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The Twilight Zone: Season 5(TV) (1963-1964)
The complete fifth season of Rod Serling's classic, groundbreaking series exploring the fantastic and the frightening.
For more about The Twilight Zone: Season 5 and the The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray release, see the The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on September 8, 2011 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.5 out of 5.
Starring: Jack Klugman, William Shatner, Robert Redford, William Windom, Cliff Robertson, Burgess Meredith
» See full cast & crew
The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray Review
In Praise of Rod
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, September 8, 2011
One hundred and fifty six episodes later, we've come to the end. Thanks to Image Entertainment, it's now possible to own the entirety of The Twilight Zone's five season, 1959-1964 run on Blu-ray, where it's been lovingly remastered in high definition from the original negatives. After half a century of fuzzy TV broadcasts, blurry VHS tapes, and so-so standard definition DVDs, the series now looks better than it was ever even intended to look. The italics are deserved. Usually when we talk about picture quality, we hold movies and TV shows to a standard that values faithfulness to the intent of the filmmakers; but here, we're actually seeing The Twilight Zone in a way that's cleaner and clearer than ever before possible. Show creator Rod Serling probably never anticipated that viewers could one day watch the series at home with a level of clarity that rivals—and maybe even bests—a 35mm theatrical presentation. That's something. I've been continually impressed by the quality of these releases— not just the picture, but also the sheer amount of new bonus material that's been crammed in—and season five is no different. While it's not as consistently mind-melting as the first two seasons of the show, there are more than a few classic Twilight Zone episodes in this fantastic five- disc set.
"You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension, a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You're moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You've just crossed over into the Twilight Zone."
By the end of The Twilight Zone's third season, and certainly by the end of the fourth, the "land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas" had been thoroughly mapped by that great cartographer of the strange and paranormal, Rod Serling, the show's creator, showrunner, producer, narrator, and lead writer. I mean, of course, that Serling and his small team of likeminded sci-fi/fantasy scribes had largely exhausted their supply of original ideas and were starting to repeat themselves, producing variations on old themes and giving familiar premises new veneers. Serling alone wrote a whopping ninety-two of the one hundred and fifty six episodes in the series—understandably, he was most guilty of reusing motifs— and he later said, "I was writing so much, I felt I had begun to lose my perspective on what was good and what was bad."
While Serling did pen a few outright clunkers in season five—like the dull lost-and-aging-in-space drama "The Good Morrow" and the obnoxiously acted "Sounds and Silence"—he's also responsible for some of the best, along with Richard Matheson, one of the series' most reliable sources of chills. (We'll get to those in a second.) The most lackluster episodes largely come from the show's stable of less-celebrated writers. Earl Hamner Jr. provided two solid scripts for season five—the underappreciated "Ring-a-Ding Girl," which has a surprisingly dark twist, and the creepily desolate "Stopover in a Quiet Town"—but he's also responsible for tensionless outings like alien biker takeover "Black Leather Jackets" and car-come- alive melodrama "You Drive." The two weakest episodes are probably Anthony Wilson's "Come Wander With Me"—which stars Bing Crosby's son, Gary, as a wandering songsmith—and "Caesar and Me," a dopey ventriloquism story that was actually written by producer William Froug's former secretary, Adele T. Strassfield, at a time when the show was apparently desperate for scripts.
But let's not dwell on the bad when there's so much good this season. After a network-mandated experiment with hour-long programming the previous year—which didn't really fit the show's snappy short-story format—The Twilight Zone went back to its regular half-hour timeslot for 1963-64, a much-needed return to form. Leading the season off is Serling's "In Praise of Pip," a poignant episode about a father's sacrificial love for his son, starring Jack Klugman and child-star Billy Mumy, whom fans will certainly remember from season three's menacing "It's a Good Life." This is followed by the one-two punch of "Steel"—which seems to have inspired the upcoming robot boxing movie Real Steel—and one of The Twilight Zone's most memorable episodes, "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet," which features a pre-Star Trek William Shatner as a man who has a nervous breakdown on a plane when he sees a shaggy, malevolent creature on the wing, fooling around with the engine cowling. Both were written by Richard Matheson—of I Am Legend fame—who also contributed two other excellent scripts this season. "Spur of the Moment" employs a clever time loop narrative, and "Night Call" is one of his eeriest entries, a short-on-plot but high-on-atmosphere chiller about an elderly woman who receives phone calls from beyond the grave. Serling's other right-hand writer, Charles Beaumont, was suffering from an undiagnosed brain ailment by this time, but his ghostwriter Jerry Sohl submitted the creepy "Living Doll" on his behalf, a terrific episode about a chatty doll-come- to-life that says lines like, "My name is Talky Tina and you'll be sorry." Yikes.
Of course, it wouldn't be The Twilight Zone if Rod Serling didn't give us a few episodes that hide social criticism or moral parables inside the seemingly innocent guises of science fiction and the supernatural. In "The Masks," a dying patriarch asks his wife and children to don grotesque Cajun masks that eventually reveal the true intentions of the wearer. "The Last Night of a Jockey" and "A Short Drink from a Certain Fountain" both carry a "be careful what you wish for" message, and "I Am the Night—Color Me Black" shows the effects of racism literally spreading like a dark cloud. Most of these seem quaintly didactic nowadays, a bit too over-obvious and self-importantly earnest. Still, at the time, Serling was pressing some hot-button issues and trying to make his audience think about the state of the world around them. That's ambitious television.
