With one season, The Twilight Zone changed it all. In an era of television featuring I Love Lucy, where two people were not even allowed to be shown in the same bed, The Twilight Zone took us to hell, space, rogue asteroids, other planets, the after life, and into the affairs of everyday people.
Such things should be tame by today’s standards of violence and language, yet the show lives on, not fondly remembered, but cherished. It is entertainment at its purest, most brilliant, and thought-provoking. It produces fears of the day, time, and place, realities so eerily plausible as to be terrifying no matter their age.
“Monsters Are Due on Maple Street” could be one of the more terrifying episodes of television ever produced, not because of brief view of aliens when it ends, but because the inevitable result is co cruel as to be plausible. People on a small street panic when their technology goes out, turn against each other based on some hyperbole spoken by a child, and begin killing. “Maple Street” carries more relevance today than it did even then.
Every episode works as a mind-bender, the audience wondering how the wide-open Twilight Zone will come into play. It could toy with a person, change them, or make them into something else. Maybe they’re dead, maybe everyone else is dead, or maybe they’re not real at all.
It’s the expectation of the fantastical, the idea that absolutely anything is possible, that makes the show what it is. It’s the writing too, crafting instantly developed, rounded characters of immense depth. When the backdrop that character has been placed into is open to every interpretation, some so radical, predictability goes out the window. It’s the tension of the unknown and what could be. It plays upon its concept to the fullest extent, every episode mind-blowing the first time through, and offering a deeper appreciation the second.
Twilight Zone is not perfect; every TV series has its clunkers. Some episodes never capitalize on their potential or go far enough, “Mr. Denton on Doomsday” is a simple tale of a drunken cowboy who gains quick-shooting skills via a potion. It’s too small, lacking an impact that is delivered by its companion episodes. Amazingly, it’s still engaging even if it is a low point, a fantastic piece of television whose elements come together for 25-minutes of basic entertainment, the other episodes simply taking that one step further.
There are some superb black and white films available on Blu-ray, yet at its peak, none of the can match the beauty of The Twilight Zone. The first episode, with its staggering level of facial definition, environmental detail, and perfectly calibrated contrast is the first taste of this nearly impeccable presentation, spread across five discs.
The negative aspects are easy to take care of. Mild print damage is noticeable on every episode, at times as minor as a few specks to a portion of the screen becoming awash with a light layer of spots. These are minimal and non-intrusive, the obvious use of optical zooms which can never be alleviated a larger concern. Some episode-specific problems affect disc two’s “Perchance to a Dream,” littered with banding during the dream sequences, and “Judgment Night” which uses some stock footage (along with others).
A natural layer of grain accentuates the film-like qualities of these AVC encodes, flawlessly resolved. Spikes are noted, keeping that clear sheen at bay, yet the compression holds firm and tackles these moments without fault. Black levels are stunning, their richness undeniable and shadow detail incredible. Complex lighting set-ups, purely focused to create deep shadows, are gorgeous. Nothing tampers with the pure whites either, bright and clean to keep the satisfying depth intact through each episode. Even the minor use of double-printed effects are well resolved, the light softness enough to notice but not detract.
The benefit of Blu-ray may present these shows as close to film-like as ever, yet it’s that immense, deep, and fulfilling texture that makes it worth the upgrade. Again, it’s that first aired pilot episode as Earl Holliman begins to sweat inside the phone booth that it’s known how spectacular these shows are going to look. While the show tends to take place in tight, closed environments, those that open up are even more impressive, from the ballpark in “The Mighty Casey” to the desolate, rocky asteroid of “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air,” everything is resolved, crisp, and since no other words will suffice, nearly flawless.
The haunting opening theme of the show is remastered for an uncompressed PCM mono mix on every episode, a calm, eerie theme that suits the show and sets the tone. Every episode holds a PCM remastered track and compressed original audio mix as well.
The difference is one of fidelity, maybe not noticed by many in terms of the crisp, firm dialogue. The difference is there, if not prominent. For the real difference, skip to disc five, “A Passage for Trumpet.” Here, a bugle plays a role, the instrument played with stunning power on the high-end, so clean and free of distortion it might as well be played in the room next to you, or recorded yesterday.
That’s where the audio comes to life, aiding anything loud such as rocket engines or cars crashing. The stock sound effects may be somewhat pale, yet their clarity is stunning. Not a moment of the uncompressed mixes contain any hissing, popping, or drop outs. It’s pure and true to the source, with no needless tinkering to bring these episodes into some modern era. They exist as they are, and what they are is superb.
Features… wow. Lots of features. Every episode comes with something, whether it’s just the sponsor ads that originally aired, a commentary, an isolated score, related radio drama, or interviews. Some of them have been seen/heard before, while others are new.
Fans should find the most benefit from “The Time Element,” the original pilot episode that aired on the short-lived Desilu Playhouse, this an hour-long episode and in hi-def. An alternate version of the original episode, with Rod Serling’s pitch to the advertisers, is sadly in SD.
In total, there are 25 commentaries with the likes of Martin Landau, Rod Taylor, film historians, writers, and musicians. Vintage interviews and radio dramas are placed everywhere, and footage from the Emmy awards for the series are here too. In total, you’re looking at 79 pieces of new content alone, not even including the stuff pulled from DVD editions.