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The Twilight Zone (2002)

review by Zach B.

 

 

 

Not Rated

Running Time: 960 Minutes

Starring: Forest Whitaker

 

 

Studio: New Line

Retail Price: $59.98

Features: DVD-ROM: Weblinks, Skins

Specs: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen, English Dolby Digital 5.1, English DTS 5.1, English Dolby Surround, English Subtitles, Spanish Subtitles, English Closed Captions, Episode Selections, Scene Index (5 scenes per episode), 6-Disc Set

Released: September 7th, 2004

 

 

A true pop culture mainstay, "The Twilight Zone" began in 1959 and lasted a good six years. The brainchild of legendary television writer Rod Serling, the premise for the show was simple: it was an anthology series bent on mysterious, science fiction-esque tales. Each episode a new story with new characters was presented, where the abnormal was normal - and where pretty simple folk got caught up in the unexpected. The show was best known for its incredibly original stories, which often had clever and satisfying resolutions. The show had a unique sense of humor, not to mention good doses of irony. In 1965 the show's remarkable run (of over 150 episodes) ended, but the show would last for a few more generations. People loved the show and still love it (I'm not sure if I'd considered it a cult series though, but bless video and syndication for making it stick around) - if you ask me, the original "The Twilight Zone" is one of the greatest television shows of all time.

I assume the logic is that if something worked once, why not again? (Or, Hollywood runs out of ideas and goes back into the past.) "The Twilight Zone" had its infamous comeback in the 80s - first with the 1983 movie (probably best remembered for the on-set accident which killed Vic Morrow) and then in 1985 as a new series. Sure people remember those two franchise spin-offs, but not fondly. In 2002 though, "The Twilight Zone" was brought back yet again. Originally developed for the CBS network, CBS honcho Les Moonves jumped the series to UPN (apparently it would be a better fit there). While the ratings were pretty decent at first (especially for the UPN) and the fact the critics didn't tear it to shreds, it seemed like the show may have had a chance at surviving. Of course, we know how the story ends: things dwindled, and the show ended after 43 episodes (a lot for an entire season, but it still falls short compared to the original series and even the second series).

Let's make it clear: nothing really can compare to the original series (especially since it's timeless and could really only be 100% fresh once). And while you can't blame TV executives for trying (okay, maybe you can a little) this new "Twilight Zone" really isn't that special and plays like standard, mini B-movies for the most part (but B-movies can be entertaining as a guilty pleasure). It's respectable the show even got on the air since anthology series are so rare on network television in this day and age. If you ask me though, at this point it seems like having a third "Twilight Zone" is like beating a dead horse.

The problem with this third series of "The Twilight Zone" is that a lot of the episodes are so tired and repetitive. Even though every story's been told already, the trick is finding new ways to tell them. To the show's credit, I found some of the episodes fun, entertaining and even engrossing. But ultimately the show gets bogged down in predictable, ho-hum resolutions, lame turn-of-events and some dreadful dialogue exchanges. The original series often had a lot of points to make about human nature and lessons to tell, and it was done with intelligence. Dare I say this "Twilight Zone" is a bit more low-brow and is meant to appeal to those who don't like to think so much, and aims to be standard and not so unique?

Also, and probably most important, the show lacks ambience. Rod Serling's show really made it a point to set up the episodes well, and their overall atmosphere (which is admirable, since doing that every time is not easy). This show aims to be thrilling with some cheap scares, but it's not really scary at all or even thrilling. As the original meant to be more chilling, some of these episodes can easily be compared to throwaway, dull teen horror films. It's all a bit disappointing - the producers mainly hired writers from other science-fiction shows (*COUGHstartrekCOUGH*). Sure the show could be categorized like that, but it would have been nice if the show went beyond stereotypical employment - I'm sure other dramatic TV writers may have contributed (or may not, what does a jaded critic like me know?). At least the series kept the classic theme song (done in an interesting, modern though not as effective manner by Korn member Jonathan Davis).

