Twilight_Zone:_The_Movie

Twilight Zone: The Movie

Twilight Zone: The Movie is a 1983 film produced by Steven Spielberg as a theatrical version of The Twilight Zone, a 1950s and 60s TV series created by Rod Serling. It starred Dan Aykroyd, Albert Brooks, Vic Morrow, Scatman Crothers, and John Lithgow.

The film remade three classic episodes of the original series and included one original story. John Landis directed the prologue and the first segment, Spielberg directed the second, Joe Dante the third, and George Miller directed the final segment.

The film is perhaps best known for the helicopter accident which took the lives of actor Vic Morrow and two illegally-hired child actors during the filming of Landis' segment. The deaths led to high-profile legal action, although in the subsequent trial no one was held criminally culpable for the accident.

Plot

Prologue

The film starts with a driver (Albert Brooks) and his passenger (Dan Aykroyd) driving through the mountains very late at night, singing along to Creedence Clearwater Revival's cover of "Midnight Special" on a cassette, which then breaks. Then the conversation turns to what scares them. The driver turns off the headlights and continues to drive. The passenger becomes nervous and demands he turn them back on. They play a game where they challenge each other to name TV theme songs. After several theme songs are mentioned, they begin to talk about their favorite episodes of The Twilight Zone, including "Time Enough at Last," "A Kind of a Stopwatch" which the driver thinks is an episode of The Outer Limits, and "The After Hours." The passenger then asks the driver, "Do you want to see something really scary?" The driver says yes. "Pull the car over," says the passenger. "Pull the car over?" the driver asks. At the passenger's insistence, the driver pulls over, turns the car off, and turns to face the passenger. "OK," he says, "Scare me." The passenger says "Are you ready?" and when the driver says "Yeah," he turns away from the driver. "What are you doing?" the driver asks. The passenger turns back around, and he has become a demonic monster, which makes a very loud roar and attacks the driver. The scene cuts to outside the car, and we hear growling, screaming, and struggling as the familiar Twilight Zone theme music begins, as does the trademark opening monologue, spoken by narrator Burgess Meredith, a veteran of the original TV series.

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.

First segment

You're about to meet an angry man: Mr. William Connor, who carries on his shoulder a chip the size of the national debt. This is a sour man, a lonely man, who's tired of waiting for the breaks that come to others, but never to him. Mr. William Connor, whose own blind hatred is about to catapault him into the darkest corner of the Twilight Zone.

The only original segment was the first, directed by John Landis. It is loosely based on the original Twilight Zone episode "A Quality of Mercy" and slightly "Deaths-Head Revisited". Vic Morrow plays an outspoken bigot named Bill who goes to a bar after work to have a drink with his friends. Bill is angry because he was passed over for a promotion for which he worked extremely hard. The promotion was given to a Jewish man. At the bar, he begins making racial slurs towards Jews, blacks, and Asians. He speaks derisively about the Jewish man to whom the promotion was given several times; he also makes racial remarks stating it's difficult to earn a living because of Jews, blacks, and orientals. Although his friends try to calm him down, Bill is adamant about his hate-filled emotions. He even attracts unwanted attention by a group of black men sitting near them who, of course, strongly resent his racist comments. Bill leaves the bar very angry. When he walks outside, however, he is not in the parking lot and finds himself in Vichy France during World War II. He is ironically seen through the eyes of Nazi police as a Jewish man whom they chase around the city. While trying to escape, Bill time travel jumps to a 1950's southern town where he is seen through the eyes of the Ku Klux Klan as an African-American about to be hanged. Bill is scared and confused and vehemently tries to tell them he's white. While trying to escape the Ku Klux Klan members, he time travels into the Vietnam War where he is a Vietnamese man nearly blown to bits by U.S. soldiers; Bill has become the selected ethnicities of the people whom he always was prejudiced against. The grenade thrown by the soldiers blasts him back to Nazi Germany, where he is captured and arrested by Nazi soldiers and put into an enclosed railroad freight car, along with other Jewish holocaust prisoners. He is shipped off along with them, with no possibility of redemption or being saved, and futilely screaming out for help as the train pulls away, off to its destination.