Oddly enough, one of the most characteristically Twilight Zone-ish episodes of season five wasn't originally a Twilight Zone episode at all. "An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge," based on the Ambrose Bierce story of the same name, was an Academy Award-winning short film by French director Robert Enrico, and Twilight Zone producer William Froug bought the rights to air it on television as part of the series. While the cinematography is more lush than normal and the episode almost entirely dialogue-free, all of the Twilight Zone touchstones are here: an unusual premise—a captured Civil War soldier sentenced to die—a gripping dramatic buildup, and a twist ending that happens so fast it might snap your neck.
The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray, Video Quality
If you've been following our reviews for the previous seasons, you'll find nothing significantly different about the picture quality for season five, and that's a very good thing. It would be nearly impossible to improve on the fantastic work Image Entertainment has done with these Blu-ray season sets. Using original 35mm negatives, all-new 1080p/AVC-encoded transfers have been struck for each episode—framed in the standard 1.33:1 TV aspect ratio—and the results are unanimously gorgeous. As I mentioned in the previous reviews, I'm not sure if the source materials were near-pristine to begin with, or if these new masters required extensive restoration work, but regardless, the prints display no damage whatsoever and no substantial debris aside from a few scattered white specks. (They're also untouched by DNR. The grain structure is rich and stable.) The only oddity I noticed was that the first two shots of Black Leather Jackets look more grainy and soft than the rest of the episode, almost as if it was sourced from a different print. Season five displays the same level of exemplary clarity as its predecessors, revealing details that you've probably never noticed before, especially in some of the low-budget make-up effects. The show's producers probably never expected that it would ever be watched at home at nearly full analog film resolution. The textures of the actors' faces, the fibers of Rod Serling's suits, the details of the props—everything is refined and clear, without showing any signs of edge enhancement. Just as importantly, inky blanks, bright but not overblown whites, and a smooth gradient of a gray tones come together for an image with real depth and presence. Image deserves real praise for the quality of these transfers.
The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Continuing the custom established in the previous seasons, there are two audio options for each episode of season five, both sourced from the original magnetic soundtracks. Each episode defaults to a newly restored and remastered Linear PCM 2.0 mono mix that has been digitally cleaned up and optimized. The results are solid; the dialogue is perfectly reproduced, the various sound effects are clean and even dynamically punchy on occasion, and the scores —where the audio really shows its muscle—sound wonderful. For comparison, you can also select the original, unmastered audio, which is a bit murkier, with slightly muffled dialogue at times and a low tape hiss that can be made out if you listen carefully. The remastered mixes are preferable in my opinion, but it's great that Image thought to include the untouched audio as well. Each episode also includes white, easy-to-read English SDH subtitles, which are aligned with the lower left corner of picture.
The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Like each of the previous sets, Image has loaded up this season with a wonderful collection of special features, most notably twenty-seven commentary tracks—many of them newly recorded for this release—from the likes of Twilight Zone expert Marc Scott Zicree, influential fantasy writer Neil Gaiman, director Richard Donner, Coast to Coat AM host George Noory, and many of the episodes stars', from Billy Mumy to Mickey Rooney. (Make sure you listen to Rooney's semi-incomprehensible track—it's a doozy.) There are also audio recollections, video interviews, sponsor billboards, isolated scores for most of the episodes—presented in Dolby Digital 2.0—and some great ephemeral bits and bobs on the fifth disc, including a vintage Serling interview with Mike Wallace, excerpts from one of Serling's college lectures, and even a clip of Serling pitching the show to a network in the Netherlands. The only thing curiously not ported over from the DVDs is the excellent "Submitted for Your Approval" documentary, which Image might be keeping in their pocket for the inevitable complete series box set. Here's a by-episode breakdown of everything that's included:
#121 - In Praise of Pip
The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
And so it is finished. In almost exactly a year, Image Entertainment has released all five seasons of The Twilight Zone on Blu-ray, and I don't think fans could be more satisfied. Not only do we get every episode of the show in stunning high definition—and you will be stunned by the picture quality—but Image has also loaded up these sets with a fantastic array of extras, including literally dozens of new commentary tracks by series stars and the world's most foremost Twilight Zone experts. The fifth season can't quite compare to the show's first two years on the air, but there are several classic episodes here, from the pre-Star Trek William Shatner terror of "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" to the facial- disfigurement morality tale of "The Masks." If you haven't been snapping up these releases, you're missing out. Highly recommended!
The Twilight Zone: Other Seasons
Blu-ray bundles with The Twilight Zone: Season 5 (2 bundles)
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The Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Twilight Zone: Season 5 Blu-ray Details Materialize - May 4, 2011
Image Entertainment has detailed the August 30th Blu-ray release of The Twilight Zone: Season 5. The 5-disc set will offer every episode from the final season of Rod Serling's classic television series and an array of bonus features, including twenty new audio ...
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