Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983)

31 Mar

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Smith’s Verdict: **

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

“The Twilight Zone” took television viewers where no one else ever imagined being before. Even though it was a TV show, we felt like it really took us through another dimension. Now many years later, here is the attempt to suck us in again with “Twilight Zone: The Movie.” This movie contains four short segments as long as the original “Twilight Zone” episodes, directed by four different directors—John Landis, Steven Spielberg, Joe Dante, and George Miller. But the surprise is that the best known of those four—Steven Spielberg—has made the worst segment in the movie.

There are two bad segments, one good third segment, and one great last segment. So as a whole, “Twilight Zone: The Movie” is only worth recommending for the second half, which doesn’t make for a positive recommendation as a whole.

The movie opens with a nicely-done prologue (also written and directed by John Landis) in which Dan Aykroyd is a hitchhiker and Albert Brooks is the driver that picked him up. They sing many well-known TV show themes before the unexpected (and very frightening) occurs. That’s a great opening scene that lets us know that we’re in another dimension. But then with the two segments that follow, the movie starts to falter.

The first segment features a racist man, played by Vic Morrow, who is taught a lesson the hard way when he finds himself in Nazi Germany and Vietnam. This one is so predictable and unsurprising that it’s weak. At one point, he finds himself at a Ku Klux Klan rally—what is trying to be said here? It also doesn’t help that we know that Morrow died in a helicopter accident during filming.

The second segment is directed by Steven Spielberg. This really brings the movie down. This segment is so whimsical and full of its whimsicality that it becomes…not very whimsical and more condescending. It stars Scatman Crothers as a mysterious old man who visits a nursing home and grants them the feeling of being young again. This segment looks great and its message is good (one lifetime is enough), but it’s just full of itself.

Then we come to the third segment by Joe Dante. The movie redeems itself after the bad segment that came before this. Kathleen Quinlan plays a schoolteacher making her way through a small town when she almost hits a young boy. This boy may look cute, harmless, and heartfelt, but he holds a secret in his house that brings the woman into another dimension where cartoon characters come to life and the boy’s wishes come true…for better or worse. This segment is so weird and offbeat but it’s also very inventive and great-looking. The special effects and the art direction are especially good when the most surreal events happen in this house.

And then at last, we arrive at the segment that is the real reason to see this movie—a remade version of the original “Twilight Zone” episode “Nightmare at 5,000 Feet.” This segment stands above the others. Made by George Miller, it’s well-made and powerfully-acted and also, very scary. This segment really gets into the “Twilight Zone” tradition—it really makes us feel like we’re in another dimension. John Lithgow is phenomenal as a man who has a phobia for flying and sees a monster on the wing of the airplane he’s traveling on—or does he?

The two last segments (especially the very last one) makes “Twilight Zone: The Movie” worth seeing. If you want a truly frightening modern-“Twilight Zone” type of experience, skip ahead to about 45 minutes. You won’t miss a thing and I’m sure you’ll enjoy the movie a whole lot more. I just can’t believe that Steven Spielberg would make the worst segment in the movie—maybe he should have watched some more episodes of the original “Twilight Zone.”

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