When I first saw this opening as a kid (Being a big fan of the show at that age) I immediately began to wonder what this opening has anything to do with "The Twilight Zone"? It's just two comedians driving on the open road; where's that "Twilight Zone" feel? It also doesn't help either that the video my Dad showed me was recorded off of the TV with other stuff on the tape (Like the "Sanford and Son" episode with B.B. King, for example) which I thought he either got the wrong tape by mistake or didn't fast forward ahead to the actual film. However, after 5 minutes of seeing these two comedians goof around, as you wonder how this relates to the classic TV show; they finally talk about the show after playing their TV theme song guessing game. They talk about some of the episodes and their nostalgic memories that they had with the show; and suddenly Aykroyd asks Brooks if he wants to see something "really scary". Brooks (Who asked Aykroyd the same question earlier) accepts Aykroyd's offer, and suddenly we see Aykroyd turn into a monster that kills Brooks, which then leads us to a cinematic version of the famous "The Twilight Zone" opening from the last two Seasons.
The Prologue is directed by John Landis who brought you comedies like "Animal House" and "The Blues Brothers", as well as horror classics like "An American Werewolf In London" and "Michael Jackson's Thriller"; and while this film played out as a very infamous piece of work in his career along with another famous director, the film's opening is not that infamous piece from him at all (Though will get to that really soon)! Actually, it's one of the better segments that this film offers. As out of place as it looks and acts along with its casting, I actually do like how it plays with your expectations. For a few minutes it plays out as a buddy road trip comedy, to then slowly connecting with "The Twilight Zone". I even like for the things that start out as playful nonsense, does have a reason behind it. Brooks' trying to scare Aykroyd does lead to an out of nowhere twist with Aykroyd's character (Almost like in the show, just not done as cleverly as the show itself); and their game of guessing a TV theme song does lead them towards the topic of the show that this film is based on.
The chemistry between Brooks' and Aykroyd is so much fun to watch that hearing them talk about their nostalgia for the show as they joke around with each other feels just as natural as watching the characters talk in the opening to Quentin Tarantino movies like "Reservoir Dogs" and "Pulp Fiction" for example. What also really makes their interaction seem natural is the fact that most of their dialogue is improvised instead of being scripted. I think my favorite part during the conversation that the two have is when they start talking about the actual show. You feel the nostalgia from the characters; they argue about one of the episodes being part of The Twilight Zone’s competition show "The Outer Limits"; and the two episodes they talk about which is with Burgess Meredith being the last man on Earth, and the woman being a mannequin in a twist ending are not only great episodes that deserve a mention, but coincidentally those two episodes would later be joined together on a "Twilight Zone" VHS tape with the two episodes only, which was a tape that I used to watch a lot when I was a kid.
The twist with Aykroyd turning into monster may not be as cleverly played out as the majority of episodes from the show, but it is still a scary twist that catches you off guard, and the Make-Up for the monster is so cool and so scary, that I still question if the Make-Up was put on Aykroyd or another actor. As for the film's recreation of the classic opening from the last two Seasons, it's awesome. Hearing the classic "Twilight Zone" theme song play sounds just as awesome as listening to it on the show; the special effects for the things that you see from the classic intro look really cool; and instead of using a pre-recording of Rod Serling, we instead hear a recording of veteran "Twilight Zone" actor Burgess Meredith narrate the opening, as well as the other segments, and he makes for a perfect substitute who brings the same amount of class, tension, and mystery that Serling brings to his narration, with also a bit of insanity put into it.
This opening is one of the best things in the film. It's fun; nostalgic; scary; sets up the film’s mood and tone; the recreation of the intro is beyond cool; and the way it plays with your expectations is all cleverly played out extremely well.
The first segment in the film is pretty much it's own thing, however, I do feel like it would be an insult not to review the episode that it was loosely based on, that came out during the show's 3rd Season.
"It's August 1945, the last grimy pages of a dirty, torn book of war. The place is the Philippine Islands. The men are what's left of a platoon of American Infantry, whose dulled and tired eyes set deep in dulled and tired faces can now look toward a miracle, that moment when the nightmare appears to be coming to an end. But they've got one more battle to fight, and in a moment, we'll observe that battle. August 1945, Philippine Islands - but in reality, it's high noon - in The Twilight Zone."
A QUALITY OF MERCY
Taken place during World War 2; Dean Stockwell plays a young cold hearted American soldier who plans to kill an army of armed and wounded Japanese soldiers inside a cave, but the mission he orders is suicidal as well as being so pointless that it won't accomplish anything. However, Stockwell doesn't care if it’s pointless or suicidal; he just wants to kill the Japanese soldiers for the sake of killing. He then suddenly finds himself to be on the Japanese side under a Japanese name, and he meets a Japanese soldier who plans to kill armed and wounded American troops inside a cave.
The premise of a cold hearted American solider being in the shoes of the enemy's perspective of the war is indeed a really good premise. The idea that this man will order pointless and suicidal missions just for the sake of war and violence, to only be now hunted down by his fellow Americans who he not only has to kill but finds that the enemy are just like his fellow troops, as well having a Captain who's exactly like him, is indeed an interesting twist in turn of events. The only thing I wished was explored a bit more during the premise is seeing Stockwell interact more with the Japanese soldiers (Not counting the Captain that's like him) who are like his American troops, however, that's really a nitpick because its still done well enough for you to get an understanding and feel of what it's like to be on the opposite side.
Dean Stockwell's performance is fantastic, the minute he appeared in the episode, the spotlight goes to him. When we first see him as this cocky, cold, and bloodthirsty soldier, you pretty much hate him just as much as his troops do, and he delivers it so well and convincingly that it makes you wonder if the events that are about to happen him ever going to change him? When we see him on the opposite side, not only do you feel his change and perspective of the war, but surprisingly when they make him Asian, his look and mannerisms aren't as over the top or stereotypical as you would think, nor does he look or sound silly for that matter, he actually does make a good Asian. The rest of the cast do just as great of a job as our leading actor. Albert Salmi as the Sergeant who tries to talk Stockwell out of his suicidal plan gives a very effective performance; the actor who plays the cold Japanese Captain does a tremendous job duplicating Stockwell's performance when he was a bloodthirsty soldier; and even before "Star Trek" fame Leonard Nimoy who's really just in the episode as one of the worn out American soldiers does a great job.
