The Outer Limits: Volume One – DVD Review

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Vic Perrin … Control Voice

Release Date: June 5, 2007
Running Time: 736 minutes

The Show:

The Twilight Zone was quite successful when it debuted in 1959. Not surprisingly this lead to a number of other anthology style shows looking to emulate the success of The Twilight Show. Arguably the most successful of these attempts was 1963’s The Outer Limits. The first 16 episodes of the series (half of the first season) have been released on DVD. But does a show focused on fantastic tales mixed with social commentary still have anything relevant to say more than forty years later?

While The Outer Limits is an anthology style show, much like The Twilight Zone, the two shows differ in a number of important ways. While The Twilight Zone contained many fantasy and supernatural themed episodes, The Outer Limits limits itself primarily to the science fiction genre. Sure sometimes the science will be laughably bad, but it’s still sci-fi.

The episode structure differs between the two as well. For one thing, most episodes of The Twilight Zone were thirty minute affairs, but with The Outer Limits the writers are given an hour in which to tell their tale. There’s also far less emphasis on the twist ending in The Outer Limits (which actually makes the show stand apart from not only the The Twilight Zone but also the more modern version of The Outer Limits from the mid-90s). While there’s the occasional twist ending, for the most part the episodes don’t try to pull the rug out from under the viewer in the final few minutes.

From a special effects perspective, the episodes are a bit of a mixed bag. Generally speaking, the simpler the special effect, the better it has aged. Some of the aliens have a rather well done make-up job, for instance, and thus still look good today. Other aliens are more elaborate, often requiring puppetry and/or stop motion; those aliens are a lot harder to take seriously.

As for the messages being conveyed by the episodes, in some cases, they are even more relevant now than they were in the 1960s. “O.B.I.T.”, for instance, is about the dangers of a society that puts too much emphasis on surveillance. In this era of ever increasing monitoring, the episode’s warning really strikes a chord.

Of course, not all episodes are so effective in conveying a message. Sometimes the message just doesn’t feel earned; in the final few minutes a character will say or do something that isn’t really in character, and the narrator will follow-up on that to emphasize the moral of the story in a clunky fashion. And then in some cases, the narrator will give a ‘moral’ when one isn’t really needed (In “Corpus Earthling” the narrator actually warns us about being careful the next time we pick up a rock on the beach).

The science in the show is often rather shaky. I’m sure some of that is simply due to the fact science has come a long way since the 60s, but in at least some instances, the writers obviously just didn’t know (or care) about the science behind something. In “The Sixth Finger”, for instance, there’s a machine which can move a person’s evolution forward or backward at the flip of a switch, as if evolution followed a preset course that was a part of a person’s genetic make-up. Obviously in science fiction some suspension of disbelief is required, but when the science is laughably bad, it’s really hard to get into an episode.

Another way in which the show betrays its age is in the characters themselves. This was made in the early 1960s and when it came to breaking gender and racial barriers, the show wasn’t much of a pioneer. There aren’t a whole lot of strong female or minority characters to be had here. There are a few stronger parts given to women and minorities, but the lead’s always going to be a white male.

On a whole, despite some bad science, a plethora of stereotypes and iffy special effects, The Outer Limits is an entertaining and occasionally thought-provoking show. Like with much science fiction, the themes explored are often as relevant today as they were when the show was created in the early 1960s.

The Episodes:

Disc 1 Side A

“The Galaxy Being” – A radio station owner, obsessed with a mysterious frequency, makes contact with a being from another world. Meanwhile his wife has grown increasingly frustrated with all the time he’s been spending with the signal while neglecting his radio duties.

“One Hundred Days of the Dragon” – A generic Asian empire uses molded mask technology to replace the future president of the United States. With a foreign agent running the country, is America doomed?

“The Architects of Fear” – A shadowy group of scientists decide that unless humanity is united, they will surely destroy themselves. They decide the best way to unite people is to scare them. In order to do that, one of them must become an alien.

“The Man with Power” – An experiment gives Donald Pleasance has the power to lift things with tiny strings his mind. Unfortunately it seems that his subconscious is able to access these powers for other purposes. Look for Edward Platt as Dean Radcliffe in this one.

Disc 1 Side B

“The Sixth Finger” – Remember the Star Trek: TNG episode, “Regenesis” and the Star Trek: Voyager episode, “Threshold” which showed that the writers had no understanding of how evolution actually works? This episode could well have been the inspiration for those awful, awful episodes as a scientist creates a device which can evolve (or devolve) a lifeform millions of years. He even has a hilariously helpful lever labeled ‘Forward’ and ‘Backward’ for that very purpose.

“The Man Who Was Never Born” – An astronaut ends up traveling 200 years into the future. After meeting one of the few remaining humans, the two resolve to go back to the past and stop the man responsible for the destruction of humanity. Only one of them makes it back however and it is up to him to save the future. This is a good one though it almost has too much story to deal with in a single fifty minute episode. As a result, one of the major plot points feels a little rushed. Even so, it’s a very good episode.

