Posts Tagged ‘sci-fi’

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 6)

March 22, 2023

So now we start on Season 2, after Season 1 ended up being hit and miss.  How will Season shake out?

The first episode is “King Nine Will Not Return”. Here, a pilot wakes up in a crashed WWII plane in the desert, only to discover that all of his crew is gone.  As he tries to look around for them, he doesn’t see much but eventually sees some modern planes in the sky, and knows that he recognizes them from somewhere.  He eventually collapses, and the scene shifts to a hospital where it is revealed that he saw a newspaper headline that a lost plane from WWII had been discovered and just collapsed.  He wakes up, and it is revealed that he was supposed to be flying that plane but had a fever and couldn’t fly, and it never came back.  Thus, it seems that guilt caused his collapse, but when the nurse brings his shoes she empties sand out of one of them.

The issue here is that the episode’s structure causes it to hit the exact issue that the previous season’s episodes had.  As we start with him in the crashed plane in the desert, we know that a twist is coming and so spend all of our time trying to figure out what it was.  I think this episode would have worked a lot better if we’d seen him look at the newspaper headline and collapse, and then had him wake up in the desert.  Then we could have wondered along with him what happened and wondered if he was really here or not, which would have made the “empty sand out of the shoe” scene even more intriguing.  As it is, there’s nothing to indicate that he was really there and given the chain of events there really couldn’t have been any way for that to happen, so it seems like it comes completely out of nowhere.

The second episode is “The Man in the Bottle”.  An antique dealer who is struggling takes pity on an elderly woman and buys a worthless antique bottle from her, and when he and his wife open it it turns out to contain a genie who offers them four wishes, but is careful to note that they need to think carefully about the consequences of their actions.  The first wish they use to test the genie is to fix the broken glass in their display cabinet, which the genie does.  Then they wish for a million dollars in cash, and when the genie grants it they happily give a lot of it away … only to discover that they owe taxes on it and so end up with only $5.  After being admonished again to carefully think about the consequences of their wishes, the owner wishes to be in charge of a country where he can’t be voted out, and is turned into Adolf Hitler at the end of WWII, when the Nazis had lost the war and Hilter was about to commit suicide.  He desperately wishes for the wish to be undone, and it is … but that was their last wish, leaving them with nothing but a repaired display cabinet … and then the owner drops a broom against it, breaking it as well, as the two of them laugh about it.  Outside, the bottle reforms, ready for someone else to pick it up.

I liked the interplay between the owners and the genie, and the genie was delightfully urbane about the whole thing.  However, the genie’s motivations themselves are a bit muddled, making the plot a bit muddled.  I really, really liked the idea of them having to consider the consequences of their wishes and that they gave so much of the money away without thinking about how they’d pay the taxes fit into that perfectly.  However, when the genie turns the owner into Hitler right at the end of WWII that really comes across as the genie messing with them than of those being easily foreseeable consequences of their wish.  Yes, a modern country that doesn’t have elections would hit on that sort of thing, but it could have been right after Hitler took over or even Stalin and that would have worked as well.  But I did like the characters and their interaction, and it is an example of a plot where we know there is a twist and know that it’s coming — and might even know what it is — but the details around that are interesting enough to keep us interested and actually paying attention to the interactions in the episode itself.

The third episode is “Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room”, which follows a nervous and not very successful gangster, whose boss tells him to kill a bartender or else be killed himself.  As the boss leaves, the gangster sees a more confident version of himself in the mirror, and they proceed to argue over whether he should kill the bartender or not.  The confident version of himself won’t let him kill the bartender, and ultimately he doesn’t and his boss comes by to take him to task over it, at which point it is clear that the gangster is the more confident version of himself and he abuses his boss and throws him out, declaring that he might be able to get the things that his weaker self couldn’t get.

While this sort of idea could be interesting, this premise really, really doesn’t work.  Gang bosses are not going to let someone go, especially someone who abused them, and the main reason the gangster was even thinking about killing the guy was because he’d be killed if he didn’t.  Yes, he risked going to jail for a long, long time but that might indeed be better than dying.  All the confident side of him managed to do, then, was get him killed, which ruins any point that this could have made.  That this was simply the two sides arguing with each other doesn’t make it any more interesting, and the payoff was both expected and, as already noted, incomprehensible.

The fourth episode is “A Thing About Machines”, following a reclusive, stuck-up and irritable — so much so as to be irritating — man.  He has one simple problem:  the machines in his house seem to hate him, and in fact they keep trying to tell him to leave and ultimately chase him from the house, where his car chases him into a pool, where he sinks and drowns despite not being weighted down.

The man seems to abuse his TV at the beginning, but the show establishes that the machines were already abusing him at that point, and we have no idea why the machines were against him so much or, in fact, how they managed to sink him in the pool without weights.  Yes, the man was a pain, but he didn’t deserve this and we don’t know what the machines wanted.  Given that, this is a poor episode overall.

The fifth episode is “The Howling Man”, where a man doing a walking tour of Europe in 1925 becomes lost in a storm and prevails upon a monastery to help him.  They don’t want to, but since putting him out would kill him they eventually relent.  However, he hears a strange howling but the monks won’t answer him when he asks about it.  He finds the man howling in a cell and is told by the man that he is being unjustly imprisoned here by the “mad” monks.  The walker goes back and confronts the head monk about it again but doesn’t get an answer until he threatens to go to the police.  The head monk says that the prisoner is actually the Devil himself, but the walker doesn’t believe him and eventually sneaks back to release the prisoner, who is then revealed to really be the Devil, who escapes.  The scene changes to the present, with the walker telling the story to a maid, explaining that he spent his life trying to capture the Devil again, and has locked him inside a closet.  After the walker leaves, the maid hears howling and goes to open the closet door.

This one is actually fairly well done.  The premise is interesting and the twist works because we spend most of the episode following the walker as he tries to figure out the twist and then it pulls the rug out from under everyone, and then the ending fits well with the rest of the episode.  I did enjoy this one.

The sixth episode is “Eye of the Beholder”, where we see a woman with her face wrapped in bandages attended by medical professionals whose faces are constantly hidden from the camera.  She laments how ugly she is and hopes that the treatment will cure that, and we discover that this is her last chance at a treatment or else she’ll be sent away to live with others.  We also hear in the background a number of things indicating that this is some kind of totalitarian society based on conformity.  When the bandages are removed, it is clear that the procedure was a failure … the woman is, in fact, a quite attractive normal looking woman.  Then it is revealed that the medical professionals are ugly-looking pig-faced individuals, and she, after some resistance, is to be sent to a colony where all the “horribly ugly” people who look like normal people are sent.

This is a very famous episode, and for good reason as the premise is incredible.  However, I found the execution to be flawed as it seems to mix two themes:  the idea of conformity and the idea that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.  If they had wanted to make this about conformity, what they needed to do was instead of making the medical professionals ugly make them normal looking and give her one small, almost unnoticeable flaw that meant that she didn’t conform to the norm.  This also would have allowed them to not hide the faces of the medical professionals as much, which would have given the twist away even if I hadn’t already known it.  However, the stronger point is indeed that beauty is in the eye of the beholder … but then it would have been much better to instead of holding out the hope that they would find each other beautiful to really drive home that in this society the standards for beauty aligned to what we thought of as ugly by having the two of them act as if they were being exiled to live around ugliness for the rest of their lives.  Implying that they would find themselves beautiful despite growing up in that culture encourages us to think of the “normal” people in that world as ugly as well, which pretty much scuppers that point.  So, a good premise, but a muddled implementation.

I had actually forgotten to write up my comments on this disk after watching it, and so only came back to it a couple of weeks later when I was trying to write up the next disk.  I remembered thinking that the season started off better but on actually writing down my comments on the episode that doesn’t seem to be the case.  Marc commented that Serling thought that most of the episodes that he wrote for the series were bad and I find that I have to agree with Serling on this one.  Some of them the bad ones were still better than the alternatives, but I wonder if part of my reaction here is like the one I had to “Eye of the Beholder”:  the ideas are good but the execution flawed which makes them all the more annoying.

Thoughts on “Bumblebee”

March 21, 2023

I had pretty much given up on the modern “Transformers” movies.  I think I watched the first three — at least the last of those because I got it in a cheap pack somewhere — but was never all that impressed by them, mostly because it couldn’t capture the aesthetics and themes of the original cartoon.  Sure, a non-animated feature film was going to try to be a bit more adult than a cartoon, but I didn’t find the shift one that made them more mature as opposed to make them, well, more explodey.  Since I actually liked Bay’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movies, that was a pretty good indication that the “Transformers” ones were not up to snuff.  So I abandoned the entire series and didn’t look back.

Well, until this past weekend.  So why, if I had abandoned the series, was I willing to sit down and watch a prequel to them?  As it turns out, I ended up talking about this with a friend of mine — I think it was because of the trailer being released for the new film adding in the Beast Wars — and he said that “Bumblebee” was actually a good movie.  Now, his recommending it did not really mean that it was something that I was going to like.  Sure, this friend recommended “Doctor Who” to me, which I liked, and “Doom Patrol”, which I liked for most of the first season, but he also recommended “Farscape” to me, which I didn’t care much for, and “Star Trek:  Discovery” to me, which I hated.  So the best I can say here is that while we often do like the same things, it tends to be for different reasons, so if one of us likes it the other might well like it, but if there’s nothing in that thing for that person to like then we won’t like it.

