or was it because he was civilized and sacrificed his life to save those that he cared for?
That sent a chill down my spine and I was instantly wide awake. What a great question! I was instantly a fan of the show. (That episode, I later learned, was Soldier written by Harlan Ellison and is still one of my favorites. It was later ripped off by James Cameron when he made Terminator.)
In 1995 MGM issued a remake of the classic series that was shown on Showtime, and it was surprisingly good. The main reason for its success lies with the fact that this new incarnation was still able to capture the sense of awe and wonder that I felt as a young teenager while watching the original. That's not easy to do. After putting out a series of "best of" compilations on DVD, MGM has now decided to get on the bandwagon and release this show the way it should be: The Outer Limits Season One was released on November 1, 2005.
This award winning anthology series is very good overall, and a lot of the credit for that goes to co-producers and writers Brad Wright and Jonathan Glassner. While they certainly weren't working in a vacuum and had a lot of help from other talented directors, writers and the like, these two (along with Pen Densham who was the executive producer for the shows entire seven seasons and Joseph Stefano who was the producer for the original series) did a lot to shape the tone of the series. They made sure that the scripts were intelligent and well thought out. Working on the production side also, they could make sure that too many corners were cut. Wright and Glassner later would go on an form their own production company which would create Stargate SG-1. Outer Limits has the same level of quality that SG-1 possesses.
Being an anthology show, the program has a lot of freedom which makes every episode new and fresh. They didn't stay with one cinematic style, the directors were free to film each story in the way they felt would best tell the story. The written style changed too. Some episodes are upbeat, and others are the exact opposite. Most of the narratives are driven by the situations, but a few are character-based studies. The times and places that these shows occur also varies widely. Consequently each episode looks and feels a little different and when you sit down and watch several in a row, it adds a little excitement to the program. You never know what you'll find next.
Starting with a two-part adaptation of the George R. R. Martin story The Sandking, this episode set the bar pretty high. Staring Beau Bridges as a scientist who nurtures a colony of Martian insects that start believing that he's God, the story had a lot of tension and drama with some unsuspecting twists.
Other standout shows include the second story, Valerie 23 (which is part of a loosely base series of five shows that would run through the seasons), The Quality of Mercy in which an officer captured in a war with aliens must escape with his cell mate who is slowly being transformed, and Caught in the Act about a gorgeous girl who kills when she mates.
While most of the show are very entertaining and exciting, some of the experiments don't work. That's to be expected with an anthology series, but none of the failures are dreadful. Even the worst of these are better than many theatrically released movies.
Since they originally ran on cable TV, this new version of The Outer Limits was free to do things that just couldn't be done on network TV in the 60's. There is violence, sex and even a little gore that would have been verboten in the first series. The show never revels in its freedom though, and the accent is always on a strong story, not titillation.
These 22 45-minute episodes are presented on 5 DVDs which are housed in three slimline cases. The cases come in a slipcase that has an overly busy cover.
These shows come with an English stereo surround mix that is adequate but not much more. The main defect is that there is a rather irritating hiss in the background which is low but audible. It doesn't ruin the shows, but it's surprising to hear on such a recent show. The dynamic range isn't as wide as I would have hoped, and some of the explosions and the like don't have the "umph" that I was expecting.
Aside from this, the discs sound fine. The dialog is easy to disern and the background music comes through clearly.
The full frame video is a little disappointing to, slightly less than average for a show of this age. The first thing that one notices when popping a disc in is that there is a fairly significant amount of grain in the picture. This isn't distracting, but it's present throughout, especially in the darker scenes. The colors are fine, though some aren't as strong as I would like, that's a minor complaint.
This set comes with five featurettes that are scattered across the discs. Origins of the Outer Limits looks at how this new show got on the air, and The Outer Limits Story talks about both shows and the philosophies behind them.
There are also discussions on three of my favorite shows from this season: Valerie 23, The Quality of Mercy and Caught in the Act. In these shorts the executive producer, Pen Densham and the writers talk about the show and what caused it to work so well.
This is a fun and exciting show that is finally being released the way
it should be. The previous theme based sets were good, but it is
nice to see all of the shows, even the weaker ones, and watch how the show
progressed as time went on. Filled with intelligent science fiction
and well written scripts, this program has some of the best SF that TV
has to offer. Highly Recommended.