Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983): The Best and The Worst

Happy New Year!
Last year I did the Best and Worst of the 2002 UPN version of The Twilight Zone and I realized that I ran out of Twilight Zones to write about. Or did I?

Twilight Zone: The Movie was released in 1983. Two years before the 1985 revival on TV. The same year as Return of the Jedi and Scarface. Yes, Twilight Zone: The Movie was on the big screen. It was produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis. Can you imagine hearing about this in the early 80's? That they are bringing back the Twilight Zone but, not only that. Spielberg and Landis are both producing and directing! One is a great story teller and the other is a master of horror! The movie turned out to be a disappointment. To begin with it went through a bunch of production problems which culminated in the death of three actors: Vic Morrow and two child actors: Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen. It was terrible and tragic. The three actors died on set during a staged helicopter stunt gone wrong. You can search for the story on the internet and there are clips on youtube as well. The production team ignored the safety of the actors and violated a bunch of child actors laws. The part being filmed was part of the Vietnam scene in the first segment, Time Out. It's a very over the top story about racism. I'll talk more about it in the Best/Worst section.

Twilight Zone: The Movie was split into five segments. An introduction and an epilogue to book end the movie. Then four separate segments. Out of the four segments there is an original story and three remakes. The initial idea was to have a character from the introduction appearing in each of the segments. That idea did not ban out but, they got Burgess Meredith, who acted in a couple of episodes in the classic Twilight Zone, to narrate the introduction and for the individual segments. Just like how Rod Serling narrated the introduction and sometimes the ending for the classic series. You might remember Burgess Meredith in Time Enough At Least as a man who survives a nuclear bomb and finally has all the time in the world to do what he loves most. Unlike, Serling, Merdith did not appear on screen.

Twilight Zone: The Movie had a budget of $10 Million which might have been a lot in 1983. I'm not sure but, the movie had a feel of "just throw money into it and it'll be good" quality. It feels over produced and under written. Even as a child, back in the 80's I thought the movie was crap. Everything was so over the top. No subtlety what so ever. I am very critical of this movie but I do revisit it once in a while. Sometimes, I do find myself enjoying it from a different perspective. During my last viewing, I had a great time watching Nancy Cartwright's (Bart Simpson) performance as Ethel, Anthony's sister, in the third segment.

Since there are only five segments, I'll just rate them in the order of appearance instead of having separate sections for Best and Worst. The Intro and the Epilogue is technically one segment but, I'll split them according to chronological order. The list is right after the "JUMP!".



A list of The Best and The Worst after the "JUMP!":


Introduction

Directed and Written by John Landis

Actors:
  • Dan Aykroyd - Passenger
  • Albert Brooks - Car Driver
  • Burgess Meredith - Narrator

Twilight Zone: The Movie begins with this super annoying segment with Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks driving on a lonely road playing a "guess the TV theme song" game. It leads to them reminiscing about the original Twilight Zone. They talk about how scary the show is but, the one episode they talk about in detail is Time Enough At Last which wasn't scary. Whatever. Since they are on the subject of scary, Dan Aykroyd asks Albert Brooks if he wants to see something really scary. Albert Brooks obliges and Dan Aykroyd turns into a demon and kills him, while the camera pans up and The Twilight Zone theme plays with Burgess Meredith narrating.

Rating: Worst


Time Out

Directed and Written by John Landis (An American Werewolf in London)

Actors:
  • Vic Morrow - Bill Connor
  • John Larroquette - Ku Klux Klan Member

Every time I watch this segment and knowing that people died during filming gives me a horrible empty feeling. I might come to a point in my life when I just can't watch Time Out any more. Vic Morrow plays Bill Connor who lost his job to a Jewish Man walks into a bar and starts telling his friends how he's wronged. He's obviously mad and throws out a bunch of derogatory terms. In case you didn't know that he's a bigot, he goes off on anyone who is not "American." Yes, yes! We get it, he's a racist! Now stop beating us over our heads with that jack hammer! As he walks out of the bar he realizes that he's no longer in America. Some how he's in France during the 40's and he's being chased by SS Officers thinking he's Jewish. Then somehow he's in America's south being chased by the Ku Klux Klan thinking that he's black. Then he's in Vietnam being attacked by U.S. Soldiers thinking that he's part of the Viet-Con. After that he's being locked up in a freight car, on his way to a concentration camp during World War II.

This segment is a mess. It's neither compelling nor thought provoking. The message is over bearing and just loud. Personally, I feel horrible about how terrible Time Out is. I feel that Vic Morrow ,Myca Dinh Le and Renee Shin-Yi Chen deserved a lot better. Did the Vietnam segment needed a helicopter scene? No, not at all. Did omitting that stunt segment take anything away from the quality of the story? Sadly, no. The story is still terrible. Of all the Twilight Zone stories that I'd watched, read, listened to, Time Out is the worst one ever. Overly produced, heavy handed piece of crap. This was supposed to be the original story out of the four segments. Supposed to be but, not really. Time Out is loosely based on the a Quality of Mercy from the classic Twilight Zone starring Leonard Nimoy.

From the stories I'd read of Vic Morrow, he is far from the bigot that he portrayed in this story. During the helicopter incident, he held onto the child actors and was trying to get them to safety. It's just sad that this horrible screenplay, the lousy written character of Bill Connor is the last that we get to remember him by. The production of Twilight Zone: The Movie should have ended after the incident.