What that means here is that his agreeing with me about the original movies (mostly) but commenting that “Bumblebee” was actually good piqued my interest, and so I made a mental note to look out for it if I could get it cheap or get access to it cheap.  And I managed to get it relatively cheap, and so decided to watch it.  And what I’ll say about it is that it is better than I thought it’d be, but still has a huge flaw that ends up hurting it.

This is, as noted above, a prequel to the original movies, tracing Bumblebee’s time on Earth and how he lost his speech synthesizer and how he preserved the Earth for the Autobots to land on.  It starts in the middle of a fight scene on Cybertron, with the Autobots being forced to flee the planet.  Bumblebee is sent to Earth to prepare it to be a base for the Autobots, but soon after landing he is attacked by a Decepticon that followed him there, I guess, who destroys his speech synthesizer — deliberately, since Bumblebee refuses to tell him where the rest of the Autobots are — and while the Deception is destroyed Bumblebee is gravely damaged and transforms into the classic VW Beetle, and loses consciousness and his memory.  Later, a young woman is living with her mother and her mother’s new boyfriend after the death of her father, which she is still broken up about.  She is trying to finish restoring a Corvette and goes to her uncle’s junkyard and finds Bumblebee.  After getting frustrated with not being able to fix the Corvette, she goes back to her uncle and appeals to get it, and he gives it to her as a birthday present.  She fixes it up and then Bumblebee transforms, and they start to develop a friendship.  Meanwhile, a pair of Decepticons are torturing Cliffjumper for information when Bumblebee’s beacon — reactivated when she was fixing him up — pings them revealing where he is, and so they destroy Cliffjumper and head to Earth.  There, they meet some military officers led by an agent who was attacking Bumblebee during the first attack and arrange to trade technology with them if they will help them find Bumblebee.  Meanwhile, Charlie — the young woman — teaches Bumblebee about music and gives him a new radio (which he soon learns to use to communicate like he did in the movies), and then a guy who has been crushing on her bursts in and sees Bumblebee, but she convinces him to to tell, and they eventually head off to a cliff where her fear of diving is revealed — she had thrown away her diving trophies before — and she is bullied a bit.  Then she leaves Bumblebee at home and tells him to stay in the garage but he gets into the house and trashes it in a slapstick sequence, but as he does so he plugs himself into a wall socket which causes an Energon surge that the Decepticons trace.  This causes a sequence where the military and Decepticons try to capture Bumblebee, and they manage to do so while Charlie is shocked into unconsciousness while the military guy spins a story that she stole government property, but she decides to break Bumblebee out with the help of her crush.  Meanwhile, the Decepticons learn that the Autobots are coming to Earth and prepare to destroy the Earth to prevent that and destroy them, and head off to send a message to Cybertron revealing that fact.  Charlie shocks Bumblebee back to life, and the two of them head off to stop the Decepticons, pursued by the military.  Her mother’s boyfriend and the family come to help them and distract and head off the military, and then Bumblebee tries to stop the Decepticons, while Charlie sees a way to stop the transmission and heads out to do that.  Bumblebee destroys one Decepticon and the other tries to stop Charlie, but the military guy attacks that Decepticon and Bumblebee engages her as well when the military helicopter is shot down — after saving the military guy’s life — and Charlie is able to disable the transmitter.  Bumblebee triggers a flood that would kill both him and the Decepticon, but Charlie dives into the water and swims down to him and this somehow revives him.  The military guy lets them go, Charlie is reconciled with her family and seems to be starting a relationship with her crush, and Bumblebee has to leave on his own, and picks up the Camaro as his alt-form, and drives off past a truck that resembled the alt-form of Optimus from the cartoon.

As you might have guess from reading the summary, this movie is a bit overstuffed, and I haven’t even fully described all the threads here (for example, Charlie gets the Corvette running at the end after giving up on it earlier).  Obviously with so many threads it was going to be difficult to develop them all properly, even in a movie that’s almost two hours.  And the movie doesn’t develop them all that well.  For example, Charlie’s fear of diving itself at the end comes mostly out of nowhere and the reason she didn’t want to dive earlier in the movie makes more sense as her being overwhelmed by the emotions — the last time she saw her father was when he cheered her on at a dive meet — but at the end she seems afraid to dive into the water for … some reason.  She had a crush on a boy earlier that only provided a small bit of angst for the guy who was crushing on her.  Even worse, there’s an interesting undercurrent where her reminiscing about her father triggers a memory in Bumblebee about Optimus trying to fight off a horde of Decepticons and being surrounded at the end, which provided a very interesting parallel between the two of them, but it’s never mentioned or brought up again.  There are lots of these elements in the movie, so much so that it seems like they wanted to keep every idea that they came up with in the movie no matter how they conflicted or whether they’d have time to play them all out.

Making all of this worse is the fact that they try to intersperse all of these threads together, which leads to some huge shifts in tone and hurts the development of the threads that they do try to develop.  Bumblebee’s getting used to Earth and restoring his memory shifts to the Decepticons killing Cliffjumper and coming to Earth, and even earlier we don’t even get him landing on Earth for more than a few minutes before he’s attacked again, after we just had a huge battle scene to start the movie.  And that fight was unnecessary because all it really does is show how he lost his memory and speech synthesizer, and that could have been caused by the pod crashing, which would have freed up some time to develop the other threads and created a more consistent tone.  I would have minimized the Deception threads until the end because we didn’t really need it and it really breaks the tone of the movie.  I would have also dropped the military guy’s plot because it is totally disconnected from Charlie’s plots until the end and didn’t add much.

Because where the movie is good, really good, is with the interaction between Charlie and Bumblebee, as he learns about Earth and her and they become friends.  These were some of the best scenes in the first movie as well, but they seemed to get more play and more focus than they do here.  All of this leads to an odd impression of the movie for me, because when Charlie and Bumblebee are interacting the movie is great, and some of the other scenes are good, but when it breaks the tone and fails to develop certain plots the movie isn’t very good.  Building off of that relationship and adding the other elements in later — and limiting them — would have made this a far better movie.

One final note is that the movie really does work to push the nostalgia button, constantly making references with music and TV shows to the 80s.  However, especially early on most of these references seem really forced, there just to make that reference and not as an organic part of the movie itself.  I can compare it to “Scream Queens” or “Guardians of the Galaxy” where the references seem natural and yet really do work as references.  This does get better later in the movie, especially when Bumblebee starts using the radio to communicate.

So it has its good points and bad points, and so for now I think it’s going into the box of movies that I might rewatch at some point.  I like Charlie and Bumblebee, and some of the other elements work, but it’s just way too overstuffed for me to want to rewatch it on a regular basis.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 5)

March 15, 2023

This is the last disk of Season 1, and so far Season 1 has been a bit hit and miss.  I liked the first disk, was a bit less pleased with the second, and have found disks 3 and 4 quite disappointing.  Let’s see if the season ends on a high note.

The first episode is “A Stop at Willoughby”.  Here, an executive working with advertising ends up giving a huge account to a new and young co-worker, who promptly lands it, leaves the company, and takes the account with him.  His boss berates him for that and talks about how in this business you have to push and push, which causes the executive to insult him in a frustrated outburst.  On the train ride home, he falls asleep and dreams of a stop at Willoughby, a town from the 1880s that has a plain and simple life.  When he gets home, it is revealed that he didn’t lose his job, but that he isn’t really the sort of person who can take this competitive and “push push push” lifestyle, but it funds the lifestyle his wife wants.  He has another bad day at work, and dreams of the town again on his way home, and is about to get off when the train starts up again.  He resolves to get off there the next time he gets the chance.  After another terrible day, he deliberately sets up to have the dream again and then does get off, to a town where everyone knows who he is.  The ending reveals that he actually jumped off the train in the real world and died, and the hearse that takes him away is from the Willoughby and Son funeral directors.

This episode did something that would have helped the show in the previous episodes, by playing it straight and essentially implying that he was dreaming and delusional, but keeping a bit of mystery in what happened.  But this idea is too small for the episode.  We pretty much get everything we need to know early on, and so the conversations with the wife and the extra scenes in the office don’t add anything.  The conversations with the conductor could have covered all of that and worked better, but then half the material would be thrown away.  In theory, that material could have been used to make us feel the same frustration he felt, but it doesn’t really work that way and the wife scenes in particular are more exposition and so break that chain.  This was an interesting idea but, again, too small for the episode and so it dragged.

The second episode is “The Chaser”.  Here, a man is in love with a woman who doesn’t love him, and he’s tying up a phone booth calling her over and over again.  One impatient man pays off the other people in line and then pushes his way into the booth, and tells the man to go to a Professor — Daemon — to get his issues resolved.  When he meets the professor, he asks for a love potion but the professor wants to sell “Glove Cleaner”, but he insists and gets the love potion, which he uses on the woman he loves and it works … but her love is overly cloying and he tires of it, and so returns for the “Glove Cleaner”, which is a poison.  He attempts to poison her, but before he can give her the drink with the poison in it she reveals she is pregnant and he drops the glasses, musing that he wouldn’t have had the nerve anyway.