While I do love the premise, the acting, and the message; I honestly didn't find anything in the episode that powerful, moving, or thrilling for that matter compared to the other great ones. It's still a good episode, just not one of the episodes that left a huge impression on me like many others.
Moving on to the film's first segment, this segment is the one directed by John Landis that played both an infamous part for the film and Landis' directing career. What so infamous about it, let's take a look.
"You're about to meet an angry man: Mr. William Connor, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a lonely man, who's tired of waiting for the breaks that come to others, but never to him. Mr. William Connor, whose own blind hatred is about to catapult him into the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone."
Vic Morrow plays a racist bigot who has a strong hatred for Jews, African Americans, and Asians. However, he suddenly finds himself going back in time through the horrible historical events that the races that he purely hates have been through. He's being chased by the Nazi's in occupied France that see him as a Jewish man; he's about to be hung by the KKKs in the South who see him as an African American; and he's hunted by American soldiers in the jungles of Vietnam who see him as a Vietnamese man.
Before I talk about what makes this part of the film so infamous that gave both the director and the film itself for this segment’s bad reputation; let’s start off by talking about the things that I did enjoy in this segment. First of all, Vic Morrows performance as our bigoted protagonist is perfect for the role since he's known for playing characters that are tough jerks, and his performance is pitch perfect. When you first see him go on his racist rant you hate the character, and the hate and anger that he delivers is done almost as similar as Dean Stockwell's performance in the episode that this segment is loosely based on. But once he starts being hunted down by the Nazis after getting shot, you actually do feel for bad him because despite him being a racist jerk, it's not like he worships Hitler or was a KKK member who plans to kill off the races; he's just an ordinary man who lets his hate and racism get the better of him whenever he's angry and disappointed. Does that give him the right to bash on other races, of course not; but seeing him go through all these extreme situations that other races have been through, you just can’t help but feel bad for him and get a sense that he’s realizing how wrong he was.
The premise for the segment (Much like the premise for "A Quality Of Mercy") is a creative and eerie set-up that has an interesting social and political commentary on racism, and just like the episode that the segment is loosely based on, once Morrow finds himself in occupied France that's when the segment starts to get good. The amount of thrills, suspense, darkness, and black humor that this segment has along with the music and cinematography is so creepy, scary, strange, and thrilling that it actually does almost feel like watching a "Twilight Zone" episode, despite some major differences. Aside from the film being shot in color and taking place in modern time, what makes the segment really different from watching a "Twilight Zone" episode is its bit more graphic compared to the show itself. I mean the amount of swearing and violence that takes place on the screen during this segment is brutally violent. Ok it’s not R rated violent, but it gets a way with more stuff than what the show can get a way with. With Morrow aside when it comes to acting, the rest of the supporting cast do a great job for the roles that they are given; from Morrows bar friends (That look they came out of the show "Cheers"); to the Nazis that viciously chase Morrow, while taunting and toying with him; to the cold and creepy as hell KKKs; to the humorous American Soldiers in Vietnam that are literally from "Animal House".
WARNING: THERE WILL BE SPOILERS IN THE NEXT TWO PARAGRAPHS!
As much as I praise this segment, there are a few major and I mean major problems that bring this segment down! Let me start with a little history leading up to what made this segment so infamous. Landis was originally going to end the film with Morrow’s character getting killed, however, the Warner Brothers executives asked Landis to change the ending and have the character redeem himself, and despite that the decision to change the story has really backfired, without knowing the future consequences for this decision, I'd actually be on the studio's side. The idea of killing a bigoted man who's clearly learning his lesson through the events that he's going through isn't plausible. Hell, like I said earlier, this guy is an ordinary bigoted man, its not like he's a Nazi, or a KKK member that wants the races killed off, and while I think racism is really stupid and that this character is someone I would actually hate if I met this character in real life, killing off an ordinary racist man gas he's going through these horrible events in history without redeeming himself in the end just isn't as interesting or poetic as seeing an actual bigot that does cause harm to people and in the end gets what he deserves. So instead of Morrow’s character dying after these events, after when he's shot in the leg by the Nazis after previously being blown back to occupied France, he finds himself back in Vietnam to find two scared Vietnamese kids who Morrow has an emotional and touching moment with. He then sees an American helicopter and signals for help, but the Helicopter starts to shoot at Morrow as huts begin to blow up. Morrow immediately grabs the kids and takes them to safety to hide in a wooden shed. However, he suddenly finds himself back in the South with the KKK's trying to break down the door; and when the door is broken down he's back in occupied France as he's being taken away by the Nazis and thrown into a freight train with scared Jews that are about to be sent to the concentration camps. Morrow sees his friends through a time portal and as he starts screaming for help as the train takes off, he gets hit by a car in present time and his friends, the driver, and the black patron that he pissed off at the bar earlier gather around him and get him help. As he's lying there wondering if the children are alright, he holds a broken Barbie doll that the little Vietnamese girl gave him, and in the end learns his lesson about how wrong he was to hate other races, leaving this nightmare as a completely different man as he lye's there waiting for an ambulance.
So how did this change in the script back-fire since the ending seems very touching and a lot better than killing off a man who's done no actual wrong except hate on other races? During the shooting of the scene when Morrow is saving the two kids; as the explosions went off, the person piloting the helicopter suddenly lost control and accidentally crashed landed on Morrow and the two kids, killing them instantly, which also had Morrow and one of the children get their heads decapitated during the crash landing. This tragedy caused such a huge amount of controversy surrounding this film as well as John Landis himself that what followed were Landis and several other crew members being charged with involuntary manslaughter following with a 5 year investigation and 10 Month trial who in the end were found not guilty. However, despite being proven innocent, the controversy with the film and the director still remains to this day. Incase if you're wondering how the segment ends (If you don't care about spoilers); Morrow gets shot in the leg by Nazi officers when he's blown back to occupied France and is then sent off to the concentration camps with the other Jews as he screams for help as he sees his friends across the time portal. Sadly in the end, the ending that we got in the final product is the ending that the executives didn't want in the first place which not only makes the ending to this segment a complete downer, but having it go along with the deaths of a very fine actor and two children around the age of 6 and 7 while shooting this segment makes the final product leave you on a very depressing note.