Second segment

It is sometimes said that where there is no hope, there is no life. Case in point: the residents of Sunnyvale Rest Home, where hope is just a memory. But hope just checked into Sunnyvale, disguised as an elderly optimist, who carries his magic in a shiny tin can.

The second segment is directed by Spielberg and is a remake of the episode "Kick the Can." Scatman Crothers plays an old man named Mr. Bloom who has just moved into his new home at Sunnyvale Retirement Home. Upon his arrival, he sits around kindly and smiles as he listens to the other elders reminisce about the joys they experienced in their days as youths. Mr. Bloom implies to them just because they're old doesn't mean they cannot enjoy life anymore and that feeling young and active has to do with your attitude not your age. However, a grumpy man named Bill Conroy who is fairly skeptical in his outlook on life disagrees, saying that now that they are all old they cannot engage in physical activity and play the games they once did as children. That night, Mr. Bloom gathers the rest of the optimistic residents outside and plays a game of kick the can. They are all ultimately transformed back into child versions of themselves. Although they are extremely ecstatic to be young again and engage in the activities they once enjoyed so long ago, they also realize that being young again means you not only experience the good aspects of life again but also the bad. They request to be old again, which Mr. Bloom grants to them. Bill Conroy witnesses one resident that still remains young and says that he wants to go with him before the boy magically takes off. Conroy realizes that he doesn't have to stop enjoying life because of his old age. The segment ends with Mr. Bloom leaving to another retirement home, and Conroy is outside happily kicking a can around the yard, for he has learned being young at heart is what really matters.

Third segment

Portrait of a woman in transit. Helen Foley, age 27. Occupation: schoolteacher. Up until now, the pattern of her life has been one of unrelenting sameness, waiting for something different to happen. Helen Foley doesn't know it yet, but her waiting has just ended.

The third segment, a remake of the episode "It's a Good Life," is directed by Joe Dante.

Kathleen Quinlan plays a mild-mannered school teacher named Helen Foley who is traveling to her new teaching job. While visiting a bar for a quick drink, she witnesses a young boy being accosted by a group of rowdy drunks for "accidentally" turning off the tv they were watching. Soon after, Helen decides to leave. Not paying attention, she backs into the boy with her car in the parking lot, knocking him from his bike. Helen offers her sincere apology and offers Anthony a ride home. They eventually get to Anthony's house, which is an immense home in the country. When Helen arrives, she meets some people whom Anthony tells her are his family, his Uncle Walt (Kevin McCarthy) and his sister Ethel (Nancy Cartwright). Also included in the family are Anthony's parents. Helen notices that the family seems extremely apprehensive, though she dismisses it. After satisfying her promise of taking Anthony home, Helen attempts to leave; she then discovers Anthony is no ordinary boy, for he possesses unexplained powers that allow him to do practically anything he desires, including making cartoon characters appear in real life and making people disappear all together. The people inform her they aren't his real family and that they were brought to the house under false pretense by Anthony, as she was. They also explain that they cannot leave. After the family has angered Anthony by making it obvious being with him is a complete nightmare, he instantly makes them and the house disappear, leaving himself and Helen in a limbo-like state surrounded by literal nothingness. Helen talks to Anthony and makes him realize the error of his ways and that she will be his true friend unlike the other people if he agrees not to abuse his power anymore. Anthony realizes the abuse of his supernatural powers have done nothing but bad; he agrees to become a good person, and he and Helen ride off together to her new home in a much nicer car after he returns the world.

Fourth segment

What you're looking at could be the end of a particularly terrifying nightmare. It isn't. It's the beginning. Introducing Mr. John Valentine, air traveller. His destination: the Twilight Zone.

