I’ve made the argument – probably one too many times – that critics too-often misuse the term ‘classic’ to refer to practically anything they want to give a singular endorsement of, for whatever the reason. Throughout the history of criticism, variations on classics – such as “destined to be a classic” or “an instant classic” – have lost all meaning … especially when these productions get compared against a bona fide standard like Rod Serling’s legendary THE TWILIGHT ZONE. This episodic exploration of another dimension of sight and sound featured hundreds of actors at, arguably, the height of their skill. It helped ignite storytellers to think outside of the box when weaving their tapestries in this new medium of television. And it set-the-bar for innovative storytelling all told with an inspired ‘twist’ ending, a format that endures even today.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE is the definitive classic of fantastical entertainment, and RLJ Entertainment has rewarded audiences by releasing this bargain-priced, bare bones collection of 29 classic episodes in an all-new 5-disc set.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of reader who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last two paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Normal spoiler rules don’t apply here as this season of THE TWILIGHT ZONE – its second – aired during the 1961-62 TV season. So I’ll dispense with worrying about ‘spoiling’ anything, and, instead, I’ll provide you with a quick summation of what’s available here from the promotional materials provided by RLJ Entertainment:
“The Twilight Zone remains television's most treasured anthology program. The brainchild of writer and narrator Rod Serling -- inspired by the pulp comics, novels and sci-fi films of his youth -- the series introduced its own special brand of weirdness to viewers on October 2, 1959. As a program that correctly billed itself as one "of shadow and substance, of things and ideas," The Twilight Zone left indelible tracks -- not to mention unforgettable theme music -- and created stars both on-screen William Shatner and off-screen -- directing vets include Don Siegel (Invasion of the Body Snatchers,Dirty Harry), Richard Donner (The Omen,Lethal Weapon) and Ida Lupino (The Hitch-Hiker).
“The second season of The Twilight Zone includes 29 episodes: King Nine Will Not Return, The Man in the Bottle, Nervous Man in a Four-Dollar Room, A Thing About Machines, The Howling Man, Eye of the Beholder, Nick of Time, The Lateness of the Hour, The Trouble with Templeton, A Most Unusual Camera, The Night of the Meek, Dust, Back There, The Whole Truth, The Invaders, A Penny for Your Thoughts, Twenty-Two, The Odyssey of Flight 33, Mr. Dingle, the Strong, Static, The Prime Mover, Long Distance Call, A Hundred Yards over the Rim, The Rip Van Winkle Caper, The Silence, Shadow Play, The Mind and the Matter, Will the Real Martian Please Stand Up? and The Obsolete Man.”
Now, back to me …
For those needing it spelled out perfectly, let me explain that this is what I’d call a bare-bones release. This five-disc set presents only the program’s episodes – there are none of the special features as those are available on countless other previous releases. Instead, RLJ is delivering a budget-priced collection for those of us who want to re-experience the joy of this beloved program as many times as we’d like in the comfort and privacy of our own couches. And I, for one, applaud them for doing it.
While I’ve only had the chance to crack open the set and get through the first and half of the second DVD, what I’m uttered stunned about it how well the writing, the production values, and the performances hold up in here. I watched THE TWILIGHT ZONE in reruns as a youngster, and I haven’t watched them regularly since (I’ve caught an episode here and there over the years), so, in many respects, this is much like discovering them anew for me. While it’s been revived and/or revisited in several variations down through the years, I can’t help but wonder “why?” You’ll never put lightning back in the bottle. You’ll never re-invent the wheel. If you want something right, then go back and experience the original in all its glory.
So far, “Nervous Man In A Four-Dollar Room” is my personal favorite for this season – I challenge you to find a finer performance than Joe Mantell’s layered depiction of a tortured grifter / gangster at odds with himself in all anything that aired on television anywhere or any time that year. It gets referenced in Martin Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER, of all places. Mantell’s work is nothing short of brilliant. It’s a near one-man-show that defies conventions.
In short, I find it as no surprise that TV Guide ranks THE TWILIGHT ZONE as the #4 greatest drama in the history of television.
THE TWILIGHT ZONE is produced by Cayuga Productions in association with the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS). DVD distribution is handled by RLJ Entertainment. As for the technical specifications, these episodes look and sound remarkable; the audio and video standards are terrific consistently. As I’ve already mentioned, these discs contain no special features, but rest assured: they’re not needed. What’s needed is there, and that’s each and every episode of this legendary program’s second season.
HIGHEST RECOMMENDATION POSSIBLE. I don’t believe in dubbing every piece of pop culture I love with the moniker of ‘a classic.’ Unlike others, I tend to revere that standard, and I reserve my judgment for products that stand the test of time, continuing to inspire storytelling and storytellers down through the ages. I don’t believe in ‘instant classics,’ and I reject the idea that any critic can tell you what will be a ‘classic’ ten, twenty, or even thirty years from now. But what I can tell you is that in one way, shape, or form, the high-water mark in television will always be THE TWILIGHT ZONE. At times whimsical – at times desperate – at times heart-tugging – but at all times influential – ZONE continues to amaze and inspire viewers decades after its original airings. Helping to establish television as a legitimate form of home entertainment, I encourage you to discover and re-discover these episodes again and again on DVD.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at RLJ Entertainment provided me with a copy of THE TWILIGHT ZONE – THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.
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About the reviewer
What? You don't know enough about me from the picture? Get a clue! I'm a graduate from the School of Hard Knocks! You can find me around the web as "Trekscribbler" or "Manchops". … more