I must honestly say that I'm very torn with this segment. While I admire the premise, and how on the edge of your seat thrilling and entertaining it is; the ending is terrible and gives the character an unjustifiable ending. While I love watching Vic Morrow in the role, the film still sadly was the cause of his death, which makes me feel a bit depressed as I watch this segment. Despite how depressing the ending and the accident that happened when making this segment is, it’s still a really tense and entertaining segment with a great performance from our lead, and every time I watch it, it gets more and more thrilling and suspenseful.
So the last segment was a tragic mess, but the next segment has to be better since its directed by legendary film director Steven Spielberg, right? Lets take a look at the original episode that Spielberg is remaking that also came out during the shows Third Season.
"Sunnyvale Rest, a home for the aged - a dying place and a common children's game called kick-the-can, that will shortly become a refuge for a man who knows he will die in this world, if he doesn't escape into - The Twilight Zone."
KICK THE CAN
Ernest Truex plays an old man who's kept in a retirement home that sits around missing his youth and wishes that he could be young again. After seeing kids play and taking the can that the kids were playing with, he thinks that if he acts young, he will be young. However, the head of the ward and his best friend thinks he's crazy and might have to send him away for awhile.
I must say the ideas and themes of being too old to do things that you used to do when you were young is actually a really good and interesting concept. The two ways of how we look at growing old can be seen by Truex's character and our main character’s best friend played by Russell Collins. The character that Russell Collins plays represents how most people look at aging, which is him accepting that he's too old to do things that he used to do when he was young due to both his old age and the fact that he's not as physically fit and stable as he used to be when he was young; and feels like that he had his fun and must move on with life. With Truex's character on the other hand, he represents the person that misses the old days, and while he knows that he's old, he still can't let go of missing the days when he was young; and when he does childish things to make him feel young again, society sees him as lunatic. The great thing about the episode is you don't have to be around the age of the characters in this episode to relate to the episodes themes of being too old. As we live life whether we’re old or young, we realize that we're not going to get any younger and that will be finding more and more things that we won't be able to do what we used to do, whether if we're no longer physically fit, or the fact that we've reached the age where society would look at us as someone who needs help if we attempted to do something that wouldn't be considered age appropriate. As we keep getting older, we do find ourselves looking back from time to time missing the things that we used to do wishing that we could do them again like Truex's character; but as we miss doing things that we find ourselves being too old for, we do accept that we've had our fun for the things that we were able to do and must move on with our life and try to make the best out of what we have much like Collins' character.
Aside from the episodes commentary of aging that can appeal to both kids and adults, the rest of the episode is actually pretty good. The performances from Truex and Collins are really good performances, and how they interact with each other as they talk about aging is pretty effecting. The supporting cast also do a good job as well, especially John Marley as the man who runs the home. While I won't talk about much of the ending here since I will be talking more about it when I review the remake from the movie, I will say while the ending was pretty effective when both our leads see each other for the final time, I felt like the episode shouldn't have stopped where it did. I actually felt like this episode was more of a set-up to a story, than the episode actually being story. Like I wanted to know what happened after the two friend’s part and where our lead would go and how he feels about what he's left behind. As for the twist, despite that I already knew what the twist was when going into this episode; it still felt a little too obvious and predictable. The episode also at times felt a little too corny for me, despite how good the moral and theme about aging is, along with the good performances.
When it comes to light hearted "Twilight Zone" episodes, this one is pretty decent. The acting is good, and the episode's themes of aging are smart, but with that said, I don't think it was as great as I thought it was going to be. While the ending was good, instead of feeling like a perfect ambiguous ending or a satisfying conclusion like most "Twilight Zone" episode, I was actually curious in what was going to become of our lead at the end, feeling like the episode was like the first half of a story, which is not at all the episode's intention. Even though I don't at all mind light hearted "Twilight Zone" episodes since there are indeed plenty of great ones that did leave an effective impression me, this one despite how much I praise the story and acting, did feel a little too corny for me and didn't leave much of an effective impression as it should have, even that emotional moment in the ending was a little corny in terms in acting. I don't think this is a bad episode, I just didn't find myself getting that emotionally invested in it, nor did the episode leave as big of an impression compared to other light hearted episodes in the series.
Before I review the film's take on the episode, I'm sure the half of you who are reading this are wondering (Just like how did when I found out that Spielberg was the one responsible for remaking this episode) out of all the great "Twilight Zone" episodes that Spielberg chose to remake, why did he decide to remake this one? He scared people from going into the water with his Summer Blockbuster "JAWS"; he made two great Sci-Fi films that involved Aliens which was "Close Encounters Of A Third Kind" and "E.T."; his first full length film that was written by one of the "Twilight Zone" writers Richard Matheson was a thrilling and suspenseful car chase movie called "Duel" which carried a bit of that "Twilight Zone" vibe; and he even directed one of the of the segments to the first episode of "The Twilight Zone" spin-off show that was created and hosted by Rod Serling called "Night Gallery" which was the segment that starred Joan Crawford, and Spielberg who was already a big “Twilight Zone” fan, filmed it when he was in his early 20s. So being a director who's great at making films that involve suspense, horror, and Sci-Fi which are three of the major elements that the show is known for; as well as being a major fan of the show who has experience with some of the people behind the show; why did he choose to direct one of the light hearted episodes that don't carry any of the three things that I've just mentioned? Well much like how I covered the history and disaster of the first segment that John Landis directed, I'm going to give you a brief history of why Spielberg chose to remake this episode.
