Alan Smithee Podcast 62: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, John Landis & Steven Spielberg & Joe Dante & George Miller)

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The Twilight Zone movie has an infamy mostly forgotten and an epochal significance in movie history rarely acknowledged.

The infamy belonged to John Landis, for killing b-movie workhorse Vic Morrow and two kids in a helicopter crash. This wasn’t the first or last time actors would die on movie sets, but the attachment of Steven Spielberg as producer kept the affair in the news until Landis was acquitted several years later. Ironically, is career only began declining after this acquittal and the only reforms to come about from the accident were stricter child actor laws, as both kids were underage and working after accepted child actor hours.

The rest of the film represents the state of popular fantasy filmmaking in America at the time, which may as well have meant American filmmaking period from that point onward; the aftermath of those heady Spielberg/Lucas/Jaws/Star Wars gold rush days. This was just one year before Spielberg wielded his influence to create the PG-13 rating, inaugurating the slow de-evolution of all American film into pseudo-sophisticated adolescent escapist drivel. The state of adolescent fantasy films in 1983 was still very good indeed, though. Spielberg’s celebration of the television show which probably had a greater impact on his fellow monster makers and pop-fantasy moralists was like a victory cry: We have grown up, we have accepted the mantle of Rod, and now we are the music makers and dreamers of dreams. Let us rejoice.

Besides himself and Landis, Spielberg’s choice of newcomers Joe Dante and George Miller affirmed the notion that violence, horror, humor, kinetic action and a dash of sweetness could all be synthesized together into something for everybody. Dante’s Gremlins, produced by Spielberg in 1984 along with his own alternately heart-ripping and heartwarming Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom under the brand new PG-13 banner, legitimized this perpetual adolescent orthodoxy for good. Miller’s Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome came the following year in 1985, and while Spielberg was not formally attached, it was clear the influence had rubbed off: where George’s prior Mad Max films were full of violent battles with sadistic homosexual biker gangs, Mel Gibson’s chief concern in Part 3 became saving a tribe full of adorable orphaned ragamuffins.

The entertainment value of Twilight Zone: The Movie is a mixed bag, which is why between the four directors and their segmented offerings we decided to let this episode stand with this film alone. Landis’ opening prologue and fatal first segment are cloddish, while Spielberg’s rendition of “Kick the Can” redefines mawkishness and nearly induces fatally freezing waves of douche chills on the viewer. Joe Dante’s version of “It’s a Good Life” on the other hand, is a clever reworking of the original story along Dante’s thematic preoccupations with television and cartoons. George Miller’s version of “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” may lack the slow-burn intensity of William Shatner’s performance from the original episode, but his camerawork is as brilliant as ever and generates constant excitement within the confines of the gremlin-besieged plane. Additionally, Jerry Goldsmith turns in a fine score throughout the whole film and I-am-legendary author Richard Matheson pens both Dante and Miller’s segments.

Has there ever been such a marked difference in quality between the first and second halves of a film? This episode of An Alan Smithee Podcast is a good movie and a bad one, all in one.

NEXT EPISODE: TIM BURTON SPECIAL! MARS ATTACKS! (1996, TIM BURTON) & SLEEPY HOLLOW (1999, TIM BURTON)

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6 thoughts on “Alan Smithee Podcast 62: Twilight Zone: The Movie (1983, John Landis & Steven Spielberg & Joe Dante & George Miller)

  1. I would like to hear more about what you mentioned in this sentence “inaugurating the slow de-evolution of all American film into pseudo-sophisticated adolescent escapist drivel”, because I find it especially interesting when a film like Super 8 is relelased and tries to recapture the Spielbergism of yester-year.

    Thanks for a good show btw

  2. What was mentioned about the “de-evolution of American film” is really just the shared opinion of Andrew and I.

    At some point we should probably do a good Spielberg / bad Spielberg episode to focus on the subject of his influence in more depth. Any suggestions for the titles?

  3. Interesting podcast. I’ll have to check out some of the others, particularly the one featuring An American Werewolf in London, which is a favorite of mine.

    I agree with you that Aykroyd was probably a hitchhiker, but I don’t think his line “Yeah, I know where you’re from” was meant to be taken literally, but rather colloquially, as in “I know where you’re [coming] from.

    A minor correction: The location in which Morrow finds himself when he first leaves the bar isn’t Germany, but rather Nazi-occupied France — the woman in whose apartment he seeks refuge is speaking French when she alerts the soldiers on the street to his presence. The scene in which he’s forced aboard a railway car, presumably headed for a concentration camp, is definitely set in Germany, though.

    “See you next Wednesday” is spoken in German by one of the Nazis when Morrow is on the ledge. :-)

    I have to defend Morrow’s performance. Considering the weak material provided to him by Landis, I think he did a good job.

    For me, Spielberg’s segment was the biggest dud, even more so than Landis’ heavy-handed morality tale (equating the Nazis, the KKK and U.S. soldiers in Vietnam was grossly unfair, whatever one’s stance is on the War).

    At least Spielberg had an excuse for his lackluster effort, as he was so sickened by the death of Morrow and the two children that his heart wasn’t in the project anymore. The only reason he shot an episode at all was because he was contractually obligated to do so. The segment he had intended to do, The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street, would have almost certainly been far superior to the cloyingly sentimental Kick the Can.

    My favorite segment was Miller’s, with Dante’s a close second. Too bad Miller and Dante didn’t direct all four.

    I also thought Goldsmith’s music was quite effective. The expanded edition of his score released by Film Score Monthly is well worth picking up.

    Just my two cents.

    As for good Spielberg/ bad Spielberg suggestions, how about Raiders of the Lost Ark/1941?

    If you want to understand why 1941 is such a colossal mess, look no further than this documentary:

    P.S. Farber and Green’s “Outrageous Conduct” is a must-read. It’s OOP, but I was able to obtain a used copy via Amazon Marketplace.

  4. Just consulted Twilight Zone Museum. According to that site, Morrow’s final scene also takes places in Nazi Occupied-France, not Germany:

    “after a grenade blast in Vietnam sends Bill flying back to 1941 France…”

    My mistake. :-)

  5. I read that site really thoroughly in preparation for this episode, it’s great.

    1941 could indeed be a great choice for the bad Spielberg movie. Thanks for the clip!

  6. in my opinion 1941 wipes the floor with any of Speilberg’s ponderous, serious historical dramas, especially “Munich”. The scene where Eric Bana is having a flashback to the Munich massacre whilst having sex with his wife must be the most bizarre thing I’ve ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood movie, but not in a good way. Actually, Bana’s character wasn’t at Munich, so it’s more like he’s imagining the massacre whilst having sex, but that doesn’t make the scene less strange.
    At least 1941 has a few relatively entertaining moments, and makes no pretences to historical accuracy.

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