Blu-ray Review: The Twilight Zone (The Complete Series)

The iconic theme music starts. A voice announces, “There is a fifth dimension beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man’s fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call…The Twilight Zone.” Starting in the fall of 1959, this other dimension was guaranteed to be the TV show you recounted to others.

Rod Serling didn’t invent the anthology television series, but every series with revolving casts and characters gets compared to his Twilight Zone. Doesn’t matter if the show’s genre is drama, science fiction, fantasy or romance. Serling is the measuring stick to whether the newbie is a quality show. Of course if any show tries to emulate Twilight Zone with a big twist at the end, there will be harsh grading scale that very few survive with passing marks. For every Black Mirror that has been praised for its Twilight Zone, there’s dozens misses including a few Twilight Zone reboots minus Serling (who died in 1975). The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series is a Blu-ray boxset that testifies to the special nature of the show.

Over five seasons and 156 episodes, The Twilight Zone continually offered challenging scripts, complex acting performances and satisfying payoffs. This is why it has remained continuously in syndication even though it’s black and white. Every new generation gets enticed to the show is blown away by the third act reveals. Way too many of them try to emulate the big twist in their high school creative writing class. Some turn out right like M. Night Shyamalan in The Sixth Sense others fall flat like M. Night Shyamalan in The Happening. Serling didn’t write every episodes. He worked with Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson in crafting the scripts. The trio wrote 127 of the 156 episodes. This was their playland where men find themselves roaming deserted cities, a woman fights off miniature people, a passenger sees a monster on the plane’s wing and other fears take flight.

Serling’s casting director should also be praised for getting future stars in the right roles. Among the young actors that were allowed a chance to have a memorable and iconic moment in The Twilight Zone were Bill Bixby, Lloyd Bochner, Charles Bronson, Carol Burnett, Donna Douglas, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Constance Ford, Joan Hackett, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Jack Klugman, Martin Landau, Cloris Leachman, Elizabeth Montgomery, Billy Mumy, Julie Newmar, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Janice Rule, William Shatner, Dean Stockwell, George Takei, Joyce Van Patten, Jack Warden, Jonathan Winters, and Dick York. Quite a few older stars took part in the unusual show including Dana Andrews, Joan Blondell, Ann Blyth, Art Carney, William Demarest, Andy Devine, Cedric Hardwicke, Buster Keaton, Ida Lupino, Kevin McCarthy, Burgess Meredith, Agnes Moorehead, Alan Napier, Mickey Rooney, and Ed Wynn. The black and white cinematography enhanced their performances since it’s the best way to convey a nervous state. Viewers can quickly notice if an actor is sweating, anxious and paranoid in a shadow world. The lack of hues helps punch up the intensity for the big twist moment. If you believe color film doesn’t matter, watch an episode of Serling’s Night Gallery. Even with the same level of scripts and performances in both shows, the color diminishes the pressure.

While The Twilight Zone can still be found airing on the cable dial, this is a show best appreciated on home video so you don’t have to wait through 10 extra minutes of commercials. Whenever a certain channel has its Twilight Zone marathon, you almost forget what episode you’re watching as you get your fifth prescription pill commercial clogging up your mind. The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series are the Blu-rays that were originally released a few year back from Image. The 1080i transfers bring out so many details never came through on your old TV set in the standard definition era. During “Where Is Everybody?”, you’ll notice a copy of Jack Keroauc’s On the Road in a paperback display spindle. Even a longtime fan will get more out of rewatching the series on Blu-ray. The numerous bonus features add quite a bit to the experience. There’s extra footage of Serling talking about the next episode that was snipped for syndication. The best part of this re-issue is that the entire The Twilight Zone: The Complete Series costs as much as a single season did. This is a great TV series given the finest of home video treatments.

The videos is 1.33:1 full frame. The Blu-ray transfers bring out the blacks and greys. The resolution upgrade lets you absorb more details in the frame. Fans who haven’t seen the show in years will be watching them for the first time. The audio is Linear PCM mono with many episodes featuring the original mix and a remastered mix choice. Everything sounds fine so you don’t miss a thing as their intensity heightens. All episodes are subtitled.

Audio Commentaries are given for many of the episodes by stars and fans of the episodes including Marc Scott Zicree (author of The Twilight Zone Companion), Donna Douglas. Earl Holliman, Leonard Nimoy, Dennis Weaver, Don Rickles, Rod Taylor, Martin Milner, Kevin McCarthy, Joseph Dougherty, Bill Warren, Bill Mumy, Neil Gaiman, Mickey Rooney, June Foray, Mariette Hartley, Scott Skelton, Jim Benson, Martin Grams, Jr., Michael Nankin, Alan Sues, Martin Landau, Richard Donner, George Takei, Robert Butler, Ted Post, Peter Mark Richman, Earl Hamner.