The fourth segment is a remake of the "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" episode, and is directed by George Miller. John Lithgow plays the highly-nervous and stressed out airline passenger Mr. John Valentine. Mr. Valentine slowly emerges from the bathroom after flight attendants repeatedly ask if he's okay. Mr. Valentine was most likely recovering from a panic attack. Although not mentioned during the segment, it is most likely Mr. Valentine suffers from severe anxiety, claustrophobia, and acrophobia. Mr. Valentine is repeatedly assured by the flight attendants that everything is going to be alright, and there's nothing to worry about, while attracting some occasional gawking from other airline passengers who also become somewhat nervous due to his behavior. When Mr. Valentine notices a hideous gremlin on the wing of the plane from his window, he begins to spiral into severe panic. He witnesses the diminutive, but vile creature, ripping apart wires and bolts from the plane's engine. Unfortunately, no one believes Mr. Valentine. Upon witnessing the creature causing further damage, he snaps and grabs the air marshall's hand gun, breaks the glass (which causes a breach in the pressurized cabin), and begins firing at the creature. The gremlin grabs his face for a second and waves his finger in a "no, no" manner and flies off. The airplane then makes an emergency landing. The police, crew, and passengers rule him out as just another claustrophobic nut case. He is then carried off in an ambulance that is taking him to an asylum wrapped in a straight jacket. The maintenance crew then discovers the unexplained damage to the plane's engines.

Epilogue

The end of the fourth segment connects with the character from the prologue. John Lithgow's character is in an ambulance on his way to an asylum when the ambulance driver turns off the siren and starts playing Creedence's "Midnight Special." He turns around to reveal himself as Dan Aykroyd's character from the opening and says, "Heard you had a big scare up there, huh? Wanna see something really scary?" The film then ends as the scene fades out to a starry night sky along with Rod Serling's opening monologue from the first season of The Twilight Zone.

There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition, and it lies between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge. This is the dimension of imagination. It is an area which we call the Twilight Zone.

Helicopter accident

The making of the movie had consequences which overshadowed the film itself. During the filming of a segment directed by John Landis on July 23, 1982, actor Vic Morrow and child actors Myca Dinh Le (age 7) and Renee Shin-Yi Chen (age 6) died in an accident involving a helicopter being used on the set. Pyrotechnic explosions caused the low-flying helicopter to spin out of control and crash. The rotor blade decapitated Morrow and Le; Chen was crushed by the helicopter's skid. The helicopter's passengers suffered only minor injuries.

The accident led to legal action against the filmmakers which lasted nearly a decade, and changed the regulations involving children working on movie sets at night and during special effects-heavy scenes. Hollywood also avoided helicopter-related stunts for many years, until the CGI revolution of the 1990s made it possible to use digital versions. As a result of the accident, one second assistant director had his name removed from the credits and replaced with the pseudonymous Alan Smithee. The incident also ended the friendship between director Landis and producer Spielberg.

Release and reaction

Twilight Zone: The Movie opened on June 24, 1983 to mixed reviews. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times rated each segment individually, awarding them (on a scale of four stars): two for the prologue and first segment, one-and-a-half for the second, three-and-a-half stars for the third, and three-and-a-half for the final. Ebert noted that "the surprising thing is, the two superstar directors are thoroughly routed by two less-known directors whose previous credits have been horror and action pictures...Spielberg, who produced the whole project, perhaps sensed that he and Landis had the weakest results, since he assembles the stories in an ascending order of excitement. "Twilight Zone" starts slow, almost grinds to a halt, and then has a fast comeback.

The Nightmare segment was widely praised, with John Lithgow's performance often singled out, but the other segments were less popular. Many critics accused Spielberg's Kick the Can of excessive sentimentality. The film was very much hurt by the controversy of the infamous helicopter accident, and the box office results showed lukewarm public interest.

