The Twilight Zone - Season 1 Blu-ray Review

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by Chris McEneany Oct 7, 2010 at 12:00 AM

  • Movies review


    The Twilight Zone - Season 1 Blu-ray Review
    SRP: £61.99


    The Twilight Zone episodes are presented in their original 1.33:1 frame and, quite honestly, they look incredible. You have a sort of pre-conceived idea of how a television show broadcast in the late 50's and early 60's is probably going to look. You may be expecting a soft, hazy and very grainy picture. You would certainly reckon on a distinct lack of detail. Depth and three-dimensionality surely wouldn't enter your mind. But Image have worked wonders the equal of anything that Rod Serling could dream up for this extensive hi-def restoration, with the clarity and detail apparent here that could put to shame many newer productions released on the format. Remastered from the original film negatives, these 36 shows reveal Serling's vision in the type of glory that will take your breath away.

    What amazes is the sheer wealth of detail on offer. The frame is filled with information from foreground to background that positively clamours for close inspection. You can clearly see pores, whiskers and tremendous facial texture throughout. You look at Inger Stevens' face in The Hitch-hiker, for example, and you can plainly see all those fine blonde hairs down the side of her face – something that, should such a thing have been visible on an actress' face in a show nowadays, would have put her into a state of shock. This level of finite detail goes right across the board. Every episode looks staggeringly good. Background detail is remarkable – from distant ridges and buildings to the rubble of a decimated city to the planes positioned at the end of a US Air Base. Just let your eyes rove over those suburban gardens and houses, over the paintings and bric-a-brac within them, over the jungle foliage and uniforms, weapons and tents in The Purple Testament, about the intricate set-design and object d'art in The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine. Hair, clothing, cigarettes, sand, grass and the stony rubble and scree that we see on those desert asteroids – it is all beautifully etched deep within the image. Depth of field is often highly rewarding. Characters moving through houses – again Ida Lupino's mansion in The Sixteen Millimeter Shrine comes to mind - boast some fabulously immersive compositions thanks the transfers' ability to capture information and visual spatiality. Crowds in the street, customers spread out around diners or casinos, the horses on the carousel spinning around the back out of sight in Walking Distance – the image manages to retain detail even in the recesses of the frame. Fantastic, folks, and a very commendable achievement from Image.

    To go along with this, the contrast is immaculate too. Just compare this image to the old DVDs and you'll immediately be entranced by the vivid nature of the picture that is now offered. Whites are clean and smooth and consistently remain un-goaded into blooming. Blacks are wonderfully deep and strong. Without a hint of crushing, the shadow depth and delineation is breathtaking, really allowing the image to stand bold and sharp and acutely atmospheric. Variances in shading bring out textures and tones that you most certainly won't have experienced before from this show. The image just doesn't seem to hail from 1959 and 1960. It looks film-like and robust and alarmingly fresh.

    I wasn't bothered by any edge enhancement, or any compression defects. The picture is incredibly clean and the grain very natural looking and totally unobtrusive, except for maybe a couple of episodes where the age of the prints comes to the fore with a little more noise than elsewhere. There may some slight shimmer on certain patterns – upon suits, picket fences etc – but this is easily dismissed and overlooked. Aliasing, banding and DNR are most assuredly not a problem with these simply gorgeous looking transfers.

    The Twilight Zone - Season 1 Picture


    With a choice to hear each episode in its original audio via DD 2.0, or with restored sound in the form of an Uncompressed PCM mono track, each episode is very well catered-for without Image Entertainment having gone overboard and lavished any unnecessary surround channel baggage. What you get through the two front channels is rich, clear and, in the case of the PCM track, often scintillating.

    Even though this is the province of television broadcast, The Twilight Zone broke with convention by having rich orchestral scores and dynamic vocal exchanges. Each episode felt alive because of this style of presentation. With the finely rendered PCM track, those scores become soaring, deep and almost crystal clear, with the acutely keening strings given plenty of sweep, and the lush orchestration a depth and level of detail that for a vintage mono track is something of a revelation.

    Dialogue is never muffled, lost or swamped. Voices come through with clarity and, in some cases, bite. Effects are spare, to be honest, but the odd crash, bang and wallop come through with appreciable vigour when called for. There is still some degree of hiss that becomes discernible on a couple of episodes, but I really think that you can afford to let that go – the show is over fifty years old now and you have got to expect some of that age to make its presence felt. But an unexpected bonus would have to be the sense of depth and actual activity within the limited soundfield. The tracks for each show sound lively and engaging, never once flat, restricted or hemmed-in. Car-horns, coins cascading from a machine, someone banging on a door, gunshots and the raging approach of a train – these are all elements that the track seems marvellously able to pick out and render with a sense of positioning that you wouldn't necessarily have expected.

    Folks, I stuck with the PCM track and I loved every minute of it. An excellent and faithful remixing of the original audio.