The premise of this is okay, but it’s far too predictable.  Since such a big deal is made of the “Glove Cleaner” and its deadly properties from the beginning, we know that he’s coming back for it and so there will be a twist around that.  Other than the professor’s comments at the beginning, though, the episode is not as bad as the previous episodes at adding what seems like unnecessary scenes or padding, but the predictability of the premise makes this a middling episode at best.

The third episode is “A Passage For Trumpet”, where a man who plays the trumpet tries to get on stage to play, but he’s alienated his friend by being drunk on stage and so his friend has to tell him no when he discovers that he is still drinking.  The man tries to play on his own but keeps missing one of the higher notes.  The next day, he pawns his trumpet and gets drunk, and then when he sees it for sale he decides to jump in front of a delivery truck.  When he awakens, no one can see him, and yet the people he encounters are all different from those he remembers, and he concludes that he’s a ghost.  He goes back to the club and once the door closes hears trumpet playing, and seeks out the man playing it who is sitting where he say the previous night.  The new player lets him play that trumpet, and the man can hit all the notes this time.  That player then reveals that the man is not actually dead, but that everyone else is, and the man has the chance to decide where he wants to go.  But all of this has convinced the man of all the great things that he abandoned but that are worth living for, so he decides to return, and the player walks away and finally introduces himself as Gabe, for Gabriel … a reference to the horn-playing archangel that the man had talked about earlier in the episode.  The man then awakens after being hit and is okay, but the delivery man pays him off for not reporting the accident and so he reclaims his trumpet and is playing it on the roof when a new woman in the building comes up to hear him, and it looks like romance between the two is in the air.

This episode is actually better, as we find out enough about the main character to sympathize with him and his story is somewhat interesting.  The episode drags a bit as he discovers that he’s a ghost — since we’ve figured that out before he did — but the twist at the end is nice — and referenced earlier — and it’s nice to get a happy ending.  I’ve liked a lot of the episodes with anthropomorphic characters that are used as guides, and this one is no exception.

The fourth episode is “Mr. Bevis”.  Here an oddball man is going about his day, getting pleasant responses from most people except for his landlady and his boss.  He’s late for work and that plus the oddities he keeps on his desk get him fired, and he is evicted because he’s late on his rent.  His eccentricities have made it so that he can’t keep a job, and so he ends up drinking in a bar, where it is revealed that his family has a guardian angel who offers to fix this day, but also has to fix some things about his personality.  It turns out that he is a model tenant and is getting a raise at work, but all of his eccentricities that made him popular with others have gone away and so he’s not the type of person to play with children or to bring carolers into the office anymore.  He then asks to have things go back to the way they were, saying that the things he lost were worth the issues he faces because of it.  The guardian angel complies, but still does some things to show that he’s watching out for Mr. Bevis.

This is another good episode.  The main character is sympathetic and even though we could indeed see the ending coming it all fits neatly together.  The best thing about it is that the idea fits the length of the episode.  We need to see the contrasts in the two days to set things up, and that fills in the runtime, and it all follows from the idea as presented.  So this is an episode that works pretty well.

The fifth episode is “The After Hours”.  Here, a woman comes into a department store looking for an advertised gold thimble, and is taken to a non-existent ninth floor — seriously, they clearly show it not existing as the elevator goes up — that is empty except for one odd saleswoman and her golden thimble.  When the woman rides the elevator down, however, she discovers that it’s scratched and dented and is directed to the existent third floor to complain about it.  Of course, the fact that she claims to have gotten it from the non-existent ninth floor puzzles the managers of the store, and as she walks along she sees a mannequin that looks exactly like the saleswoman and, well, freaks out.  They set her up in the office and she falls asleep, and when the floor manager sends another — non-mannequin — saleswoman to wake her up and get her out of the store as it’s closing that saleswoman gets called away and forgets to do it.  Thus, the woman wakes up in the store after hours and is locked in, and the mannequins start calling her name.  She ends up in the elevator again and on the ninth floor, and all of the mannequins surround her and push her to remember.  It turns out that each of them gets one month to be out in the world, and her month has passed but she’s forgotten that she was a mannequin and so didn’t return.  The strange saleswoman was, in fact, the one who was supposed to go out into the world next.  The woman accepts her case and the next day the floor manager sees a mannequin that looks just like her.

This is another episode that does things that the show really, really needs to do.  We know that there’s a twist coming in every episode, and here we know that the twist will involve mannequins in some way.  What we don’t know is what the twist will be, and while we could come up with the twist — I did before the end — there are a number of twists that it could be and so we are indeed carefully watching the episode to try to figure out what it could be, which makes the scenes that are added to add to the creepiness factor — her walking around a deserted floor or store, for example — don’t feel like they drag because we’re waiting to see what will happen.  And the fact that the main character is pretty and sympathetic and so we care about what is going on with her also helps.

The sixth episode is “The Mighty Casey”.  Here, the manager of a last place baseball team that we are told is going to fold is looking for someone, anyone who can play, and a “doctor” brings him a robot who is a great pitcher, and his pitching allows the team to start winning.  However, eventually the robot is revealed as one and must be taken off the team, and they try to get around that by giving him an artificial heart.  However, the heart gives the robot feelings and he doesn’t want to play anymore because he doesn’t want to ruin their careers, and so the team is about to fold, but the manager sees something in the blueprints and rushes to tell the doctor about it, and the ending implies that he might have created another team on the West Coast that was successful using robot players.

There’s not really much here.  It’s an okay episode, but the idea isn’t all that interesting and it doesn’t really flesh it out that well, but I didn’t hate it either.  So it ends up being kinda “Meh”.

The last episode is “A World of His Own”.  Here, a wife peeks through the window at her writer husband who is cuddling and having drinks with another woman.  She then tries to burst into the room, but when he lets her in she can’t find the woman anywhere.  However, she manages to trick him into admitting that he had a woman in the room, but he reveals that any character that he describes to his tape recorder will come to life, and proves it by recreating the woman and then destroying her again.  Eventually, as his wife attempts to leave he reveals that she herself is one of his creations, but she doesn’t believe him and destroys the tape, which cause her to fade away.  The writer then brings Mary back as his actual wife, and the scene ends with Rod Serling appearing on the set to declare that something so ridiculous is fictional and the writer reveals that he has a tape for Serling and destroys it, causing Serling to fade away as well.

This is another decent episode.  The idea is interesting and the interactions between the writer and his “wife” work relatively well.  The ending with Serling is an interesting idea.  For the most part, this is definitely a lighter and more comedic episode which mostly works.

The disk started off poorly, but ended on a high note with some really good episodes and some decent ones.  What’s clear from Season 1 is that this show has the potential to be great or to be terrible depending on how the episodes related to the premise that is repeated in every episode of these things taking place in “The Twilight Zone”.  Because of that, we know that pretty much any of these ideas will have some kind of twist to it, so how it handles that twist is critically important to the success of the episode.  Also, it does run into the problem that “Tales from the Darkside” had where if the idea is too small for the episode the episode seems to drag and to be padding out its runtime, which is death for a half-hour episode.  So far, I don’t recall very many — if any — episodes where the idea was too big for a half-hour and so couldn’t be developed properly in that time, but I do recall commenting a number of times that the idea was too small.

So that was the first season.  Let’s see what they learned from that one and applied to the second season.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 4)

March 8, 2023

My biggest impression of this disk is that the biggest enemy of these episodes is that they are part of “The Twilight Zone” itself, which means that they have to fit in that structure … and that structure includes that there’s always going to be a twist coming.

The first episode is “A World of Difference”, which starts with a man walking into his office, talking to his secretary, and making plans for a getaway with his wife and daughter.  However, soon after the office transforms or reveals itself to be a set for a TV show, and everyone there acts like this is all a show, while the man insists that he is the main character of the movie and acts accordingly, trying to find his home with the help of his ex-wife who only wants to be with him to get some money he owes her.  Things proceed this way for a while, until finally he runs back to his office and ultimately disappears again to reappear in the original world, where it is revealed that he was missing for most of the day, and he leaves with his wife on their trip in some desperation, at which point we flip back to the other world and discover that he has disappeared from that world.

Since we’re in the context of “The Twilight Zone”, we know a twist is coming, and so aren’t likely to believe that he was just delusional or had fallen into one from too much drinking, as the episode implies. Moreover, the episode itself shows us that the wall of the office was there originally and then gone when it switches to the set, so we pretty much know that there are indeed two worlds here.  We are also well-aware that he’s acting as the character from the show long before the episode reveals it dramatically right before a commercial break.  Despite these flaws, this episode would work as a general drama where we could wonder whether he was just delusional or whether there were different worlds, but in the context of “The Twilight Zone” we’re quite sure that it’s not the simple answer of delusion, especially given how much effort the episode puts into making us thing that he’s just delusional, and so all that time is wasted and so is ultimately boring.  Since we are sure that the obvious answer isn’t all the time spent trying to convince of that seems pointless and so takes us away from what’s really interesting:  the twist that we know is coming.  We aren’t spending that time either immersed in the idea that he is delusional nor considering it as the right answer, so it doesn’t seem relevant to what we know will happen in the end, which ultimately makes it boring.