Rating: Worst


Kick the Can

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Written by George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson, Melissa Mathison

Actors:
  • Scatman Crothers - Mr. Bloom
  • Murray Matheson - Mr. Agee
  • Bill Quinn - Leo Conroy
  • Martin Garner - Mr. Weinstein
  • Selma Diamond - Mrs. Weinstein
  • Helen Shaw - Mrs. Dempsey
  • Peter Brocco - Mr. Mute
  • Priscilla Pointer - Miss Cox

Thank God that Time Out is over and we are heading to familiar territory with Kick the Can! Wait a minute, should I really be thankful?

Scatman Crothers as Mr. Bloom plays the Charles Whitley character from the original Kick the Can in this remake. Instead of an old man finding the secret to youth, Mr. Bloom is a mysterious figure who's able to show a bunch of seniors on how to become kids again. Directed by Steven Spielberg with a lot of production value but with no heart. You can tell by how rich this production is by the swelling Jerry Goldsmith soundtrack. Again, everything is over the top. And sex is mentioned so often! These bunch of seniors are damn horny!

Despite how whimsically over the top this segment is, it did get me thinking about a second chance, starting over. If I can become a kid again, I'd definitely go for it. Why not? Maybe this remake is written poorly but, I am definitely missing the lesson it's trying to preach about staying old. No matter how much I want to like this segment. I just can't. I can't get past how lackluster this is. Steven Spielberg being the producer dealing with the repercussions of the helicopter incident, was it necessary to release this remake of Kick the Can? Was it really that important? What did it add to the Twilight Zone legacy? If you think I'm being unfair, you just have to watch Landis' and Spielberg's segments for yourself. Remember, they are the ones who are responsible with releasing Twilight Zone: The Movie.

Rating: Worst


It's a Good Life

Directed by Joe Dante (Gremlins)
Written by Jerome Bixby, Richard Matheson

Actors:
  • Kathleen Quinlan - Helen Foley
  • Jeremy Licht - Anthony
  • Nancy Cartwright - Ethel
  • Kevin McCarthy - Uncle Walt
  • Patricia Barry - Mother
  • William Schallert - Father
  • Dick Miller - Walter Paisley
  • Cherie Currie - Sara
  • Bill Mummy - Tim

I enjoyed this remake of It's a Good Life when I was a kid and still enjoy it now. Actually, is this a sequel or a remake? In the original story Anthony is a kid who posses the power to will anything in and out of existence. He can also alter reality. Whatever he wants, whatever he thinks about will come true. In this version, Anthony is still a child. He bumps into, or Kathleen Quinlan's character, Helen Foley bumps into (LITERALLY) Anthony. Helen Foley is a school teacher's stopped at a town called Beaumont to ask for directions to Willoughby while Bill Mummy (the original Anthony) is at the bar watching TV (pandering much). As Helen leaves the diner she accidently backs into Anthony and damages his bike. She then gives him a ride home.

When she enters Anthony's home things are a bit weird. Everyone acts strangely and in my opinion... over the top. That is the theme of this movie. It is amusing to watch. Among the family members is Ethel, Anthony's sister. You might not recognize the actress' face who plays Ethel but you might recognize her voice. Ethel is played by Nancy Cartwright also known as Bart Simpson. She is great in this segment.

Was this a remake or a sequel? There is mention that Anthony had gotten rid of his real parents. So the mother and father in this story are not his own? He was still with his real parents in the original. It's just confusing. As amusing as this remake is, I'm glad that the 2002 Twilight Zone did not acknowledge it in the sequel, It's Still a Good Life.

As for preachiness, this segment has a commentary on how cartoon violence warps children. It's pretty amusing though. I'm not sure if it's meant to be intentionally funny.

Rating: Best


Nightmare at 20,000 Feet

Directed by George Miller (Mad Max)
Written by Robert Garland, Richard Matheson

Actors:
  • John Lithgow - John Valentine
  • Abbe Lane - Sr. Stewardess
  • Donna Dixon - Jr. Stewardess
  • John Dennis Johnston - Co-Pilot
  • Larry Cedar - Gremlin
  • Charles Knapp - Air Marshall

In the theme of over the top, John Lithgow plays John Valentine, a man who has anxiety for flying, or claustrophobia. Whatever it is, he has a huge case of the crazies while being on a plane. In the original Nightmare at 20,000 Feet William Shatner plays the role with just the right amount of anxiety so that you the audience can empathize. I'm not sure if it was George Miller's direction calls for the case of the crazies or if it's just John Lithgow over acting. It just doesn't work. Instead of empathizing with the character, he gets annoying fast. I kept wondering when they will shoot him with a sedative or knock him out so he won't be a danger to himself and the rest of the passengers. When we get to see the gremlin, I'm pretty convinced that it's all in John Valentine's head. The make up for the Gremlin is amazing. It doesn't save this segment from being bad. The camera work and the special effects are worth noting but, you won't notice it because Lithgow's hammy performance over shadows all. If I was to rate this segment with a numbering system of 1-5. 1 being bad and 5 being excellent. I would've rated this a 2 but since it's either Best or Worst. This is a:

Rating: Worst


Epilogue

Directed and Written by John Landis (Twilight Zone: The Movie)

Actors:
  • John Lithgow - John Valentine
  • Dan Aykroyd - Ambulance Driver

The Epilogue begins right where A Nightmare at 20,000 Feet leaves off as John Valentine (Lithgow) is being loaded onto an ambulance from the airplane. He thinks he'd saved everyone on board from the Gremlin's sabotage. As he's being driven to the hospital, we find out that the driver is Dan Aykroyd. FUUUUU! He's the same character as in the Intro. He asks John Valentine if he wants to see something really scary and then the camera pans to John Valentine's face and Lithgow gives us the last over the top moment of the Twilight Zone: The Movie as he breaks the fourth wall and stares into the camera with a "get me the F out of this movie face." Horrible.

Rating: Worst


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