“O.B.I.T.” – When a man working in a secret government installation is killed (by a monster, though only the audience knows that), Senator Orville chairs an investigation committee to look into what is causing morale problems at the base. He quickly uncovers the disturbing details behind O.B.I.T., a machine that can perform surveillance on anyone, no matter where they are. The moral of the story is pounded in a little too much at the end, but it’s an episode that’s more relevant today than it was when it was originally produced.

“The Human Factor” – After Doctor Hamilton invents a device that allows two people to share their minds, he decides to use it to better understand Major Brothers, a man who has been suffering from paranoia and hallucinations. Surprisingly this turns out to be a bad idea and an earthquake causes the machine to short out, leaving Doctor Hamilton’s mind stuck in the body of Major Brothers’ and vice versa. Now Doctor Hamilton has to figure out a way to stop Major Brothers’ before he does something exceedingly destructive.

Disc 2 Side A

“Corpus Earthling” – This episode features the most terrifying monsters of all: living rocks! And not big, moving one or anything like that, smallish ones that pulsate, communicate with telepathy and plan to take over the world! Unfortunately for them, Paul has a plate in his head and he over hears the conversation between the two rocks. Of course, the idea of talking rocks is so silly that even Paul thinks he’s crazy. This is actually a pretty good episode (and surprisingly dark) if you can get past laughing about the evil rocks.

“Nightmare” – After alien beings from the planet Ebon launch a surprise attack on Earth, Earth forces retaliate by sending rocket ships, one at a time, crewed with only a handful of soldiers. The latest attack ship is shot down and the men are interrogated by the Ebonites.

“It Crawled Out of the Woodwork” – A cleaning lady at the NORCO building vacuums up a large clump of dust, somehow this dust interacts with the vacuum cleaner and results in a large, mindless energy creature. Soon after a scientist (Stuart Peters) is invited to work at the NORCO lab and brings his twenty year old brother, Jory, along with him (I’m not quite sure why they insisted on establishing the character as twenty; the actor, Scott Marlowe, was in his early 30s and doesn’t look to be anywhere near 20). This is a really disjointed episode; the presumed protagonist (Jory) doesn’t has an extremely minimal role to play in the plot and he never really does anything.

“The Borderland” – Somehow scientists discover that by reversing polarity within a sufficiently strong magnetic field, they can open a doorway into the fourth dimension. This discovery results in one of the scientists, Dr. Fraser, having his left hand turned into a second right hand (his hand was in the field when the polarity switched). Somehow they decide that this new ‘fourth’ dimension is a gateway to not just another world, but the afterlife. They enlist the help of an eccentric and exceedingly wealthy man to try sending Dr. Fraser to the other side.

Disc 2 Side B

“Tourist Attraction” – The narrator has to work overtime on this one. I guess they weren’t sure the audience would know what was going on, so he turns up a couple of times during the episode to explain the action. The episode is primarily about the discovery of a possibly sentient race of sea creatures but there’s also some anti-Castro propaganda (Castro isn’t mentioned, but given the time period, it seems rather likely that he’s the Latin American, ‘for the people’ leader being attacked in this episode) thrown in that doesn’t really sit well with the rest of the story.

“The Zanti Misfits” – An alien race, the Zanti, make contact with Earth. The Zanti aren’t interesting in meeting with us Earthlings however, they just want to set up a small prison colony on our planet. A pretty cool story concept, but the Zanti are even sillier looking than the talking rocks. Unlike “Corpus Earthling,” it’s pretty much impossible to get over the silliness of the non-human life this time.

“The Mice” – Another alien race, the Chromoite, makes contact in “The Mice.” This time they provide Earth with technology for teleporting across the galaxy. After completing successful tests with inanimate objects and mice, the Chromite decide they want us to participate in a student exchange program. Apparently, all the government scientists are a bunch of pussies though as none of them are willing to make the journey themselves. Instead a convicted killer, Chino Riveria, volunteers for the job, perhaps swayed by the fact that volunteering MIGHT help him out during his next parole hearing (gee, way to offer some strong incentive).

“Controlled Experiment” – This is a neat one. A couple of aliens, disguised as Earthlings, use a time manipulation device to conduct experiments and find out what causes the uniquely human activity, murder. Given the limited sets, characters and special effects (plus scenes constantly being run forward and backward), this was an obvious budget saving episode. Fortunately, despite the lower budget, this is one of the strongest episodes in the collection.

The Video:
Not surprisingly the video is at the 1.37:1, full-screen ratio. As for the picture quality, it’s something of a mixed bag. Some scenes look pretty clean, while others have a fair amount of dust and scratches showing up. There’s obviously been some work done cleaning up the print, and it’s always watchable, but it’s far from perfect.

The Audio:
It’s only mono, but the audio’s functional. There’s never a problem hearing the dialogue, and the trademark Outer Limits music sounds as it should. It is mono though so don’t expect to be blown away.

The Extras:
Sadly there’s not a single extra to be had here.

The Inside Pulse:

If you can get past the age of the series, there’s a lot to enjoy here. Some extras would have been nice, but there’s a pretty high ratio of good episodes to bad ones, so if you’re into science fiction, it’s worth a purchase.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for The Outer Limits: Volume One
(OUT OF 10)