The second episode is “Long Live Walter Jameson”, which highlights a professor of history who quotes from a journal from the Civil War era as a way to give a real, first-hand account of those historical events.  Another professor invites him over for dinner and after establishing that they are good friends and that Jameson is about to marry the other professor’s daughter the other professor confronts Jameson with the idea that he actually was the person in that journal and that he has immortality, including the ability to no longer age.  They have a confrontation over it, and Jameson decides to leave and take the other professor’s daughter with him, to start another new life.  However, before he can do that, he is confronted by a former wife of his that he abandoned before it became obvious that he wasn’t aging, who is quite bitter over it and shoots him, which causes him to age rapidly and ultimately turn to dust before the other professor’s eyes.

Here, again we know that there will be a twist and so the time spent establishing Jameson’s character and the verbal fencing revealing his immortality again seems to drag and mostly pointless, although it was an interesting idea to reveal it part-way through.  However, what then ends the episode falls flat.  Jameson does not seem to be a bad enough person to justify the reaction of the woman to him, and his comments at the end that he can finally die don’t follow from the rest of the episode as that doesn’t establish him as a bad person or as someone dissatisfied with his life.  There are some interesting points that could have been explored here, but the context of “The Twilight Zone” again means that we aren’t going to get a simple and standard story out of it, and in this case the twist at the end is unsatisfying.

The third episode is “People Are Alike All Over”.  A couple of astronauts are looking at a spaceship that they are going to take to Mars, and one, the scientist, is worried about what they’ll meet out there but the other attempts to reassure him with the idea that people are like all over.  They end up crashing on Mars, and the other astronaut is critically injured, but wants to go out and see what Mars is like, but the scientist hears things outside of the ship and doesn’t want to.  The other astronaut dies but then the door opens and a group of very human-like people appears, and they seem friendly.  In a night they build the scientist a replica of his house, and he goes inside, but then discovers that he can’t leave and that there are no windows.  One window finally opens to reveal bars and to show that he’s in a zoo, and he wryly comments that people are alike all over.

Again, this is “The Twilight Zone” and so we know that when the natives are revealed to be friendly only half-way through the episode that they aren’t really that friendly, but that’s from the structure of the show itself and not from what the episode itself hints at, although there are hints of it with a woman who seems unhappy about what is happening (and can’t stand watching him in the cage at the end).  The entire initial sequence where they crash has no bearing on the rest of the episode and so seems pointless, and isn’t even used to reveal character or build suspense about what’s out there.  I also didn’t find the comment that the natives were people like us all that convincing, although that is likely a sign of the times since in these days the idea of keeping a primitive in a cage or zoo to be looked at is unthinkable, but it might not have been that way at the time.  Either way, we don’t know or feel enough for the scientist and since we are looking for the twist it doesn’t have the impact it should.  Again, this is a decent drama that is spoiled by us looking for the twist as we have come to expect from “The Twilight Zone”.

The fourth episode is “Execution”, where a criminal in the Old West is about to be hanged for his various crimes, suddenly disappears as he is dropped on the noose.  It turns out that he was brought forward in time to be studied, but the scientist who did that suddenly starts to believe that this is a criminal and eventually decides to send him back to be hanged, which causes the criminal to beat him up and run off into the street.  He can’t deal with the newness of that world, and so returns to the lab, where he meets someone else who was going to rob the lab who ends up shooting the criminal.  That thief then ends up locking himself into the time machine and gets sent back to the past at that moment and is hanged in the first criminal’s place.

The opening and closing narration talks about this being an examination of justice, but I don’t see this as really saying anything about justice or exploring it in any interesting way.  We aren’t sure if this justice is what they deserve or is ironic or what, and the fact that the criminal isn’t sympathetic but is the viewpoint character makes us not want to consider his death tragic, and so do not consider the thief ending up suffering the death meant for him simply appropriate.  The earlier episodes that used an anthropomorphized representation of the abstract concept worked a lot better and were a lot more interesting.

The fifth episode is “The Big Tall Wish”, where a boxer is trying to make a comeback and a little boy makes a “big tall wish” that the boxer would win and not be harmed.  The boxer doesn’t believe in such things, but ultimately is losing the fight — helped by his hurting his hand earlier in the evening arguing with a promoter — and is about to be counted out when suddenly everything shifts and his opponent is counted out instead.  He revels in the win for a while but then ultimately can’t accept this discordance and because he can’t believe it things shift back and he loses.  The boy then declares that he doesn’t believe in wishes anymore because it didn’t come true.

The characters here are interesting, but again too much time is spent on the lead-up when we know that there will be twists.  So we know, for example that the wish will work, and then are waiting to see how it all gets upended at the end, and other than the constant refrain of him believing that the wish worked nothing there really leads up to the end of the episode.  I liked the characters and the idea, but it would have worked better in a different series where there was the chance of him accepting the belief at the end.

The sixth episode is “A Nice Place to Visit”, where a small time criminal that nothing has ever gone right for is fleeing from a robbery and gets shot by the police, and a man in a white suit called “Pip” comes up to him, wakes him up, and promises to give him everything he has ever wanted.  The man is skeptical, but eventually goes with him — while holding a gun on him — and is led to a lovely apartment with, well, everything he has ever wanted.  Eventually, Pip reveals that the man is dead and this is afterlife, but doesn’t say what afterlife it is.  The man enjoys all the hedonistic pleasures that he had never been able to have before, and only idly muses that he doesn’t think he did anything good enough to end up in heaven.  He eventually looks up his record, only to not find any good deed on it.  Eventually, he gets tired of winning all the time and asks Pip to send him to “The Other Place” instead, at which point Pip reveals that this is “The Other Place”, and he must live here forever.

The narration hints that this is a man who had everything go wrong and never caught a break and that’s why he’s a criminal, which clashes with his record and his deserving this sort of punishment.  Moreover, the episode artificially keeps that he’s in “The Other Place” a secret since Pip seems to be trying to tell him that only to be interrupted but then when other opportunities arise fails to even make the attempt.  Again, as this is “The Twilight Zone” we know a twist is coming and so know that this is not heaven before they reveal it.  Finally, it isn’t clear that this really counts as “The Other Place” because his biggest complaint is that he can never lose but Pip is willing to make it so that he could lose, which then would end up far closer to the sort of world the man wanted.  He hints at the issue being that it is all artificial, but that’s not all that credible.  So it’s not a very interesting exploration and again the lead up to it doesn’t tie that well to the twist — although better than a lot of the other episodes on this disk — and so seems to drag.

The last episode is “Nightmare as a Child”, where a young teacher encounters a young girl on the stairs of her building and ends up in a long conversation with her over things in her past.  It turns out that she has seen someone she recognized for some reason and that her mother was murdered as a child.  The man that she somehow recognized talks to her, and then later is revealed to be the man who killed her mother, which she realizes and then runs away from him after he confesses to the murder, and he ends up dying from falling down the stairs.  The detective and a psychologist posit that the little girl was her younger self revealing what she needed to know, and at the end she hears a little girl singing the song that her other self was singing, but it turns out to be a different little girl, and things are right with the world again.

This is the closest that the series has come so far to playing it straight, but it came way too late to save the previous episodes and it still isn’t playing things all that straight.  This is a decent dramatic episode but again the looking for the twist somewhat hurts it, so it would be more enjoyable in a different and mostly straight dramatic series.

The structure of “The Twilight Zone” often hurts the episodes that would work best as straight dramas with a twist because we know that there will be one and so spend all of our time looking and waiting for it.  Without the possibility of it being played straight, that’s all that we can do.  Either they needed to play the theme straight more often or else make the lead up to the ending better set up the twist so that we don’t feel like that was wasted time.  I really feel here like these episodes are decent dramas and would be great … in another series.

I also commented while talking about “Tales from the Darkside” that the issue with a half hour show is that you can end up with ideas that are too large to be properly explored in one episode and so aren’t fully developed in it or too small for an episode and so a half hour episode seems like it drags because it’s adding a lot of other things in to fill out the runtime.  Here, a lot of these episodes seemed to center around ideas that were too small for an episode as the episode really seemed to be padding things out by showing us things that we didn’t really need to know and that didn’t relate to the twist or ending that much, and so were dull at the time and weren’t redeemed by being revealed to be really meaningful at the end.

I’ve also commented that the narration is something that elevates “The Twilight Zone” when compared to “Tales from the Darkside”, but that only works when the narration aligns with the episode.  Here it often doesn’t.  The best example is “A Nice Place to Visit” where the narration seems to want us to feel sorry for him while the episode absolutely doesn’t.  I had noticed that before but it was pretty egregious in a few places here.

