Four directors collaborated to remake four episodes of the popular television series 'The Twilight Zone' for this movie. The episodes are updated slightly and in color (the television show was in black-and-white), but very true to the originals, where eerie and disturbing situations gradually spin out of control. Written by
Tad Dibbern <DIBBERN_D@a1.mscf.upenn.edu>
Feature film expansion of legendary TV series is uneven overall, but it does have its moments, and it does thankfully follow the rule of saving the best for last. Four prominent directors are brought together to create, in glorious colour, some classic episodes of the series, with an impressive roster of stars and character players. At least along the way it manages to create some enjoyable jolts. Burgess Meredith, star of 'Time Enough at Last', one of the best known and most beloved of all episodes, is the narrator for this trip into some bizarre places.
Unfortunately the movie will always have an enormous stigma attached to it due to the untimely and horrific death of actor Vic Morrow and two child extras during the shooting of Segment 1. That may very well leave a bad taste in the mouth of many people watching. It's up to the individual viewer as to how much this affects their enjoyment of the film.
The prologue and the first segment are actually originals written by director John Landis. Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks are fun as a passenger and driver who come up some with some amusing ways to entertain each other until Aykroyd decides it's time for Brooks to get a good scare. This gets us off to a good start because Landis does understand that with the TV show the payoff was a most important element.
Segment 1 sees Morrow playing an unrepentant bigot who gets a major dose of his own intolerance when he's mistaken for a Jew by Nazis, a black by KKK members, and a Vietnamese man by American troops in 'Nam. This is a very dark episode that doesn't end too satisfactorily, but Morrow is excellent, the look of Paris during WWII is nicely realized, the pacing is effective, and there's a great in joke referring back to Landis's "Animal House".
Segment 2, Steven Spielberg's remake of "Kick the Can", sees wonderfully genial Scatman Crothers injecting some magic into the lives of senior citizens in an old folks' home. Like Segment 1, it's unfortunately not subtle about its message, and is so syrupy sweet that it really doesn't fit in with the other segments here. The actors are very likable, fortunately; Crothers manages to make it worth sitting through.
Segment 3 tells the tale of "It's a Boy's Life", in which a creepy kid (Jeremy Licht) makes the acquaintance of travelling schoolteacher Kathleen Quinlan. This kid can bend reality to suit his whims, lives in a house with bizarre designs, likes his hamburgers with peanut butter topping, and lives for cartoons. And his "family" lives in mortal terror of him. The work of Joe Dante, this serves as a counterpoint to Spielberg's tale the way that it depicts childish fantasies run amok. Great cartoon style monster work by Rob Bottin helps in the enjoyment of this segment; this is where the film starts getting really good. Bill Mumy, the kid in the original episode, plays a diner patron.
Segment 4, directed by George Miller of the "Mad Max" series, is far and away the best, an over the top remake of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet", in which terrified airplane passenger John Lithgow believes he sees a creature busy destroying the planes' engines as it flies through a storm. Lots of good atmosphere and intensity here, with a top notch unhinged performance by Lithgow and a great creature, designed by Craig Reardon & Michael McCracken and performed by actor Larry Cedar.
With a lot of familiar faces in the small roles (ex. Charles Hallahan, Doug McGrath, Bill Quinn, Selma Diamond, the almighty Dick Miller (once again playing 'Walter Paisley'), Kevin McCarthy, William Schallert, Cherie Currie, Nancy Cartwright, John Dennis Johnston, Eduard Franz, and Donna Dixon), and wonderful music by Jerry Goldsmith, this certainly remains an entertaining film to watch for its duration, if not a great one. Hopefully it will inspire people to check out the TV series and see why it's so admired.
Seven out of 10.
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