The Twilight Zone in Black and White and Blu

The Twilight Zone: Season 1 Blu-ray (Image)

Submitted for your approval: Rod Serling, a writer. Ambitious, talented, turning out the finest television plays of the 1950s while chafing against the censorship of meek advertisers. His ingenious solution: create a series framed in the tales of the fantastic, and slip in the social politics and barbed human dramas behind the façade of fantasy. The result: a TV series so iconic and influential that its very title has become a cultural catch-phrase. We give you The Twilight Zone, the most celebrated and respected anthology series of all time, making its high-definition debut.

Burgess Meredith in "Time Enough At Last"

Serling was one of the most celebrated writers on television when he created the series, with 3 Emmy awards to his credit, but genre fiction was not part of his resume. Not that you’d notice by the high quality of his scripts. He brought a capacity for compassion and sensitivity to human drama to “One For the Angels,” “Time Enough at Last,” and the poignant “A Stop at Willoughby,” and a social conscience to such episodes as “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street,” his take on the paranoid hysteria of the red scare.

The half hour format gave Serling and his writers (which include genre legends Charles Beaumont and Richard Matheson) a format in which to hone their scripts into the television equivalent of short stories, with economy and focus, and it drew out the best in the directors, who were rarely showy but almost always creative in their approach. Most importantly, the show never sacrificed character to ideas. The series is so iconic and influential that its very title has become a cultural catch-phrase. These episodes remind us why.

The original season features the original opening credits sequences set to the swirling harp of Bernard Hermann’s dreamy original theme (replaced in Season Two by Marius Constant’s more familiar avant-garde theme), with Serling narrating the introductions off camera, though each episode is followed by Serling’s original on-screen promos for the next week’s shows (some are audio only).

36 episodes on five discs in a double-wide case with hinged trays, remastered for this release from the original camera negatives and magnetic soundtracks. Exclusive to the Blu-ray debut is “The Time Element,” an hour-long production written by Serling for Westinghouse Desilu Playhouse (hosted by Desi Arnaz) in 1958 and considered the “unofficial pilot” for the show. William Bendix stars as a New York working class mug who makes an impromptu visit to psychiatrist Martin Balsam to pour out a recurring dream of waking up in Honolulu on December 6, 1941, and then insist that it’s not a dream at all, but really happening to him. The essentials of the Twilight Zone sensibility are here, not so much the social commentary but certainly the focus on characterization (Bendix is a punchy guy whose panic and confusion come out in challenges and dares, because it’s easier to get into a fight than to contemplate the possibility that he actually traveled through time) and the literate script that attempts to address a science fiction concept in practical terms (in this case, the explanation is less satisfying than the narrative twists).

Also includes an episode of the early fifties anthology series Tales of Tomorrow based on the story “What You Need,” which Rod Serling adapted for the first season of The Twilight Zone, as well as 19 new commentary tracks, 18 contemporary radio drama adaptations and 34 isolated scores. That’s in addition to the supplements from the earlier DVD release. The original, unaired version of the pilot “Where is Everybody” features a different narrator, unfamiliar opening credits, and minor editing and dialogue difference, with optional commentary by pilot producer William Self and the original sponsor pitch by Rod Serling, commentary on numerous episodes (by actors Earl Holliman, Rod Taylor, Martin Landau, Martin Milner, Kevin McCarthy, and director Ted Post), archival audio-only interviews with series producer Buck Houghton and others (including writer Richard Matheson, director Douglas Heyes, and actors Burgess Meredith and Anne Francis) conducted by The Twilight Zone Companion author Marc Scott Zicree in the 1970s, isolated music scores, and priceless excerpts from Serling’s lectures from Sherwood Oaks College in 1975, each organized by appropriate episodes. Also features an episode of the panel show The Liar’s Club hosted by Rod Serling, promos and ads, and a brief but priceless Serling blooper.

Author: seanax

I write the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website (www.streamondemandathome.com). I’m a contributing writer for Turner Classic Movies Online, Keyframe, Independent Lens, and Cinephiled, and the editor of Parallax View (www.parallax-view.org).. I’ve written for The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, The Seattle Weekly, GreenCine.com, Senses of Cinema, Asian Cult Cinema, and Psychotronic Video, among other publications, and I am a contributing editor to Parallax View.

I currently live and work in Seattle, Washington, with my two cats, Hammet and Chandler.

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