That being said, I think that the quality of writing is better, but the extra length and the writing style sometimes still ends up with it seeming more boring than some of the episodes in “Tales from the Darkside”.  Hopefully we’ll be getting back to better episodes soon.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 3)

March 1, 2023

I found this disk to be a bit disappointing, as the episodes didn’t seem to work as well as the previous disks (and noting that I had some issues with some of the episodes on the other disks).  It’s pretty clear to me so far that the first disk and so the first eight episodes were the best so far and the ones that are filling out the middle of season 1 are definitely weaker.  But let’s get into them:

The first episode is “The Hitch-Hiker”.  Here, a young woman has been driving across the country for a vacation and the episode opens with her getting her tire repaired, and the mechanic notes that at the speed she was going she’s lucky that she just ended up on the shoulder and didn’t end up getting killed in a more serious accident.  As she follows him into town to get the tire repaired, she notices a hitchhiker by the side of the road and feels discomfited by his presence, but dismisses it.  After she gets the tire fixed, however, she seems him again.  As she drives along, she keeps seeing him despite the fact that he shouldn’t be able to keep ahead of her, and no one else sees him and they note that he shouldn’t be hitchhiking where she’s driving anyway.  This keeps going with her getting more and more frightened and dodging construction and the like to try to avoid him, until she runs onto a railroad track trying to beat the train to get away from him and the car stalls on the tracks, and she barely gets going again to avoid the train.  Finally, she takes a side road and ends up out of gas, and gets a seaman to ride with her the rest of the way, but she keeps seeing the hitchhiker and the seaman doesn’t, and as her behaviour trying to escape him gets more and more erratic he leaves the car and leaves her alone.  Eventually, she gets somewhere with a phone and calls her mother, only to discover that her mother is hospitalized from a nervous breakdown suffered due to the news that her daughter — meaning her — died in a car accident.  She then realizes that she really died in that accident and that the man is going along with her to take her to her final rest.

“The Twilight Zone” has a rather unique trait that means that certain episodes don’t work as well as you might think, like we discovered on the last disk.  The issue is that there is pretty much always a twist to one of their episodes, and in fact that’s probably the defining trait of the series.  That might not sound like an issue, but what it means is that the audience is going to be inclined to look for the twist and look at what hints at the twist while watching the episode.  This risks taking them out of the episode unless they are careful to provide lots of things to distract the viewer while building the story.  Here, the episode is following the woman and she is narrating everything, which means that we have lots of time to think about the twist before it happens.  One problem this can result in is that we figure out the twist before it happens, rendering the twist ineffective since we saw it coming.  I in fact figured out the twist pretty much as soon as the mechanic noted that she should have died from that tire blowout.  Another problem is that it hurts immersion, as we spend our time thinking about the twist and looking for hints instead of getting immersed emotionally in the situation and in the characters.  Here, the woman is pretty and sympathetic and the episode does a good job of setting it out so that our feelings of tension and fright build along with hers, but I couldn’t get into it as I was thinking about the twist.  “The Twilight Zone” is not a series where that sort of slow burn is easy to pull off,  because we’re always waiting for the twist to happen, and anything that gives us time or encourages us to think about what’s going on is going to cause us to break immersion, whether that’s exposition, discussion or simply a slow build of tension.  You can argue that that’s only the case for those of us now who look back on the show and know what it does, but this is the 16th episode and all the previous ones had big twists in them.  At this point, we are reasonably expecting a twist and it now has to be a goal of the episode to distract us from thinking about that twist until it happens.

The second episode is “The Fever”.  A man and his wife have won a trip to Las Vegas, and she’s excited about it and excited about gambling, while he thinks it immoral.  He ends up being pushed to play a dollar slot machine and wins, but insists that he’ll take the money and save it.  However, he keeps hearing the voice of the machine demanding that he play, and so he goes down and plays, and of course gets hooked, losing lots of money while railing about how terrible the whole thing is.  Finally, with his last dollar he is sure that he’ll win … and the machine breaks down.  He hallucinates the machine coming to his door after that while his wife doesn’t see it, and eventually he feels that it pushes him back and to crash through the window, where he falls to his death.

This one is just a standard episode about the dangers of gambling, only adding on a small idea of the machine being somehow alive and acting of its own accord … but since no one else can see that happening that itself isn’t clear.  I knew from the beginning that the person who gets “The Fever” as described in the intro would be the moralistic man, so that isn’t even a surprise.  That left this episode as being surprisingly dull and pedestrian, not in line in terms of concept or implementation of the even the average episodes that we’ve seen before.  Thus, I dislike this episode more for it being disappointing rather than it being bad.  It’s just not special enough in any way to end up in this series.

The third episode is “The Last Flight”, where a British WWI pilot ends up landing at an American Air Force Base in France in the 50s and has to try to convince the General and the other officers that he’s really from WWI.  It turns out that a famous British general is coming for a visit, which panics the pilot because they were wingmen and the pilot ultimately left him to die because the pilot is a coward.  Then when the one American officer who believes him makes a comment about changing history the pilot decides to fight his way back to his plane and take off again to save the general.  The general then arrives at the base and pretty much confirms the pilot’s story, mostly because the pilot’s effects were never returned … because they had been confiscated by the Americans.

It might not have been as well-worn a trope in the 50s when the episode was made, but the idea that he might have come into the future and that that might have changed things isn’t all that strange an idea, at least not to me.  And the episode itself really wants to treat that like it’s commonplace since for the episode to work we need to take that as a given.  Given that, the time it spent focused on discussions around that comes across as not particularly novel, which wouldn’t be an issue except that taking that time leads them to give the actual decision to go back and save that general too little time.  He simply jumps off to do it based on a casual remark that the other officer makes, with no idea if it’s even true or if it even makes sense.  More time for them to investigate it and to introduce reasons for the pilot to decide that he needed to overcome his cowardice to save that general — such as the general’s report on the matter saying that he saw the pilot die — would allow us to be certain that this was the case and would have given room for the pilot to be torn between his cowardice and his knowledge that he himself, by overcoming that, could save many lives, and make the conclusion that it would give his life meaning more heft.  As it is, it’s not a bad episode, but lacks any real punch and so is only carried by the performances into the “Average” zone.

The fourth episode is “The Purple Testament”, where in 1945 as WWII is raging in the Philippines a lieutenant in the American forces comes back to the encampment after a mission and notes that he saw a light on the faces of the four men who died in the mission before the mission, and wrote their names down as casualties the day before the mission.  His captain is dismissive, and consults a doctor about it, but at the same time the lieutenant is visiting one of the injured and sees the light on his face, and he dies even though he was tagged as one who would recover.  Then, before the next mission, he sees the light on the captain’s face and tells him about it, and the captain is killed in that battle.  The lieutenant is to be rotated out of the line for a while to recover, and looking in the mirror sees the light on his own face and that of his driver, and is killed when the jeep hits a mine on the way back to HQ.

The issue with this episode is that while the idea is good, there’s no real emotional heft to it.  His visions don’t cause him significant issues with other people, and he isn’t considered insane enough to stop him from going on the next mission, and he never seems to try to prevent these events from coming true.  So we just get an episode where he talks about what he sees and sees that people will die before they do, but nothing else really comes of it.  Ironically, the “Tales from the Darkside” episode “I Can’t Help Saying Goodbye” did it a lot better, giving us a more emotional story with the gift causing the little girl grief and ultimately causing her death, making her seeing her own death incredibly poignant.  This episode is just a pretty plain implementation of the concept.

The fifth episode is “Elegy”, where a spaceship containing three crewmen gets lost and lands on a planet that is almost identical to Earth … except that everyone seems frozen.  They walk around and find people frozen in what seem to be poses of them achieving their greatest wishes, and finally find someone who can move, who tells them that this is a cemetery where rich people can live out their greatest wishes after dying.  The man ends up poisoning them to preserve the peace of that place, and places them on their ship as if they were heading home, their own wish.

This is another plain episode, but I liked it a bit better because it did the decent thing of building the mystery in us as we explore it and then springing the twist on us later.  And it drops hints that these are fantasies, with a woman that I found cute but that wasn’t beauty queen material winning a beauty contest.  But ultimately there isn’t really anything interesting done with the concept, and it being a place for people to go after they die is the least interesting take they could make on the topic … even less interesting than just leaving it as a place for them to live out their greatest wishes and the caretaker putting them into it as well because he thinks it better than letting them risk returning home.

The sixth episode is “Mirror Image”, where a woman waiting for a bus asks the clerk about it and he gripes that she keeps asking about it every few minutes, when she hadn’t asked before then.  She also notices that her bag has been checked even though she didn’t check it, and when she goes into the washroom the cleaner comments that she’d done that before.  And then her bag is suddenly unchecked.  She eventually meets another man who is waiting for the bus, too, and they talk about these odd things a bit, and then when the bus arrives she notices herself in the window of the bus, who gives her a smug smile, and refuses to get on, and so the man and clerk end up calling the police to get her hospitalized to be checked out … and then the man sees a copy of himself and runs after it while it looks back on him tauntingly.

