One of my family’s traditions is that on New Year’s Eve, we sit around and watch the Sci-Fi Channel’s Twilight Zone marathon and eat appetizers. It’s something the whole family enjoys together and we can come and go as we please while the day goes on. When DVDs first were being released, I saw various volumes released of the series on DVD, and I was excited. However, these are not collections that have been put together with any real rationale behind them. Each disc contains three or four episodes, usually not even from the same season. This second volume contains the episodes Time Enough at Last, The Monsters are Due on Maple Street, Nightmare at 20,000 Feet, and The Odyssey of Flight 33. Two of these episodes involve planes so there might be a sort of theme there.
The Twilight Zone was created by Rod Serling as a way to get around the censors of the day. He figured that the sponsors and network censors would dismiss the stories as fantasy and science fiction and not get that he was commenting on current issues. This worked just as he thought it would.
What made the show so special besides the fantasy/science fiction tone to it was that Serling would always put in a sort of twist at the end that on first viewing I didn’t necessarily see coming. It’s something we enjoy and sometimes there’s a little bit of a lesson to learn as well. I enjoy watching it with the kids to see if they can figure out exactly where the story is going.
In this second volume, the stories are well-written and produced. It creates a very convincing story neatly packed into a relatively short period of time. I look at productions now which cover an hour of time including commercials, and many of the stories told don’t have the depth or the impact of the stories contained in these four episodes of Twilight Zone. The X-Files would pick up on a lot of the themes early in its run, but that show greatly lost its footing along the way. Right until the end of the original run, Twilight Zone was telling terrific stories. Nightmare at 20,000 Feet took place in its fifth and final season and is still regarded as one of the best of the series.
Guest stars in these episodes include Burgess Meredith, Claude Akins, and a very young William Shatner. Meredith would appear in four episodes of the series during its run. There are also many actors appearing in minor roles that those of us who grew up on re-runs in the late 1960s and the 1970s will recognize, if not by name.
The effects are generally good, especially considering the time period. A dinosaur in one episode turns and looks at the camera. Although it might not be as convincing as the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, for being produced in 1961 it’s pretty good. A costume used in another episode to convey a “gremlin” is terribly unconvincing and looks more like a fluffy bear who went through the wrong cycle in the dryer.
The restoration for the DVD release is pretty good. There’s no interference or snow in the picture although the quality varies from grainy to very clear. I think these were early restorations and the potential now exists for a better-quality transfer. I wish they would put together a better set with better extras as well. I know Rod Serling left us years ago, but hearing from people who worked on some of these episodes and what they remember would be a real treat.
These are definitely worth picking up if only to see the episodes before they are chopped up to fit in the current time constraints. The shows themselves are really great, even if those producing these DVDs messed up on how they presented them to us.
Time Enough at Last
Adapted from a short story printed in If magazine, Burgess Meredith is Henry Bemis, a bank teller. His wife won’t let him read at home and his addictive reading is now interfering with his job. One day at lunchtime he sequesters himself in the vault for some quality reading time. This protects him when a hydrogen bomb is detonated. After eight hours of wandering around, he is about to commit suicide as he hasn’t come across another person alive. He stumbles upon a demolished public library from which many books have survived. Just as he’s settling down with a pile of books, he stumbles and his glasses fall and break.
The Monsters are Due on Maple Street
Maple Street is a typical suburban street with kids playing baseball and fathers washing cars while Mom is in the kitchen on a Saturday afternoon. Something goes by overhead which is dismissed as a meteor. That is until strange things begin occurring. The phones go out, as does the power. Cars won’t start and then start spontaneously. This turns neighbor against neighbor. Meanwhile, from far away, two aliens discuss how easy it is to manipulate humans and how this is just the beginning.
Nightmare at 20,000 Feet
William Shatner is Bob. He’s flying home after suffering a nervous breakdown and going through therapy. He and his wife board a plane. While they are flying during a storm, he sees a creature on the wing doing something to the engine. The problem is, he is the only one who sees it. Everyone else who looks out his window at the wing never sees it. As he sees the creature pulling up panels on the wings, he steals a gun from a sleeping officer and manages to fire it at the creature, saving the plane. In the end, he’s being taken away, thinking he had another breakdown, although the narration assures the viewer the evidence remains behind that what he saw was real.
In some ways, this might have been better had they left it more ambiguous as to whether the creature he was seeing was real or not, but it’s still well done.
The Odyssey of Flight 33
On their way to “Idlewild” Airport (now known as JFK Airport), a commercial airliner begins experiencing strange readings from their instruments. The wind speeds that are being detected are incredible as well as the speed they are traveling at. They cannot raise anyone on the radio. When they finally circle Manhattan, they see it covered with lush vegetation and a brontosaurus raises his head toward the plane. They try to catch the wind again and this time they raise the tower at LaGuardia, only to find that it’s 1939, not 1961. They go back to try to catch the wind one more time before they run out of fuel.
INSIDE THE TWILIGHT ZONE BONUS MATERIAL:
• Rod Serling Bio
• History of Twilight Zone
• Season by Season
• Reviews and Credits