According to boxofficemojo.com, it grossed $6,614,366 in its opening weekend at 1,275 theaters. It later expanded to 1,288 theaters and ended up grossing $29,450,919. It was not the enormous hit which executives were looking for, but it remains the number one grossing anthology film in cinema history and helped stir enough interest for CBS to give the go-ahead to the 1980s TV version of The Twilight Zone.

It has been released to VHS several times, most recently as part of WB's "Hits" line, and has been released for DVD, HD DVD, and Blu-ray discs on October 9th, 2007.

Novelization

Robert Bloch wrote the book adaptation of Twilight Zone: The Movie. Bloch's order of segments does not match the order in the film itself, as he was given the original screenplay to work with, in which "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" was the second segment, and "Kick the Can" was the fourth. Both the movie's prologue and epilogue are missing in the novelisation; Bloch claimed that no one told him the anthology had a wraparound sequence. Bloch also said that in the six weeks he was given to write the book, he only only saw a screening of two of the segments, and that he had to hurriedly change the ending of the first segment after the fatal accident that occurred during filming. As originally written, the first segment would have ended as it did in the original screenplay; the finished book reflects how the first segment ends in the final cut of the film.

References in TV and film

  • During the Vietnam sequence, one of the soldiers says "I told you guys we shouldn't have shot Lieutenant Niedermeyer!" This is a reference to Animal House, also directed by John Landis, in which the character of Niedermeyer is said to have been killed in Vietnam by his own troops.
  • In the series 3rd Rock from the Sun, events in the fourth segment are mentioned twice:
    • In episode 12 of the first season, Dick (John Lithgow) and Mary (Jane Curtin) are seated in a plane which is about to take-off for Chicago. Suddenly, Dick goes berserk, looks out the window and shouts "Oh my God! Out there! There's something on the wing!" Mary's assurance that "it's an engine" doesn't seem to calm him down. They end up driving.
    • In episode 23 of the fourth season, "Dick's Big Giant Headache, Part I"; the Big Giant Head (played by William Shatner, who portrayed character from the original Twilight Zone episode) has just disembarked from a flight at the airport. Meeting the Solomon family at the gate, he tells them, "It was a horrible flight! There was a man on the wing of the plane!" Dick then exclaims, "The same thing happened to me!"
  • The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror II" spoofs the original 1961 It's A Good Life with Bart (voiced by actress Nancy Cartwright, who appeared in that segment of the film as his "sister" Ethel) taking the role of Anthony. On the audio commentary, the commentators laugh at the realization that her fate in the segment (being trapped in a cartoon world) is similar to her endless career in voice-over since the show was created.
  • Another "Treehouse of Horror" episode spoofs "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" in the segment called "Terror at 5½ Feet," in which Bart tries to stop a gremlin loosening the lug nuts on one of the bus wheels. The ending is different from the original as Bart burns the gremlin but it survives and kills Flanders. As Bart is being driven off to a sanitarium, the gremlin returns, showing Flanders' head, ready to exact revenge against Bart.
  • The third segment is filled with references to various episodes of the original Twilight Zone series. First, the character played by Kathleen Quinlan, who is a schoolteacher and ultimate mentor to Anthony is named Helen Foley. In the first season, "Nightmare as a Child", the main character is also a schoolteacher named Helen Foley (the real Helen Foley was a schoolteacher and mentor to Rod Serling). In this third segment of the movie, Helen is traveling in the country and gets lost. She stops in a diner to ask for directions. The counterman mentions the towns Cliffordville and Beaumont. Cliffordville is the name of a town in the fourth season episode "Of Late I Think of Cliffordville". Beaumont is most likely a reference to Charles Beaumont, who wrote a number of scripts for the series. Helen also mentions that her home town is Homewood, a reference to a town in the first season episode "Walking Distance". She also says that she is on her way to visit Willoughby, a reference to another first season episode "A Stop at Willoughby". And Bill Mumy, who played the boy in the original Twilight Zone episode, plays a guy in his twenties inside the diner at the beginning when Helen meets Anthony.

Trivia

External links

References

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