Rod Serling’s seminal 1959-64 series The Twilight Zone has been released on stellar, definitive DVD and Blu-ray packages. For those who have found the previous releases a bit pricey, Image Entertainment has been re-releasing the individual seasons on DVD without special features at an affordable price. August 6, 2013 will see the release of The Twilight Zone: Season 4 a five disc set, at a list price of $29.98.
The fourth season of The Twilight Zone brought with it lots of changes. The most notable to the casual viewer was a shift from its highly effective half-hour format to the more experimental hour-long format that was being implemented by other CBS series, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Gunsmoke. Behind the scenes, even more seismic changes were taking place. Rod Serling, the show’s creator, and creative force, had accepted a teaching job at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. While he would write several scripts this season, he no longer supervised the day-to-day production. Further, producer Buck Houghton, who had been instrumental in getting The Twilight Zone on the air, took another job when CBS waited to renew the series.
Given all of these changes, it should come as no surprise that the fourth season of The Twilight Zone (technically renamed to just Twilight Zone) contains 18 rarely syndicated episodes. While they’re not terrible, they don’t meet the standard set by previous seasons.
With producer Buck Houghton gone, CBS turned to Herbert Hirschman to guide the series. While he kept much from his predecessor, he did make one notable change. Getting rid of the concentric spiral effect from the third season, and altering the narration a bit. The series now opened with a series of objects floating through space: a shattered window, a detached eyeball (and upper lid), a closed door, and a ticking clock. Very effective; even if fans of the show don’t particularly care for this season’s episodes, the opening is likely remembered. Rod Serling not being available at all times in California has a disconcerting effect on all the episodes. His on-screen introductions were no longer done from the set. Instead, each episode is introduced by Rod either standing or sitting on a stool in front of a blank canvas. That mode of doing things just takes some of the fun and excitement out of it.
Serling contributed only seven scripts—still more than any other writer—while frequent collaborator Charles Beaumont went to work, despite suffering with the beginning stages of both Alzheimer’s and Pick’s disease. Beaumont’s episodes are some of the most memorable of the season. His opener, “In His Image,” is a slow-building mystery about an out-of-control android who, after realizing that he isn’t human, confronts his identical maker. In “Miniature,” a young Robert Duvall (you won’t recognize him), plays a socially stunted thirty-year-old virgin who falls in love with the tiny inhabitant of a museum dollhouse, and character actor Burgess Meredith makes his fourth and final Twilight Zone appearance in “Printer’s Devil” as a typesetter and journalist of soulless disposition. These are all piercingly written and make good use of the hour-long format. Beaumont also wrote the scariest episode of the season, “The New Exhibit,” which follows the descent into madness of a man who keeps wax figures of history’s most notorious serial killers in his basement.
I Am Legend author Richard Matheson wrote two scripts. “Mute,” which asks the question: Would a speechless-but-telepathic orphan be better off in life if she abandoned her gift and became “exactly like everybody else,” as her domineering schoolteacher requires? “Death Ship” centers on three astronauts—one played Jack Klugman—land on a far-flung planet, and find a crashed copy of their ship, with their own dead, doppelganger bodies inside. A haunting and surreal episode, I think it’s my favorite of the season.
Serling himself felt that the hour-long format wasn’t a great idea for the series. “Ours is the perfect half-hour show,” he said. “If we went to an hour, we’d have to fleshen our stories, soap opera style. Viewers could watch fifteen minutes without knowing whether they were in a Twilight Zone or Desilu Playhouse.”
Presented in the original aspect ratio of 1.33:1, the transfers and menus are the same as the previous OOP Image DVD releases but stripped of any and all extra features. Suffice to say, the transfer and the Dolby Digital Mono soundtrack is stellar. If the Blu-ray or DVD definitive editions are pricey for you, this release is a viable alternative.
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