Originally Spielberg wasn’t at all going to remake the episode "Kick The Can" nor was he going to remake an episode in general. Actually, he and Richard Matheson planed on creating something original for the movie, which would take place on Halloween and be about a neighborhood bully who bullies young Trick-Or-Treaters on Halloween as he dresses up like Quasimodo. However, the supernatural world of "The Twilight Zone" takes its toll on him as kids in their Halloween costumes would turn into the actual monster that they're dressing up as and come after him. Once the bully is safe and sound after this horror trip, he would then look in the mirror and discover that his cheap Make-Up and costume are gone, and has now turned into this deformed hunchback for the rest of his life. This segment was pretty much what John Landis was trying to do with his failed segment which is being new and original, while also carrying that "Twilight Zone" vibe and being loosely based off of "The Twilight Zone" episode; and the episode that Spielberg’s original segment was loosely based on was "The Masks". However, due to budgetary issues, the segment was sadly cancelled, and Spielberg decided to remake the classic "Twilight Zone" episode "Monsters Are Due On Maple Street", which seemed like a promising remake that Spielberg could alter and make his own; and Spielberg himself seemed to be on board with the episode that he decided to remake. But after the tragic accident that happened when Landis was filming the first segment, Spielberg decided not to remake the episode since his segment would also involve filming with children and special effects outside at night.
As a result from the accident and two stories that Spielberg had to put down, Spielberg lost heart with the project and thought it would be best to cancel it all together. However, the Warner Bros. lawyers feared that Spielberg shutting down the film would lead to Landis and the people behind the film to be proven guilty and ordered Spielberg to not pull the plug on the film. So with Spielberg still being attached to the project fearing the consequences of what will happen if he decided to abandon it, he decided to play things safe by remaking the episode "Kick The Can" which involved him directing kids on a sound-stage that’s made to look like that the kids are outside, with no special effects whatsoever. So after talking about what caused Spielberg to remake the episode “Kick The Can” out of all "Twilight Zone" episodes, let’s see if it’s any good.
"It is sometimes said that where there is no hope, there is no life. Case in point: the residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home, where hope is just a memory. But hope just checked into Sunnyvale, disguised as an elderly optimist, who carries his magic in a shiny tin can."
THE MOVIE VERSION OF "KICK THE CAN"
Remember how the original "Twilight Zone" episode was about a man who missed his youth and felt like that playing and acting like a kid would make him young again? This segment plays things out a little differently. Instead of being about a man who wishes that he was young again, the segment stars Scatman Crothers as an old man who travels from one retirement home to another with a magic can, offering to give the old folks at the elderly homes their youth, by simply playing a game of "Kick The Can". I'm going to admit, while I think Scatman Crothers does a great job playing this traveling old man who wants to make people be young again; the story in the original episode for me is a lot more interesting compared to the remake. I say this because the idea of a man wishing that he was young again, and tries to act young and childish to feel young and maybe actually be young again as everyone at the home (Including his best friend) feel like that there's something wrong with him, who in the end finally gets his wish is a way more plausible concept compared to what this segment is doing. As you watch the character in the original episode you do feel and get an understanding why this man wants to be young again which does feel a bit sad and touching. In this segment on the other hand, it’s just a bunch of old people who just happily talk about their memories as being kids who not at all look as sad or torn about missing their youth as the character in the original episode was. I also liked that in the original episode it was that unknown "Twilight Zone" magic that made them young, and while the "Twilight Zone" has created characters that are similar to Crothers' character that offer our main character in the episode something special, the characters that were given the offer in those episodes were still the main characters, where here, Scatman Crothers' character is the main character, which as result doesn't make you feel connected to the characters who want to be young. It'd be like making Uncle Drosselmeyer or Willy Wonka the focus of the story instead of the person who's supposed to learn from the journey. They’re cool and interesting characters, but not the heart and center of the story. However, like I said before, I do like Scatman Crothers performance as the character, but truth be told, I think I would enjoy him a lot better if he were playing the character that Ernest Truex played in the original episode.
Another thing that really differs from the episode is the ending. Remember how I said in my review of the original episode feeling like the episode shouldn't have ended where it ended and that there should be more to it? The remake’s ending has the more that I was talking about. Once the original episode showed our characters as kids, we hardly see them play at all and just see them simply run off to live life as kids as we’re left wondering where they're going to live, eat, or sleep; or if any of them have any regrets of leaving what they left behind. The remake on the other hand actually shows the kids having fun for while, to having the characters actually think if it was necessary to leave the life that they left behind and start a completely new life at a young age with no one to care for them, and have to go back to the hardships that they already went through in life when they were young? That to me is such an interesting and powerful new addition to the story, that it really makes me wish that it was part of the original episode.
Aside from Scatman Crothers performance, and seeing what happens to the seniors after when they're turned into kids, the segment is without a doubt the film’s weakest segment. Aside from the sadness of the old folks missing their youth being absent, and the idea of replacing the unknown "Twilight Zone" magic that makes the seniors young, with a happy and upbeat traveling magic old man that didn't seem like a necessary change; another problem I have with the segment is the old man that Bill Quinn plays who's supposed to be like Russell Collins' character. Remember how I talked about the relationship between both characters in the original episode that made for an interesting relationship and perspective of both outlooks of aging? Quinn’s character totally lacks both of these aspects. When he talks about people being too old, his character and dialogue doesn't feel nearly as fleshed out as Collins’ character and dialogue was in the original episode, which makes Quinn’s character just seem like the typical stubborn killjoy. The scene with Quinn’s son just leaving him at the home didn't seem fitting for this character nor felt of any importance to the plot either; when in the original episode, the result of Truex being left at the home by his son is what led to the character wishing that he was young again, because he feels like everything that was magical to him when he was married and had his son as a little boy is over, and wishes that he could start over again as a kid and enjoy the things that he missed doing when he was young. But the biggest problem that I have with this character is his relationship with his (I guess) best friend. Remember that scene in the original episode where the two main characters part? Well as corny as it felt, you still do feel sorry for these two characters parting since you do feel a really good and interesting connection between them before that scene. Here, this film doesn't at all give this character an on-screen relationship with the character that leaves him in the end. Oh we get some sort of idea that he's friends with one of the seniors as the senior tells Crothers about him being constantly turned away by his son; but when the scene comes where he leaves Quinn's character to live life as a kid, you don't at all feel sorry for these two parting since you hardly see these two characters interacting as close friends.
