The Twilight Zone speaks to the very heart of what America is; Rod Serling and his colleagues demonstrated the vulnerabilities and strengths of the American status quo at their time, but they also spoke to the core of our national identity. Through stories that were sometimes cheesy, sometimes brilliant, and often poignant, the team addressed anxieties that plagued the American people and subtly asserted moral lessons for the audience. Perhaps the program should not have worked, but it perfectly filled a void in 1950s and 1960s popular culture. Arguably, that period is the only time in which the show could succeed; almost certainly, Serling and his collaborators were a necessary element in the show’s winning formula. Whether timeliness or personnel was the deciding factor is actually a moot point, though; no matter what made The Twilight Zone great in its heyday, it was undeniably a phenomenon. After the show’s run, multiple attempts have been made to bring it back, but they have all more or less failed. To understand why, we can look to the first major post-series attempt to capitalize on its success: Twilight Zone: The Movie . From its opening, the film adaptation clearly misses the point of the series. The Twilight Zone was never about monsters and things that go bump in the night; it was about the fear of what might be out there, rather than fear of the thing itself. It generally did not rely on horrifying gags not only because of the limitations of special effects, but because the thrills came from manipulated but genuine feelings rather than simple shock value. Beyond the prologue, the movie relies mostly on modern updates of classic episodes. The first segment, however, is an original story by John Landis. Similar to classic “lest we forget” episodes such as “Death’s Head Revisited,” Landis’ tale traces the harrowing journey through the Twilight Zone taken by one Mr. William Connor, an unapologetic bigot. Connor slurs blacks, Jews, and Vietnamese; only to experience what their lives are like . Though Landis and company undoubtedly thought this
concept brilliant, in execution its heavy-handedness makes it come off more like the insufferable “He’s Alive” than, say, the far superior “Judgment Night.” Part of the problem with the segment, which ironically is actually similar to some episodes of The Twilight Zone , is the sheer obviousness of it all. Perhaps it would have been improved had the intended ending been
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- Spring '14
- The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling, John Valentine