Isolated Musical Scores so you can hear the music of many great soundtrack composers including Bernard Herrmann and Jerry Goldsmith.

Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse: “The Time Element” (54:52) is considered the pilot for the series. Rod Serling made this for Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball’s Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse series. It deals with a man who somehow becomes a time traveler and does his best to warn the past of impending event. Desi introduces the piece.

Original Unaired Pilot Version of “Where is Everybody?” (34:44) includes a pitch to the sponsors from Rod Serling. A commentary track is given by CBS exec William Self.

Tales of Tomorrow: “What You Need” (29:29) is an anthology that ran on ABC in the early ’50s. This episode is based on the same Henry Kuttler story used on The Twilight Zone.

Radio Dramas (45:00) are based on the original episodes. These were made back in 2002 with major stars behind the microphone retelling the classic scripts for the theater of the imagination. The stars include Daniel J. Travanti, Blair Underwood, Barry Bostwick, John Ratzenberger, John Schneider, Lou Diamond Philips, Tim Kazurinsky, Adam Baldwin, Beverly Garland, Louis Gossett, Jr.,Richard Grieco, Adam West, Luke Perry, Mariette Hartley, Ed Begley, Jr., Kate Jackson, Mike Starr, Richard Kind, Jason Alexander, Chris MacDonald, Stan Freberg, Karen Black, Jane Seymour and James Keach.

Rod Serling Promos are him teasing next week’s episode.

Rod Serling Lectures at Sherwood Oaks College are audio tracks that run on the pilot cut of “Where is Everybody,” “Walking Distance,” “And When the Sky Was Opened,” and “The Mighty Casey.” His lectures discuss the featured episode so it’s almost like he predicted the arrival of the audio commentary.

Marc Scott Zicree Interviews are audio only interviews he made when putting together his seminal The Twilight Zone Companion. This includes his time with Burgess Meredith, Anne Francis, producer Buck Houghton, writer Richard Matheson, Rod’s brother Robert and others.

Video interviews with John Furia, Jr., Billy Mumy, Paul Comi, Joseph Ruskin, Dana Dillaway, Suzanne Lloyd, Beverly Garland, Ron Masak and others.

Sponsor Billboards are the original plugs for Kleenex and Sanka Coffee.

Emmy Awards (3:10) include Rod Serling twice winning for best screenplay.

Syndication Promos are a few samples from when the show was airing in 1977.

Jonathan Winters Reads the Alternate Ending from the Original Script for “A Game of Pool.” They also have the original ending when the episode was remade for the ’80s version of The Twilight Zone.

Liar’s Club (21:34) are clips from Rod Serling hosting a 1970s game show. Betty White is part of the fun.

Tell It to Groucho Clip (15:11) has Rod Serling chat with Groucho Marx in 1962.

The Famous Writers School Promo (4:37) was a for-profit correspondence school which included Rod Serling as part of its guiding faculty. Turns out it wasn’t so much of a writer’s school as a profit making machine fraud that didn’t teach you much. It was shut down in the 1970s after being exposed.

Marc Scott Zicree interviews cinematographer George T. Clemens is a four part talk with the man who captured the magic on film.

Rod Serling Blooper (00:12) has him botch his opening narration.

Saturday Night Live Clip (4:34) has Dan Akroyd playing Rod Serling.

Genesee Beer Commercial (00:33) let’s Rod Serling pimp a beer.

The Mike Wallace Interview, September 1959 (21:01) has two legends talk.

Netherlands Sales Pitch (4:33) is Rod wanting the Dutch to enter The Twilight Zone.

Excerpt from Rod Serling’s Sherwood Oaks Experimental College Lecture (12:34) is video of the talk covered in audio.

Alfred Hitchcock Promo (2:15) is the master director’s own anthology series.

George Clayton Johnson’s Home Movies (2:13) is a 8mm view of the show.

CBS DVD presents The Twilight Zone: Complete Series. Starring: Rod Serling, Bill Bixby, Charles Bronson, Carol Burnett, Donna Douglas, Robert Duvall, Peter Falk, Dennis Hopper, Ron Howard, Jack Klugman, Martin Landau, Cloris Leachman, Elizabeth Montgomery, Billy Mumy, Julie Newmar, Leonard Nimoy, Robert Redford, Burt Reynolds, Janice Rule, William Shatner, Dean Stockwell, George Takei, Joyce Van Patten, Jack Warden, Jonathan Winters, and Dick York. Boxset Contents: 156 episodes on 24 Blu-ray discs. Released: December 13, 2016.

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