What's also really disappointing about this segment is since Spielberg didn't feel connected with the project anymore (And can you blame him) and chose to remake a simple and basic "Twilight Zone" episode that doesn't offer anything that's visually interesting; Spielberg pretty much doesn't at all take advantage of the visuals after what happened during the shooting of John Landis' segment. In fact, he only shot this segment in only 6 days on a sound-stage, and aside from how it’s lit; it’s a pretty bland looking segment that doesn't use so much as interesting camera shots or edits. Just by looking at the way that this segment is filmed, you can honestly tell that Spielberg wasn't trying as hard as he normally would, which is really sad and disappointing.
This segment is without a doubt the weakest segment of the movie, as well as being one of the weakest things that Spielberg has ever directed. I mean if I told you that the same guy who directed "JAWS"; "Duel"; "Close Encounters Of The Third Kind"; and "E.T." is the same director who directed this cutesy and heavily sugar-coated segment for a film based on the classic Sci-Fi/Horror Anthology show "The Twilight Zone", would you believe me? Well I'll tell you this; I sure couldn't believe it was him when I saw his name appear on the credits. It looks boring; its overly cute and whimsical charm that plays out towards kids seems very out of the place with the film's overall look and feel; some of the changes to the original episode took away what made the original episode so good; and you can tell that Spielberg was pretty much on Auto-Pilot when he directed this segment. Still I have to admit, as mediocre, overly sugar coated, and out of place as this segment is with the rest of the film, I'd be lying if I said that I don't still watch this segment. I do enjoy Scatman Crothers performance even if he’s just as overally whimsical as everyone else; the scene and idea of seeing the seniors as kids deciding if they should carry on as kids is a great and interesting addition to the story, even if it does get annoyingly cutesy at times; and every time when I see the seniors turn into kids and start playing, I actually do find myself getting sucked into to the fun and innocent charm of the scene. It’s the weakest segment of the movie, but it does succeed in some areas to make it become watchable.
Aside from The Prologue, the first two segments while not awfully bad were still pretty disappointing, especially when considering the fact that they're directed by two of cinemas best directors. However, maybe the film will redeem itself since there are two segments left. The Third segment is directed by Joe Dante who Spielberg brought as one of the three directors to help him make this movie as he and Dante were in early pre-production with the comical horror Christmas classic "Gremlins" which would be released a year after this film's release. The episode that Dante would remake would be a classic and iconic episode that came out during the show's Third Season. Wow, I'm beginning to realize that the majority of episodes that are being remade from "The Twilight Zone" are mostly from the Third Season!
"Tonight's story on The Twilight Zone is somewhat unique and calls for a different kind of introduction. This, as you may recognize, is a map of the United States, and there's a little town there called Peaksville. On a given morning not too long ago, the rest of the world disappeared and Peaksville was left all alone. Its inhabitants were never sure whether the world was destroyed and only Peaksville left untouched or whether the village had somehow been taken away. They were, on the other hand, sure of one thing: the cause. A monster had arrived in the village. Just by using his mind, he took away the automobiles, the electricity, the machines - because they displeased him - and he moved an entire community back into the dark ages - just by using his mind. Now I'd like to introduce you to some of the people in Peaksville, Ohio. This is Mr. Fremont. It's in his farmhouse that the monster resides. This is Mrs. Fremont. And this is Aunt Amy, who probably had more control over the monster in the beginning than almost anyone. But one day she forgot. She began to sing aloud. Now, the monster doesn't like singing, so his mind snapped at her, turned her into the smiling, vacant thing you're looking at now. She sings no more. And you'll note that the people in Peaksville, Ohio, have to smile. They have to think happy thoughts and say happy things because once displeased, the monster can wish them into a cornfield or change them into a grotesque, walking horror. This particular monster can read minds, you see. He knows every thought, he can feel every emotion. Oh yes, I did forget something, didn't I? I forgot to introduce you to the monster. This is the monster. His name is Anthony Fremont. He's six years old, with a cute little-boy face and blue, guileless eyes. But when those eyes look at you, you'd better start thinking happy thoughts, because the mind behind them is absolutely in charge. This is the Twilight Zone."
IT'S A GOOD LIFE
Just by Serling's narration alone, I think you already know what the plot's going to be about, and I have to say, Serling's opening for this episode is indeed different for a "Twilight Zone" episode. Usually the episodes in this Season would introduce the characters and give you a bit of an idea of what's going on before Rod Serling appears and gives you the introduction to the story, before the plot and characters start to unfold. Here, it starts with him showing you the map of the United States in a dark room and introduces you to some of the characters and our monster as the scenes cut back and fourth between the characters and Serling. This was actually a perfect way to open this episode because the different opening and introduction that Serling gives us really gets you familiar with some of the characters and the town they live in through the visuals and narration, while also sucking you into the episodes atmosphere, making you feel like you're trapped in this town with the characters and the evil little boy that runs it.
I have to tell you, even though I've seen a good chunk of this episode before, this episode still leaves the same impact on me as it did when I first saw it. The overall tone for this episode is both comically dark, while also being very intense at the same time. I mean seeing the adults acting nervous whenever they're around the kid, while pretending to be nice and happy whenever he's around and encourage the things that he's doing that are bad and harmful is a really funny concept. However, while you find yourself laughing at these scared adults, you also get really nervous at the same time. Billy Mumy as the kid with the magical powers is surprisingly very intimidating, and whenever you see him, you don't know when he's going to strike at these adults or appear as the adults secretly talk about the misery that he brought to them. This is a really unpredictable monster and given the stories that we hear about him, you know that he's cable with doing anything that's evil! As for the acting from the rest of the cast, along with the episode’s atmosphere, it really does carry both of these elements that I mentioned perfectly, creating an environment where you nervously laugh with both joy and fear!