Until the man arrives, this episode works pretty well, as it follows her as things get more and more strange which lets us wonder along with her what’s going on.  When he arrives, they start talking about parallel universes and such, and it turns out that this is what is happening, but we have no idea at the end how it works or why their mirror images seem to want to taunt them and hurt them, which spoils the entire ending.

The seventh and last episode is “The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street”, where we see a peaceful, average, American street where everyone is happy until there’s a flash and then all the power goes out and nothing mechanical will work, even the cars.  A boy comments that this is how the aliens invade places in a story he heard, where they send down lookalikes first to set things up and then invade this way.  This ultimately creates an aura of paranoia on the street itself as they start accusing anyone that anything odd happens to or that has anything odd about them, such as the one man whose car starts and stops on its own or the main character, Sam, who has a ham radio in his basement.  Things build until one man who went to check the next street over returns and is shot, and while there is a bit of remorse over that when things start acting up — lights coming on and going off in houses, and so on and so forth — they all erupt into paranoia and violence, and a couple of aliens note that this is how it always works and that this is the way they will invade the planet,

This is a famous episode, and Chuck Sonnenberg over at SF Debris covered it as well.  And it’s a good episode with a good concept that works … right up until the end, because the aliens are wrong about how just causing some oddities leads to this sort of paranoia.  If it wasn’t for the kid’s story and the one man not returning from the next street over in hours instead of minutes, things might have worked out a lot differently.  If the aliens arranged for both, then they actually had to do quite a bit to make this happen, and if they didn’t, then they can’t say that these things just happen.  Either way, it would have worked better for there to actually be no threat, as that would have driven home the message about paranoia a lot better.

All-in-all, a disappointing disk.  Let’s see how the next disk works out.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone” (Disk 2)

February 22, 2023

So the first disk was definitely better than “Tales From the Dark Side”.  How is the second disk going to shake up?

The first episode is “Time Enough at Last”.  It follows a very bookish man who loves to read but finds that his attempts to read are being thwarted at every turn, or at least that his general obligations are making it difficult for him to find time to read.  When he tries to read at work, his boss reminds him that he’s supposed to be working and chides him for it.  When he tries to read at home, his wife intervenes and takes all his reading materials away, even going so far as to completely cross out all the pages in a hidden poetry book of his.  One day, as he sneaks down to the vault at the bank where he works to do some reading, a hydrogen bomb explodes on the city, knocking him out.  When he regains consciousness, he discovers that the city is in ruins and everyone seems to be dead.  He finds that he has lots of food — for years, as he notes — but there’s no one around and he has nothing to do.  He finds a revolver in the wreckage of a sporting goods store and contemplates suicide, but then he notices a sign from a library and discovers that the books have more or less survived, and plans out years of reading based on that.  However, as he goes to pick one up his glasses fall off and the lenses break and/or fall out, and he can’t see very well let alone read without them, at which point he breaks down in despair over how unfair that is.

Now, I knew about this episode already because Chuck covered it at SF Debris, and my impression from his review was that the main character was someone who was trying to read and completely ignoring his responsibilities, and that the people around him were more long-suffering, and that he was far happier about the world going away and leaving him time to read than he was.  I can’t say if that was just my impression or if that was how Chuck presented it, and I’m not going to go back and check that out now, and so will accept the blame myself for my mistaken impression.  And it is mistaken, because that’s not how it works at all.  The people around him are just incredibly mean about it.  Yes, his boss had a point that he was reading while he was supposed to be working and mischanging people, but he notes that the only reason he does that is because his wife won’t let him read at all at home, and then the boss chides him for reading on his lunch break which isn’t something his boss should worry about at all.  And when we see him at home, it seems like he was right to say that his wife wouldn’t let him read at all, and crossing out all the passages in the book was just plain mean.  Thus, I see him less as a misanthrope who retreats to books because he doesn’t like people and more like, well, someone like me, who is pretty much built to read anything that he comes across no matter what who has other people interfere with that.  Again, it seems to me that most of his problems would go away if the people around him would just make it clear what the acceptable and unacceptable times to read are.

In addition, when he discovers that he is alone he doesn’t in any way come to think that it’s a good thing, and not just because he didn’t have reading material (he comments on only having half a paper to read at one point).  Before he finds the library, he laments about being alone and the loneliness he is condemned to, and the fact that he has nothing to do, not just that he can’t read, and it is this that leads him to contemplate suicide.  So when he finds the library, it’s less like a wish he had coming true to be alone with books but instead as him being at his lowest point and then finding something to keep him occupied and then finding out that it happens to be his favourite thing in the world to do.  Thus, it seems like a blessing that alleviates what he saw as a curse, and makes him think that life is worth living.  And so when it is taken away from him at the end, it seemed to me to be an overly tragic ending.  If he had wished for that and gotten it, but was deprived of enjoying it, we could feel that he had gotten what he deserved.  But from what I can tell he didn’t wish for that at all and that was the only thing that would give him any purpose in life … and there’s also an unfortunate implication that without his glasses he probably wouldn’t live long since he would have a hard time finding food or even the gun again to end his life before he starved to death.

As such, this episode is well-done, well-acted … and utterly depressing and comes across as unfair.  Other than the narration and his one line that he has time enough at last to read after the destruction, there is no indication that he disliked people or was happy to be away from them.  He just wanted some time to read.  If the episode had instead ended with his having the books and being happy, it would have worked because the people around him were too mean for us to think him the problem for wanting some time to read when they didn’t seem to want to give him any time to read.  It’s a good episode, but I found the message annoying enough to ding it a bit.

The second episode is “Perchance to Dream”, where a man goes to a psychiatrist because he isn’t sleeping … but it’s not because he can’t sleep, but because sleeping will kill him.  It is revealed that he has the combination of a very vivid imagination and a heart condition, and his dreams lately have been frightening and exciting him in such a way that his heart won’t be able to take it and he’ll die.  There is a particular woman in his dreams who he claims is trying to kill him, and when he gets so agitated that he has to leave he runs out into the reception area and notes that the woman in his dream is the receptionist, and then runs back into the office and leaps out the window to his death.  It is then revealed that all of that was a dream he had after entering the office — he lay down to rest for a bit before starting awake to start the tale — and that dream was too much for his heart and he died in real life on the couch, not from jumping out the window.

The issue with this one is one that I think will carry forward for the rest of the episodes:  exposition does not work well with the “Twilight Zone” format.  When he walks into the room and starts telling his tale, we already know — and would have known by the ninth episode — that this is not going to be a normal story and that there will be something strange in it and a twist in it at some point.  So when we get a character simply talking about things, we immediately start looking for and wondering about the twist, and if the exposition meanders like it does here — it takes a while for him to start talking about his issue and then he muses about a picture of a sailboat and the imagination making it move — it feels like the episode isn’t getting to the point.  The idea and twist is okay, but the format that uses a lot of exposition works poorly when we are waiting for the twist not out of suspense, but out of a conscious recognition that one is coming and they will be setting up for it and we just wish they’d get around to it already.

The third episode is “Judgement Night”, where a man is hanging out on the deck of a ship in WWII with amnesia, but the episode quickly implies that he might be a U-boat captain.  As he becomes more and more suspicious and more and more frustrated with his amnesia, the ship itself faces more and more risks of being attacked by a U-boat, until it finally is attacked and the captain of that U-boat is him, slaughtering everyone.  It then shifts to a discussion between himself and a mate talking about how immoral these attacks on helpless civilians are with the mate wondering if the hell for someone who would do that would be to have to live what his victims lived over and over and over again until eternity, which is indeed what the captain is going through.

The big issue with this episode is that it pretty much gives the twist away too early, as we know that he’s a U-boat captain and that a U-boat is likely hunting the ship, and so it is likely given his amnesia that he’s reliving an attack that he himself made.  Beyond that, the characters aren’t interesting enough for us to want to see this through, so the episode seems to drag more and so is a bit boring.

The fourth episode is “And When the Sky Was Opened”.  We get a sense that a pair of pilots were in a plane that disappeared for a day and then returned, and one of them bursts into the hospital room of the other one — who was more seriously injured than him — and tries to get him to recognize that there were three pilots on that plane, and the plane was built for three people, but the other pilot insists that there was only one.  The episode them switches to a flashback where the other two pilots leave the hospital room and go to a bar, where the pilot who ended up disappearing feels like he’s disappearing and notes that people seem to be forgetting about him, including his parents, until he finally disappears and the first pilot keeps trying to find him or find anyone who remembers him, to no avail.  It then switches back to the hospital where the first pilot runs off in frustration and when the second pilot runs out to catch him sees that he is not in the hallway, and no one remembers him either.  Then we see the empty room where the second pilot has also disappeared from all memory and the craft itself has disappeared.

This has the same issue as “Perchance to Dream” where it starts with exposition and we keep waiting for them to start cluing us in on the twist.  The episode got a lot better in the flashback sections.  So much so that I think they should have started with that and had things develop slowly until the end, and then put that initial scene after what was the flashback section here and so eliminate it as a flashback entirely.  That would have played to the strengths of the “The Twilight Zone”, with the long build-up to a twist conclusion that gives us lots of clues about what’s happening but doesn’t reveal it to is.  The episode starts poorly but once it hits the flashbacks it really starts to work.