    The Twilight Zone - Season 1 Sound


    Folks, I'm not going to go into any detail with this high calibre roster of extras, other than to point out that the best material lies in the commentaries from Zone historians Marc Scott Zicree and Gary Gerani, and the welcome bunch of score-writers, composers and analysts William T. Stromberg (the restorer and recorder of a great many classic scores from the likes of Bernard Herrmann), John Morgan and Steven C. Smith – all of whom provide plenty of insight, opinion and background into the production of the various episodes. Indeed, if, like me, you are a huge fan of film-scores and their composers, this package is absolutely exemplary as it offers up isolated score tracks, all in DD 2.0, for thirty-four of the episodes, including the classic Walking Distance from Herrmann that I have reviewed on a separate CD release elsewhere. Various cast members provide commentaries as well, with the best coming from Rod Taylor (who can't get over how young and good-looking he was back then), Martin Landau, Kevin McCarthy and William Reynolds. To put it bluntly, if you love The Twilight Zone you will love to hear the trivia, anecdote and reminiscences from these besotted contributors. Some episodes even feature more than one commentary.

    We get the chance to hear eighteen radio dramas that give a slightly contemporised and extended (45-minutes long) take on some of these classic stories. This series of dramatisations was launched in 2002 and features such stars as Stacy Keach, Blair Underwood, Fred Willard, Kate Jackson and Lou Diamond Phillips, and although I have yet to listen to a single one, I am certain that they will offer something of value.

    Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse: "The Time Element" (54.52 mins) is the never-before-released-on-home-video original "unofficial" pilot episode for The Twilight Zone that Rod Serling wrote about the weird events that befall a man on the eve of the attack on Pearl Harbor. As a special treat, Marc Scott Zicree provides an optional commentary, and the presentation even includes an alternate opening and closing from the syndicated version.

    To go along with this, we also get to see the original Unaired Pilot Version of "Where is Everybody?" (34.44 mins). This offers us an optional commentary by CBS exec William Self, as well as alternate scene-setting and closing coda narrations.

    Then there is the chance to see the original and quite different version of the episode What You Need (29.29 mins) as witnessed in the earlier SF anthology show, from ABC, Tales Of Tomorrow. Once again, this is fascinating stuff as it shows the vogue for the unsettling and the unusual gaining something of a foothold with audiences as early as 1951.

    Rod Serling Lectures at Sherwood Oaks College is a neat vintage feature that acts as a sort of commentary from the show's producer/creator himself. This series of lectures can be enjoyed as you watch four episodes - the pilot version of Where is Everybody, Walking Distance, And When the Sky Was Opened and The Mighty Casey. These are excellent.

    Audio interviews with Burgess Meredith and Ann Francis, directors Douglas Heyes and Richard L. Bare, as well as producer Buck Houghton and the great fantasy-scribe Richard Matheson come courtesy of the dedicated Marc Scott Zicree. But in a slightly frustrating move, we also have the first part of a comprehensive with the acclaimed and utterly brilliant cinematographer George T. Clemens, which can be found over on Disc 5. Obviously, this feature will be carried over with the next boxset that is released.

    More interviews come in video form with actors Dana Dillaway, Suzanne Lloyd, Beverly Garland and Ron Masak.

    Sponsor Billboards is an opportunity to view four vintage, 15-second ads from the era.

    Emmy Awards (3.10 mins) has footage of Rod Serling accepting various Emmy Awards for the series.

    We get to see two 30-second Syndication Promos the classic episode A Stop at Willoughby and The After Hours.

    And, of course, each episode contains the original Rod Serling Promos that offered a little to-camera teaser from the creator about what was coming up in the next story

    All in all, this is a great package … but I would have liked a big retro-documentary, though!

    The Twilight Zone - Season 1 Extras


    All thirty-six episodes of the first season of Rod Serling's classic, groundbreaking series, presented in incredible hi-definition and boasting fabulous commentaries, radio shows and isolated scores. Despite a pretty hefty price-tag, no fan can afford to do without this boxset. Even if you have the previous season collections on DVD, the upgrade in AV quality is substantial and the improvements beyond question.

    The show remains a class act. Where once I was slightly miffed at the short running time of each episode, much preferring the more luxurious pace of the hour-long Outer Limits, Serling's short sharp shocks reveal an absolute mastery of the craft of storytelling. Powerhouse performances, imaginative scenarios and rich, florid scores mean that each little story feels like a mini-epic in its own right. The scripts are strong and often deceptively clever and inspired, the sheer number of fan-favourites in this season, alone, speaking volumes about the overall quality of this trendsetter. With so many famous faces appearing and such style oozing from each episode, it is no surprise at all that the show still has such a devoted following. What does amaze, however, is its uncanny ability to draw new fans from younger generations whom you would assume would just dismiss it out of hand. But The Twilight Zone, as it promises to do, goes beyond expectation and revels in the power of pure story, slipping messages, morals and food for thought under the door with incredible guile.

    The imagery, the characters and the predicaments that they face are timeless. Whatever the shortcomings of the perceived technology that Serling and his fellow writers utilised to tell their tales, the one irrefutable and ingrained factor in the ongoing success and addictive charm of The Twilight Zone is its adherence to the innate capacity of the human soul to confront whatever is thrown at it.

    A genuine classic gets the treatment it so deserves with this superlative Blu-ray boxset. And the best thing? We've still got four more seasons to go! The Twilight Zone Season One comes very highly recommended.

    The Twilight Zone - Season 1 Verdict

    Suggested retail price when reviewed: £61.99

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