In terms of visuals with the boy’s powers, we don't get too much of it, and when we do, the effects are really simple. With that said, the images that we do see of the effects as simple as they are, do bring a horrifying image that does stick with you. For example, in the scene when a person gets turned into a Jack-In-A-Box; while the close up shot of the persons face in his Jack-In-The-Box form is obviously a guy sitting on a chair moving his head around, as you can almost see the actors Tee-Shirt (Seriously, couldn't they just make his face fill up the whole screen?), the horrifying atmosphere, the reactions from the characters, the creative writing, and even the image of the guys face lifelessly moving back in fourth is all what makes that scene work. Despite that we don't see too much of Anthony's powers in action, it’s not really the effects that make this concept creative and plausible; it's actually the dialogue about Anthony's powers that make the episode so interesting. The things that the people talk about of what Anthony has done with his powers are so creative and interesting to hear, as those lines of dialogue being delivered so well and effectively, that I actually like that it's left to our imaginations to picture the things that Anthony has created or destroyed. Considering how mysterious and unpredictable Anthony can be with his powers, it does make sense to make the cornfield and his powers a mystery, to later on showing what he can do visually with his powers as the episode moves on. It's just great build-up to the stuff we will see from him later on. One of the things that I love about this episode that's left ambiguous is the cornfield that Anthony sends people away too. There's very little talk about why it’s so bad, and we the viewers never see it at all. It's really all up to the viewer to decide what this mysterious cornfield that Anthony banishes people too is. Is it a regular cornfield with an exit; is the whole U.S. now one big Cornfield aside from this town (As hinted by Serling); or is it an endless limbo that's not part of this World filled with nothing but cornfields and the people and evil stuff that Anthony has sent away too? All we know about this place is it’s a place that the characters fear and don’t want to be sent away too, and leaving this terrible place ambiguous for the viewer to think for their selves is one of the many things that makes this episode so interesting and thrilling.
This episode is certainly one of the best "Twilight Zone" episodes of all time filled with great acting; a creative story; visuals that stay with you, despite how simple the effects are; things that are left cleverly ambiguous and to your imagination; and having an atmosphere that's humorous, but very dark and tense at the same time. If you haven't seen this episode yet, this is indeed a must see!
So with the episode being an all time "Twilight Zone" classic, does Dante's remake improve it and make it fresh and new, while also being true to the episode's concept? Let’s have a look!
"Portrait of a woman in transit: Helen Foley, age 27. Occupation: schoolteacher. Up until now, the pattern of her life has been one of unrelenting sameness, waiting for something different to happen. Helen Foley doesn't know it yet, but her waiting has just ended."
THE MOVIE VERSION OF "IT'S A GOOD LIFE"
While the remake stays true to the concept of a young boy with magical powers isolating people from the outside world that have to pretend to love him or else; the remake makes a few changes, which are honestly really great updates. Instead of just seeing the people who are already hostages of this powerful boy, we get an outsiders perspective of the situation who offers to drive the kid home after accidentally hitting him with her car as she was backing up. Instead of the people being confined in a small empty town, the people are now confined in a giant house where they’ll never again get to go to the outside world. Instead of the boy using powers from whatever he imagines, the things that he creates with these powers are based around cartoons since that's all he watches, which is clever since watching cartoons all the time as a kid is bad for the young mind.
Another major change in the plot is our magical kid Anthony isn't a kid that's pure evil, he's actually a likable and sympathetic character who just wants to be loved by the people that he confines by trying to make them happy. He even at times seems opened to try new things to make the people he captures happy. However, the hostages are so afraid of him because of his magical powers and what he can do with them that they can't be honest; and yes, this kid is an intimidating force to be reckoned with. He doesn't want to be mean and nasty, but when you push him around and yell at him that's when he'll start doing evil things with his powers. Much like the kid in the original, he also does use his powers for his own amusement that displeases and scares the people that he's captured. With that said though, he does stop the chaos when asked to do so, or when noticing the scared reactions from the people around him, despite enjoying what he’s created. Still, after the moment when you do piss him off and he starts using his magic to do horrible things to you, you don't have a prayer since he won't listen to reason and will just think of you as someone mean and nasty that doesn't deserve to live. Jeremy Licht as Anthony does such a great job bringing both the likable innocence and intimidating side to the character so well, that this is a character that you love and feel sorry for, but also fear at the same time.
The rest of the characters in the remake are just as great as the characters in the original. You first off have Kathleen Quinlan as the outsider who gets dragged into this mess by our kid, and her reactions towards the family, the house, and the things that happen are really good, making you feel what she's feeling when she's observing all this. She also does have a friendship going on with Anthony which actually is pretty cute. The actors that play the people who have been captured by Anthony and must act like his family are all great at bringing an over the top cartoony portrayal of pretending to be like Anthony's family as they love and praise him, while also showing their fear towards Anthony and letting the madness of being away from the outside world consume them. While I enjoy all performances from the actors that play the people who pretend to be Anthony's family, my favorite has to go to the sister played by Nancy Cartwright. It's just fun and interesting to see a popular voice actress that would go on to voicing many cartoon characters from our childhood including her most famous character Bart Simpson from "The Simpsons", play a character that isn't animated but still be in a cartoon like setting mixed with horror. Her performance is also really good as well, especially the scenes between her and Anthony who she fears and yet wants to stand up to him, despite Anthony's efforts of trying to make everybody in the house happy. Since the remake is directed by Joe Dante, it wouldn't be complete without a cameo from his regular recurring actor Dick Miller who plays a Diner owner who hits on Quinlan's as he gives her directions to towns that are named after towns from episodes of "The Twilight Zone". We even get a cameo from the actor who played the kid in the original Bill Mumy as a friend of the person that pushes Anthony at the Diner for screwing up the TV.
While the original episode didn't have that many creative visuals, the remake does and the visuals are really some of the best visuals I've ever seen. The sets for inside and outside the cartoon house are incredible; the animatronics for when the cartoons that attack are really cool; and the green-screen effects for mixing animation with a live actor are amazing! There are just so many creative visuals and outstanding effects in this remake that I dare not give anything away! There's even an "Outer Limits" reference in one the visuals, which I'll let you see for yourself. The overall tone and atmosphere for the remake is as comical and over the top like a cartoon, while also carrying the horror element. Sadly though, what the remake fails to capture is the suspense and intensity that the original episode had. I mean there are a few scary and thrilling moments, but it’s not as constant as the original episode, it's really over the top. Yes, the original episode was over the top, but not as over the top as this! The original gave you a great sense of fear and intimidation from the kid, as you laugh at how the adults try hard to please this evil kid as they fear for their life. Here, the kid isn't vicious and will only act up unless somebody hurts his feelings or pushes him around, and while you feel bad for the people that are trapped in this house, the majority of their reactions are comically cartoony which works in the context of the remake, but don't feel as real as the characters in the original.