I must also note that the new series even did two remakes to two of the most famous episodes from the original: the classic tales "The Eye Of The Beholder" and "The Monsters Are Due On Maple Street." I guess the remakes could have been worse, but as usual, do stick with the originals. Also, a sequel to "It's A Good Life" was made for the series entitled "It's Still A Good Life" (I guess Coris Leachman and Billy Mumy needed the money) - I suppose they didn't do a remake since that was already done for the 1983 movie. I guess these episodes were meant for the original fans (or ways to boost ratings) as a nod to them, but if you ask me, it just seems pointless. Why make a sequel if the story can't go further? And why watch a pretty identical remake which doesn't bring anything new to the table when you can see the original?

I will say though that Forest Whitaker does make a pretty effective host. While he is no Rod Serling (especially since Serling wrote a lot of the episodes too and Whitaker wrote none for this), Mr. Whitaker is a pretty talented man in his own right. He sets the stage decently for the episodes, and he does bookend things nicely. His voice and presence is a decent fit for the show. As far as the acting... it's a mixed bag. Some actors are better than others, and I don't think I need to tell you who. The best known B-list actors and actresses are all here (and a few C-listers and even A-listers too). Among the guest stars: pretty girls who have roles in teen movies or canceled series, Brian Austen Green, Elizabeth Berkley, Christopher Titus, Geor---err Jason Alexander, Andrew McCarthy, Amber Tamblyn (now big on CBS' "Joan Of Arcadia"), Jeremy Piven (who's a major talent - and that is NOT sarcasm) and mega-star Andrew McCarthy (the mega-star remark: that IS sarcasm).

Oddly enough though, this DVD set is labeled "Season One." Does that mean Whitaker and the show will return? Probably not. But I guess "Season One" sounds better than "The Complete Series." Nonetheless, you get all 43 episodes of the show in this set (which originally aired in hour blocks - two per the hour). That's about sixteen hours of TV right here. So if you're a "Twilight" completest or liked this show on UPN, then overall you should be happy to have this set.

 

Thanks to the dawn of a new television age, a lot of more standard shows are being filmed in widescreen and are available on HDTV broadcasts. "The Twilight Zone" gets this distinction, as all 43 episodes are presented in this set in spiffy 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen. Overall, these are very solid and nice-looking transfers. Detail is excellent, black levels are pretty flawless and fleshtones and color saturation are really excellent - they're vibrant, well-realized and certainly bold. I noticed some edge enhancement on some episodes, and at times the picture quality is a bit soft. But the prints are clean, and I didn't detect any noise or edge halos either. The series may not be top quality, but the presentation on these episodes is one of the most impressive I've seen for a recent TV show on DVD in a long time.

 

In a very nice surprise, each episode also has Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks AND DTS 5.1 tracks. DTS tracks on shows are rare making them a very welcome addition (the only show on DVD that I can think of which also has the tracks is the computer animated "Spider-Man" series that aired on MTV). Each sound option sounds great, but like the shows themselves, some are better than others. For the most part though, dialogue is crisp and easy to hear, the show's music (and theme song) sound pretty good through the channels and there are some decent surround effects (which could have been a bit more discrete in my opinion). The subwoofer is also used well, and often gives some nice pushes of intensity on the episodes. Dynamic range is pretty good and fidelity on the episodes are pretty high, but I will say there could have been some better imaging when it came to the surrounds (it would have made things more involving, especially in the more action-driven episodes). And in case you're wondering, the better 5.1 tracks are the DTS ones. They sound a little more rich, have a little more depth and end up being slightly better than the Dolby Digital tracks (which are still quite good). Also included on the set are more straightforward (but still good) English Dolby Surround tracks, English subtitles, Spanish Subtitles and English closed captions.

 

There's barely anything on this set. The only goodies are some DVD-ROM features, which include weblinks and some custom skins for your computer DVD player. I guess commentaries from some writers and directors could have been done, or a featurette comparing this recent incarnation of the series to the original (or maybe featurettes on the "Good Life" sequel and remake episodes). However, there is a decent booklet pocketed inside the box.

 

This new edition of "The Twilight Zone" only lasted a season - but it's probably not as bad as you think (though it certainly is nothing great). While nothing does compare to the original series from the 1960s, there are some pretty entertaining episodes in the third try at the show (let me stress: a select few). This is a pretty solid DVD set despite the lack of features - the anamorphic widescreen transfers look great, and all the episodes feature 5.1 tracks in Dolby Digital AND DTS. While some of you purists may have dismissed the series all together, if you were a viewer during the 2002-2003 season then you'll be pleased with this set.