The fifth episode is “What You Need”, which starts with a loser sitting in a bar when an old man comes in selling various things and claims to sell people what they need.  He starts with a woman who wants matches but he tells her she needs cleaning solution, and then to a former baseball player where he tells him that he needs a bus ticket to a specific place.  Sure enough, he gets a call asking him to come for an interview as a coach for a baseball team in that very place where he bought the ticket, and he notices he has a spot on his jacket so the woman uses her cleaning solution to clean it, suggesting that they might get together at some point.  The loser then leaps at the opportunity and asks the old man for what he needs, and is sold a pair of scissors, which allow him to cut off his scarf when it gets caught in some elevator doors and was going to strangle him to death.  The loser returns for more, and is sold a fountain pen that predicts what horse will win a race (although it stops after that win).  He demands more things that he “needs” and the old man demurs, so the loser grabs a pair of shoes from him, puts them on, and then asks if that’s what he needs, and approaches the old man with murderous intent when the old man refuses to give him a straight answer.  The loser slips in the street because of the shoes and is killed by a car, and so the shoes ended up saving the old man’s life and killing the loser.  As the police interview a witness, the old man gives him a comb to clean up his hair for the cameras from the local news.

There’s not much more to this episode than a bad man and a loser being mean, and the twist is one that we could have seen coming.  It’s a well-performed and written episode, but nothing special in terms of plot or twist, and other than the old man’s magical abilities there’s nothing all that interesting about the characters.

A quick note here is that after this point there was some sort of issue with the disk I was watching where it wouldn’t be able to read the DVD and so would skip ahead, but I was able to see most of it by rewinding in review mode to that point and moving on until the next point.  Usually, this means that another of my players might have no issues, but I didn’t want to bother switching and so I did this.  What this means is that I won’t get the flow of the episode and so can’t comment on those aspects of it for the most part, only the plot itself and how things worked.  So if I wasn’t immersed in the episode, for example, that might not be a problem with the episode itself.

Anyway, the sixth episode is “The Four of Us Are Dying”, which follows a man who can shape change to look and sound like anyone that he has seen, but he needs time to think and so it works better from photographs.  He takes on the form of a musician who recently died to hit on the musician’s girlfriend, and then hits up a crime boss who eliminated someone who did a job for him for the money from that job.  This gets him in trouble when the crime boss’ goons show up and try to kill him, but at the last minute he sees a poster from a boxer and changes into that to fool him.  But as he leaves the alley an old man accosts him as the face he’s taken on is that of his son, and the father has a number of complaints against the man, and he eventually pushes the old man aside and takes off.  Later, a detective comes to the man’s room to take him in, and as he goes along he enters a revolving turn and changes his face, which allows him to dodge the detective.  However, the face he had taken on was that of the son, and the old man picks that moment to track him down and shoot him, and thus all four of the faces he has die in the street.

The issue here is that the premise itself doesn’t seem to be all that new and clever, so it needs to rely on the characters to make it work, and in this case that means the shape changer, especially given that we are supposed to feel something at the end when he’s dying in the street.  But there is no indication that he just was those people — and in fact the ending only works if he wasn’t the son — and so it isn’t really the case that four people are dying, especially since it’s clear that he doesn’t take on their personalities or memories when he shape changes.  He’s also not mean enough for us to feel satisfaction that he was hoisted by his own petard, but not nice enough for us to hope that he would have managed to get away only to be cruelly and tragically struck down.  What the episode really needed was for us to get some idea of why he was doing this now and what he wanted to get out of it, so we could feel something for him one way or another.  He earlier implied that he wanted a love like the one the musician had which is at least in part why he pursued the girl, so his trying to use his abilities to get a perfect life and failing at the end would have been nicely tragic.  But as it is we spend too much time on a plot that isn’t all that creative and don’t have enough time with the characters to make it work.

The seventh episode is “Third From the Sun”, where a man who works at a major weapons facility comes to understand the the weapons will be unleashed in the next forty-eight hours and takes on a risky plan with a friend of his to steal a new spaceship and head to another planet.  A co-worker from the plant suspects him and shows up at the house where they have all gathered to “play cards” before heading out to the ship, leading to some tension among the ones who know what’s happening.  The man leaves and the man, his wife, his daughter, his friend and the friend’s wife head to where the ship is, but the co-worker stops them by holding a gun on them, but the daughter cleverly opens the door of the car on his hand when he asks them to get out of the car, knocking the gun away and allowing them to get to the ship.  As they leave, they say where they are going and it turns out that they are going to place inhabited by people that look like them:  Earth.

This is actually a decent little suspense episode.  The episode cleverly drops hints that even though this planet looks like Earth, it isn’t, as the card game is unrecognizable, the phone completely different from what we’ve had, and the car makes an odd noise as it drives.  So we clearly know before the episode ends that they are likely not on Earth and so that they are heading to Earth, but the characters are interesting and likeable enough that this doesn’t ruin the episode, as we really, really want things to turn out well for them.  So this is a well-done and well-written episode.

The eighth episode is “I Shot an Arrow Into the Air”, where a manned rocket is fired into space and immediately disappears off the screens.  We then cut to the remaining crew saying that they are stranded on an asteroid, but one that by the position of the sun has to be in the same orbit as Earth.  They have limited supplies and are in a desert, so one of them starts to adopt a harsh attitude about not giving water to the dying man and demanding that the captain stop writing the log and focus his thoughts on getting them out of this, and at one point the two remaining crew wonder at the change in him.  As they explore the area and bury the dead the captain tries to give more water to the dying crewman and the aggressive crewman fights him over it, but it turns out to be pointless because the man died anyway.  They then try to explore further ahead at night but while the captain stands watch over the camp the other crewman comes back with a nearly full canteen of water, which leads the captain to correctly conclude that he took the water from the other crewman that he was out with, but he insists that the other man fell and he took it from him only after he was dead.  The captain holds a gun on him and forces him to take him back to where he left the other man, and when they get there the other man is still alive and trying to tell them what he saw on top, but the aggressive crewman had attacked him and then takes an opportunity to get the gun and kill the captain to, and then climbs up to see what the other man found … and it turns out that they were on Earth after all, near Nevada, and so he killed those other two men for nothing.

I can’t comment on how effective the twist was because obviously having to use review mode to get back to scenes meant that I saw it before it happened.  However, I will comment on the pacing here because in rewatching parts there were lots of sequences of them just walking that seemed to drag on and on.  This is sad because what I feel this episode really needed was more development of the aggressive crewman.  As it stands, we get the hint that he’s different after the crash but we don’t know if that’s even true and don’t know why, and we’re supposed to feel that he was guilty over what he did which suggests that it is the same person.  So it would have worked better to show that he was always self-interested and the situation just brought all that out fully, or even better that he was a good friend to them and a good person and was slowly worn down by the fear of death.  As it is, he starts out too aggressive and so there is no development, and so the episode doesn’t earn us feeling sorry for him in his guilt but given that structure we can’t just think him a selfish person who is happy with ensuring his own survival either, leaving us emotionally disconnected from the end.

So, this disk had some weak episodes, but the weak episodes tended to be well-written regardless.  The worst episodes here, for me, also tended to drag, which is something you don’t want to see in a half-hour episode.  Even worse, a couple of them seemed to drag but also seemed to need more room for development, which was also a trait of the worst “Tales From the Darkside” episodes.  So far, there are still really good episodes and even the weak episodes aren’t as bad as the worst episodes of that series, but it is starting to look like the “drag while needing development” might be a common flaw in shows like these.

Comprehensive Comments on “The Twilight Zone”

February 15, 2023

A while ago I started watching “Tales from the Darkside” and had enough problems with it that I decided to comment on pretty much each individual episode and how they worked or, for the most part, didn’t work.  But in my final thoughts on the series, I said this:

It would be easy to blame this on the format itself, and say that if they had been an hour long show things would have been better.  And, to be fair, it likely would have been, as long as they didn’t see that as a reason to add even more padding.  But we’ve had shows like “The Twilight Zone”, “The Outer Limits” and “Tales From the Crypt” that were the same length and seem to be much better (although I haven’t watched any of them and so can’t really compare them).  One thing that at least “The Twilight Zone” had, however, was an episode-specific intro and outro which could be used to set up the episode and summarize what we were supposed to take from the episode, in contrast to the generic one that was featured in “Tales From the Darkside”.  That could give us more context and so allow us to get a better idea of what we were supposed to be taking away from that episode.