While I do really love the updates, the creative visuals, and casting and characters, as well as me personally having more of a nostalgia connection to this one than I did with the original episode, I still have to go with the original being the best version. The original really did made me feel like I entered into that other dimension because of how suspenseful it is; how ambiguous it is; and how vicious the kid is, as the episode plays with your emotions of whether if you should laugh or be scared. Still, I do think the remake is just as great as the original episode and it indeed is one the few segments in the movie that's actually good!
Austrian filmmaker George Millers who's famous for directing the Mad Max films, directs the fourth and final segment of the movie, which is a remake of another classic and iconic episode that came out during the show's fifth and final Season (Finally a remake of an episode that's not from the Third Season).
"Portrait of a frightened man: Mr. Robert Wilson, thirty-seven, husband, father, and salesman on sick leave. Mr. Wilson has just been discharged from a sanitarium where he spent the last six months recovering from a nervous breakdown, the onset of which took place on an evening not dissimilar to this one, on an airliner very much like the one in which Mr. Wilson is about to be flown home - the difference being that, on that evening half a year ago, Mr. Wilson's flight was terminated by the onslaught of his mental breakdown. Tonight, he's traveling all the way to his appointed destination, which, contrary to Mr. Wilson's plan, happens to be in the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone."
NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET
Yes, we all know or at least heard of this classic episode, that's been referenced and parodied dozens of times in pop culture. Before "Star Trek" fame William Shatner, plays a man who's afraid of flying and just recovered after his last nervous breakdown that happened six Months ago. During a dark and stormy night flight with his Wife (Christine White) he sees a Gremlin on the wing of the Plane that wants to destroy it. Shatner tries to warn everybody about the gremlin’s presence, but nobody believes him.
We know Shatner as an actor that really loves to ham things up, and while he does ham it up a bit in this episode by giving us a few laughable facial expressions, he still manages to make us the fear what his character is fearing. As you watch Shatner's character throughout the episode, you can tell that he's seriously trying hard to keep himself calm and collected from his fear of heights as he tries to tell himself that the Gremlin that he sees is just a figment of his imagination. However, as the episode moves further and further, you see him slowly losing it as he begins to sweat and at times let’s out his hysterical rage, while at the same still time trying really hard to keep his cool. My favorite moment in the episode with Shatner in the episode has to be the scene that's building up to the climax, as Shatner looks both heroic and crazy at the same time. The climax itself, while being really cool, thrilling, and dramatic, there is indeed some suspension of disbelief required. As for the rest of the cast, they do just as good of a job as Shatner does, especially Christine White as his wife. I just love how hard she tries to comfort him, and the way she and Shatner work off each other is done so well, that you do feel connection between this married couple.
The atmosphere for the episode is really tense. I mean the minute the episode started after the show's intro, I felt like I was on board with Shatner on the plane all the way through. Just the way the episode’s shot and edited brings a very uncomfortable claustrophobic feeling, and the acting, the music, the sound effects, and the lighting mixed with the use of Black and White all bring a huge amount of terror and suspense. I also really admire the episode’s set-up of taking place on a plane because its common for many people to be afraid of flying, especially when considering the fact that there's no way out of a Plane once its up in the air except for down, and the idea of having a monster trying to destroy it while there's a turbulence due to a stormy weather is really creative and suspenseful writing, which is without a doubt something from a nervous flyer’s nightmares.
As for the Gremlin itself, this is a monster that modern TV goers would find laughable, and in all fairness, I can understand why. It's obviously a man in a costume that looks like the fur from the costume was part of a bear costume that was bought at a local party store; and the design for this monster does look pretty silly. Even the close-up shot of the Gremlin as it presses its face against the window; I can honestly see people finding it silly instead of scary. In my opinion though, despite being a silly design, I really don’t mind the Gremlin as much as modern audiences may feel, and I actually think it works within the context of the episode. The way it acts as it tries to destroy the Plane and looks at Shatner along with its design is silly, but at the same time there is something about this creature and its design that's so weird and strange, and very wild animal like that the episode somehow manages to make this silly looking monster creepy and unique from any monster you've seen. It's a type monster that only “The Twilight Zone” can bring that's so silly, strange, and different, and yet make it fit in the episode so well. The episode also does have a dark humorous charm to it much like the episode with the kid Anthony that's dark, humorous, and thrilling at the same time; and the silly looking Gremlin mixed with Shatner's acting that's both humorous and dramatic, along with the dark and thrilling atmosphere and creative and intense writing makes for a fun and intense combination. Of course I could be wrong about the dark humorous element, maybe the episode was just meant to be taken seriously, but I kind of doubt it since the show does have a dark sense humor that you can find in almost any episode.
Whether you find the episode to be scary and thrilling, fun and entertaining, or both, it still makes for a really great episode! Shatner's performance is one of his best performances who does an excellent job at balancing out the humor and the intense drama; the story is scary and creative; the atmosphere is just as rich as any great “Twilight Zone” episode; and the Gremlin while silly, is still one of the most unique monsters that you'd see from this show that manages to successfully fit within the episode's context. It's a great episode that for me mashes the humor and dark intensity just as well as "It's A Good Life".
So with another "Twilight Zone" episode being an iconic classic does George Miller succeed with remaking this episode like how Joe Dante succeeded with remaking another iconic classic episode, or does he fail as much as Landis and Speilberg did? Let’s fly with the Gremlin on the wing of the Plane once more!
"What you're looking at could be the end of a particularly terrifying nightmare. It isn't. It's the beginning. Introducing Mr. John Valentine, air traveller. His destination: the Twilight Zone."
THE MOVIE VERSION OF "NIGHTMARE AT 20,000 FEET"
Unlike the previous segments in the movie that were different retellings of “Twilight Zone” episodes, this one is nothing too different from the plot of the original episode. If you've seen the original, you pretty much know what's going to happen. With that said, that doesn't mean that the remake of this episode is bad at all. Actually, the remake of the episode is one of those rare times where I think the remake is actually better than the original.
