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)