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New Line Home Cinema presents
"...journey into a wondrous land, whose boundaries are only that of the imagination. You're entering The Twilight Zone."
DVD ReviewThere's little disputing the long lasting impact of Rod Serling's original The Twilight Zone series, which had everything from the classic theme music to his scowling intros to the strange morality plays that relied on twists and turns that often reinforced the "be careful what you wish for" line of thinking. In the early 1960s it was exciting and new, and over the subsequent decades it metamorphism into retro-nostalgic hipness, with moments like William Shatner eyeballing that furry gremlin on the wing of a plane and Burgess Meredith with his broken glasses taking on a pop culture status all their own.
As the entertainment world is want to do, remaking something that was already a hit years before, on paper at least, seems like a surefire success; though anyone who has ever sat through the big-screen versions of The Beverly Hillbillies or the small-screen reincarnations of The Munsters knows differently. Rekindling that magic is a difficult art, and it seldom ever works out completely as planned. With this 2002 revisitation of Serling's The Twilight Zone, the level of iconic adoration was already so high that the odds of coming even close to the original seemed unlikely, and in looking back at the first season on DVD there were more baby-steps than giant leaps.
Right out of the box the classic theme music gets a high-energy facelift from the rock band Korn, and while I understand the marketing approach to lure in younger viewers, dabbling with such identifiable content is almost a sacrilege. It's an attempt to modernize—I get it—but it just seems desperately wrong on a lot of different emotional levels. Forest Whittaker had even a tougher challenge, that of replacing Rod Serling as the host. I always thought Whittaker an odd choice for the job, but in fairness he has the right amount of crazy-eyed weirdness to make his episode bookends interesting, and his habit of being able to turn off his strange little smile rather quickly gave him an often unsettling and threatening demeanor.
The content of the episodes are a mixed bag, filled with the usual smattering of current day familiar faces (Jessica Simpson, Jason Alexander, Lou Diamond Phillips) and unlike the original series, was plunked into a one-hour format. Some episodes—like the pilot The Lineman—ran the full hour (well, 43 minutes minus commercials), while others were shorter, giving the producers the chance to slide two or more stories in a given hour. That flexibility was actually a godsend, because the chattery padding required to stretch a story past 20 minutes makes many of the longer ones feel hopelessly bloated or padded.
With 43 episodes, the odds of them all being winners are slim (not all of the original eps were perfect either), but there are some worthwhile endeavors here. A woman travels back in time to try and kill Adolph Hitler (Cradle of Darkness), a demented gameshow host kidnaps a child (How Much Do You Love Your Kid?), a teacher who has visions and can see the deaths of her students (Into the Light) are eps that standout, and most of the remainder try hard to be quirky and twisty. And as requisite hooks to attempt to draw in those familiar with some of the now classic Twilight Zone stories, this season one set features a couple of passable remakes (The Eye of the Beholder and The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street), as well as fairly enjoyable sequel to It's a Good Life entitled It's Still a Good Life, which was the one where you might get wished into the cornfield if you weren't careful.
There is a charm to those old black-and-white episodes, and all of the new special effects and stabs at recreating the luster and shine of the original is nothing short of a Sisyphus-ian battle. In the decades that follow I sincerely doubt that this edition of The Twilight Zone will have the same level of mass appeal that the Serling episodes do. But since we're in the here and now, there are some watchable episodes on this set, so perhaps a rental is in order so you can pick and choose.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B-
Image Transfer Review: All 43 episodes are presented in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen, and like the audio side that sports 5.1 and DTS, this sort of makes the lesser installments seem somehow a little more cinematic. Sharpness and image detail are well above acceptable ranges, with colors appearing properly bright and vivid, with no evident smearing. Some shimmer and ringing appears on occasion, as does a few instances of unfortunate specking, but not much else in the way of other noticeable distractions.
Overall, a nice looking set.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: New Line always seems to provide better than average audio transfers, and the inclusion of both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS tracks for this television series is a pleasant surprise. Maybe a bit on the overkill side, but satisfying nonetheless. Both mixes are fairly aggressive, at least for television, offering up some rear channel activity and occasional deep bass, which made some of the weaker episodes slightly more tolerable. Dialogue is clean at all times, and while the presentation is not as spatial as a theatrical feature, it is certainly deeper and fuller than most comparable series sets.
A noticeably less vibrant 2.0 surround track is also included.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 215 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
Packaging: Book Gatefold
Extras Review: Packaging on this set is pretty nice, with the removable slipcase revealing a book-like folder that holds a series of clear plastic "pages", each containing a disc. Also included is a two-fold insert with a plot synopsis for each episode.
New Line has also added the intrusive Interactual Player, which you are required to install in order to view some company promotional material.
Each of the 43 episodes are cut into a varying amount of chapters, depending on length, but the average ends up being about five each. As an added convenience, the Play All option is available on each disc.
Extras Grade: D
Final CommentsIt's an unenviable task to futz with a remake (or "revisiting") of a classic television series, and the recent stab at The Twilight Zone can never be anything but a pale comparison of the original. Of the 43 episodes on this season one set, some are enjoyable, while others seem forced, and perhaps had it been presented under a different banner than The Twilight Zone, expectations might not have been so high.
New Line has done a fine job with the packaging, as well as anamorphic transfers and audio in 5.1 or DTS. It's just that the stories within don't all fire with the same spark of wonder that something like this needs to live up to the lineage.
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