The actor playing the frightened passenger is John Lithgow, and as much as I love Shatner's performance in the original, Lithgow's performance is the best in comparison. In the original, Shatner's character tries as hard as he can to keep his cool, even when thinking about doing something about the monster. With Lithgow on the other hand, he's completely hysterical and out of his mind from beginning to end, and the energy he puts into this character and performance is done very effectively. While Shatner's performance is effective as well, Lithgow just seems more believable and crazier than Shatner is. He's doesn't even have as many comical and laughable moments that are also dark and intense like Shatner does. Ironically, in the original, the supporting cast all remained serious (Aside from the wife's comical scream) while Shatner was comical, while still giving us an effective performance where you feel what he fears. Here, it’s the other way around. I mean sure there are some serious supporting characters like the Flight attendant and the Co-Pilot that comfort Lithgow the same way how the wife and the Co-Pilot comforted Shatner in the original; but the rest of the passengers and Flight attendants that we see in the remake, all have their own comical and distinctive personalities, and these comical supporting characters fit within the horror atmosphere just as well as the comedy and horror in the original episode.
Speaking of atmosphere, the atmosphere in the remake is a lot heavier compared to the original episode. Don't get me wrong, I still do think the atmosphere in the original is rich with horror, suspense, dark comedy, and the use of Black and White; but here, you not only feel like you're on the Plane with this nervous passenger, but you actually feel like there's a lot more at stake. The claustrophobia that the remake brings is so intense that you get the feeling that the walls are literally closing in on Lithgow in this dimly lit bumpy Plane in the middle of a horrible storm. The special effects for the atmosphere has also updated by making the Plane really look like that it’s going to crash as we see the Plane shake and watch the engine catch fire as the Gremlin destroys it, when in the original we hardly felt or saw any of that. Even the climax is way more intense and on the edge of your seat thrilling than the climax in the original and the best part about it is, it looks and feels so real and legit that it doesn't require that much of a suspension of disbelief like the original episode did.
The best part of the remake that is without a doubt done way better than in the original episode is the Gremlin. I honestly don't mind the Gremlin in the original as much as many modern audiences may feel, but comparing it to this version of the Gremlin, it is scarier. I mean wow; this version of the Gremlin is so scary, vicious, disgusting, and monstrous looking in terms of design, effects, and presence, that it really does beat the Gremlin in the original. In fact the design and effect is so great that I actually wouldn't be surprised if the people who made "Predator" didn't get some kind of inspiration from the Gremlin’s design, because the Predator does look pretty similar to the Gremlin in this movie. What really makes the Gremlin in the remake so scary is how little we see the Gremlin’s face, as well as barley seeing the Gremlin all together since it's always in the darkness, when in the original, we always saw it. The best scary moment with the Gremlin in the whole remake is defiantly the window scene! Just the build-up; the acting; and the music of whether if Lithgow should open the window or not, is really suspenseful, and when he finally does, we see the Gremlins hideous face pressed up against window. And if the Gremlin’s face monstrous face isn’t scary enough for you, there’s a blink and miss moment when we see Lithgow's eyes grow big and look like monstrous demon eyes! What the hell was that less than a second all about, your guess is as good as mine, which is one of the things that make that scene so horrifying. While the Gremlin is really scary, I really love that it has a bit of humorous moment as it taunts Lithgow in one scene, which is funny and yet so freaky at the same time.
Despite how much I love the original and still think that it’s one of the best episodes of the series, I'm sorry but the remake really is better than the original! John Lithgow's energy as this nervous and hysterical passenger is incredible; the supporting cast of characters has a good mixture between being both humorous and serious; the atmosphere is so intense that it's breathtaking; and the Gremlin itself is so scary that it's actually the scariest monster in the whole entire movie. If that isn't enough for you, we get a surprise appearance from a character that we saw earlier in the film (Outside of this segment), and the film closes out with a pre-recording of Rod Serling’s narration from the first Season of "The Twilight Zone", as we look at a starry night sky as the end credits roll. It's a perfect remake of the original classic episode, making it the best segment to close the film on!
OVERALL THOUGHTS ON THE MOVIE
I have to admit while the film has plenty of great things going for it, it does have plenty of disappointing things in it as well that all sadly involves the two segments directed by Landis and Spielberg (Not counting "The Prologue"). As you can imagine, the tragedy that surrounds the film does in fact play a big and infamous part in that. Instead of getting a story of a bigot redeeming himself in Landis' segment; we sadly get a depressing and disappointing ending. And as we feel bad for the character's unjustified ending, we also can't help but think of Vic Morrow and the two children who lost their lives on the set, thus making Landis' segment sadder than it already is. Instead of Spielberg actually doing one of the segments that he originally planed to do that would involve something dark, suspenseful, creative, and mysterious; we get a totally out of place segment that's overly cutesy and whimsical to the max that Spielberg carelessly and forcefully had to direct, which sadly makes it one of the weakest things he's ever directed in his whole entire career. Still I must admit, as far as TV adaptations for film go, it's actually not all that bad. Burgess Meredith taking Rod Serling's place is such a perfect and fitting substitute for Serling that he really does sell out the narration as well as Serling does. The Prologue and the last two segments are so great with its visuals, acting, atmosphere, humor, and updates, that they truly are what make the movie so good! Even the two segments that I found disappointing do have a few good things going for them that make them watchable, despite the major flaws that they have. On top of it, you can tell that the people behind this film (Especially Spielberg when he first started the project) wanted to pay a loving tribute to this classic show, and while Landis and Spielberg failed mainly because of the accident that surrounds the movie, you can sense that Dante and Miller weren't going to give up and actually make the segments that they are left to direct as fun and scary as possible, while still paying tribute to the show and original episodes that they were based off of, and the result is great! The film doesn't fully capture the look and feel of what made the show so amazing, but lets be honest, no remake of the show can ever full-fill that which is why the show's so great. Still the film at least (For the most part) tries really hard not to miss the mark of why the show's so great and in my opinion the film does succeed in plenty of areas reminding us how great the show is, while offering us its own different take on the show with things both really good and really bad.
OVERALL RATING FOR THE MOVIE 3/5