This got me thinking that it might be nice, at some point, to pick up the original series of “The Twilight Zone” and watch it to see if that was indeed the case.  And at some point I managed to find it while browsing around for a decent price and decided to pick it up, and when rebuilding my schedule on New Year’s Day as I normally did I decided that I wanted to watch it.  But remember what I said I decided, before watching a single episode, that what I really, really wanted to do was analyze “The Twilight Zone” in the same as I did “Tales from the Darkside” to really test to see if “The Twilight Zone” worked better than “Tales from the Darkside”.  This, of course, ended up taking a huge amount of time for “Tales from the Darkside” which forced me to change how I watched it, so this time around I was smarter about it and decided to single out one evening for “The Twilight Zone” to watch one full disk that I could write a post about which is comparable to what I did with “Tales from the Darkside”.  As I’ve noted in the past, fitting such posts in can be difficult — “Tales from the Darkside” ended up getting slotted in on Saturdays — but I noted that the Shakespeare was going to be coming off the sched since I was going to have finished reading everything and so decided that that slot would be a perfect one for this analysis.  I’m also planning on replacing the Shakespeare with a combination of some King Arthur books and some philosophy books that I want to read, which wouldn’t provide steady Wednesday content to fill that slot anyway.  And since I have about a month of Shakespeare content left, it would give me time to get nicely ahead with “The Twilight Zone” and so be able to keep it up even if life intervened and made me skip a week or something, so it would provide steady Wednesday content that I could get ahead on and run for, well, a long time (I would be roughly planning on a disk a post and thus per week and there are about 20 disks in the pack I have).

So that’s what I’m going to do.  Wednesdays now should pretty much be one of these somewhat-comprehensive posts on “The Twilight Zone”, and there will be posts on King Arthur books showing up occasionally on Tuesdays and the philosophy posts will show up occasionally on Fridays as per normal.  And as you might guess from the previous paragraph, I’m writing this post quite some time before it is posted, and hope to keep that up for, well, quite some time.

So, the first disk, which contains the first seven episodes, including what was a slightly redone version of the pilot.  Let me start first by getting right to the episodes, and then adding some comments on things overall afterwards.

The first episode and pilot episode is “Where Is Everybody?”.  The episode starts with a man wandering down a street and walking into a diner, drawn there by the music from the jukebox.  Inside, he finds no one and tries repeatedly to order because he’s hungry, and also reveals that he thinks that he’s dreaming and doesn’t remember how he got there.  Leaving there, he wanders into the nearby town but can’t find anyone either, still musing to himself about the oddities of no one being around and almost getting himself trapped on a couple of occasions.  There’s one rather on-the-nose sequence where he’s wandering through the drug store and perusing the books in the book racks and one rack is entirely filled with with the novel “The Last Man on Earth”.  Eventually, night falls, the lights all come on, and he wanders into a movie theater which starts showing a movie with an Air Force plane and he remembers that he was in the Air Force, but can’t find a projectionist.  Eventually, he breaks down, and the scene switches to a group of military officers who have been watching him as he sits in a closed-in booth being tested.  It turns out that he’s being tested for participation for a trip to the moon, and the entire town parts were a delusion brought on by isolation.  They comment that he pretty much made the time required for that mission to the moon, which was good, and that they can deal with pretty much all the issues with a trip to the moon except for that isolation.  As he is wheeled away on a stretcher, he looks up at the moon and implores it to wait for him as he will be there soon.

Given that I had seen the title of the episode before watching it, there wasn’t much of a surprise here, and honestly not much happens in the episode, but the writing and the performance is good enough to keep me going.  I consider this episode a bit weak, though, because of the ending, which makes the moon aspect incredibly important and monumental but it isn’t even hinted at earlier on in the episode.  If he had in some way remembered that he had returned from the moon to find everyone gone, I think that would have worked better because he and the episode could have convinced us that that was a delusion, then revealed that it was true, and then revealed that it was true only in a sense, which would have integrated that theme into the episode better and in a more clever way.  Still, the episode is well-written, well-performed and so is entertaining enough aside from that one flaw.

The second episode is “One For the Angels”.  Here, a pitchman — basically, a salesman on the street — ends up meeting with Death since he’s going to die of natural causes at midnight.  He doesn’t want to die, and Death comments that there are some mitigating circumstances that can allow for an extension and the pitchman hits on the idea of unfulfilled desires and reveals his desire to make one huge, perfect pitch, and Death, noting how much he really does want that, agrees.  Of course, the pitchman then says that he won’t ever make a pitch again.  Death is annoyed at this move, but the conditions of the deal mean that he has no choice.  Except that the pitchman is very close to the children in his building and so Death says that if he can’t take the pitchman he has to take someone else, and arranges for a little girl to have an accident and says that either it will be the pitchman or the girl.  The pitchman commits himself to saving the little girl’s life, and intercepts Death fifteen minutes before midnight and engages in selling to delay him until past midnight, which would cause issues for Death’s schedule.  Despite Death insisting that he needed to keep his schedule, he gets sucked into buying everything the pitchman offers until midnight passes.  They discuss it and they both note that this was, indeed, the sort of pitch the pitchman always wanted to make, and thus fulfills the deal so the pitchman dies and goes to heaven instead of the girl.

While watching the episode, I had expected that the pitch would indeed be a pitch for Death to take the pitchman instead of the little girl, based on the idea that Death simply couldn’t take the pitchman until that pitch was made and the pitchman then convincing him otherwise.  I feel that would have worked better than what happened because the obsessive buying made Death look a bit ridiculous and it unfortunately sidelined the idea that once the deal was made there was no other choice no matter how much either of them wanted it to be otherwise.  That being said, I think that’s more an artifact of the times as that sort of selling is likely not what a pitchman would do in those times and so wouldn’t work for the character.  Aside from that minor detail, again the episode is well-written and well-acted and so isn’t boring and isn’t ruined by that minor issue.

The third episode is “Mr. Denton on Doomsday”, where an aging ex-gunfighter is instead scrounging drinks at the saloon in a most humiliating way, to the chagrin of the saloon owner and one of the women working there, with the woman seeming to be in love with him.  After he passes out in the street after scrabbling for the alcohol that the leader of the local thugs left for him, he wakes up to find a gun next to him, which he picks up and carries around.  The thug sees him, asks him to beg for a drink again, but then notices the gun and stages a shootout over it.  While trying to avoid any kind of gunfight, the gunfighter ends up shooting the gun out of the thug’s hand completely by accident, which makes everyone like him.  He goes into the saloon for his drink, but the thug follows him and wants to have it out, and again while trying to avoid the fight accidentally shoots a chandelier and knocks it onto the thug.  The gunfighter gives up drinking and tells the woman that he stopped gunfighting because he kept get hunted down by people trying to prove themselves against someone with his skill and he ended up killing a sixteen year old kid, which still haunts him.  Sure enough, another kid challenges him for the next day, and he tries to get out of town but is stopped by a street peddler who offers him a potion to let him shoot perfectly for ten seconds, which he accepts.  When he faces the kid, the kid also has one of those potions, so they both drink and both shoot … and hit each other just right so that they can’t be gunfighters anymore.  The peddler is Fate, and Fate here intervened to give the gunfighter a second chance at life and to avoid the kid falling into the same pit the gunfighter did.

What I really like about this episode and the previous one is the use of incarnations of Death and Fate to make points about death and fate.  This one actually has a better link to the actions of Fate, which is nice, although it would have been nice if they had given the character a bigger role like in the previous episode.  Other than that, the episode is again well-written and well-acted, but this is the first episode where I can say that the themes of the episode are really nothing at all special.

The fourth episode is “The Sixteen-Millimeter Shrine”, where an aging actress is spending all her time in a room in her house watching her old movies, which bothers here housekeeper and her agent who also seems to be in love with her.  He arranges for a meeting between her and a studio head that she clashed with in the past to try to break her out of her funk, but it goes badly when it is clear that he wants her to play a mother and a bit-part which she doesn’t do, and the studio head then lays into her about the fact that she’s old and not living in reality, which only drives her deeper into the past.  The agent then arranges for one of her former leading men to meet with her, but since he’s now old — and no longer acting — it doesn’t help at all.  She ends up wishing that she could be in the movie she is watching, and then the housekeeper comes in and screams.  When the agent arrives, it turns out that she has gone into the movie and while he watches it she blows him a kiss and drops her handkerchief in the movie, which he finds in the hall where she had dropped it in the movie.

Again, this episode is well-written and well-acted, which is the only reason that it’s not completely boring because not much at all happens in it.  It never explains how she ended up in the movie from the wish but that’s not really important here, and is the first step to establishing that the “Twilight Zone” is a zone where odd things can happen so that we shouldn’t be too bothered when they do, as the previous two have at least reasonable explanations for what we’ve seen (delusion and the intervention of god-like abstract concepts).

The fifth episode is “Walking Distance”, where a man rushing down a dirt road pulls into a service station, arranges for an oil change, and then notes that the distance from there to the town that he grew up in is “walking distance” and so sets off.  But it turns out that the town is exactly how he remembers it, even down to the old man sleeping in the drugstore who has been dead for several years.  As the man discovers this, he becomes more and more frantic and wants to talk to his parents and to his younger self, but he gets chased off by the parents and when he corners his younger self on the merry-go-round he causes an accident that hurts his younger self’s leg.  As he sits there in despair his father comes to return his identification as he now believes that the man is the future self of his son and when the man says that all he wanted to do was encourage his younger self to enjoy the summer because as it is implied as an adult he can’t, and at this point in his life he really wanted a summer like that, his father notes that he can’t stay here because he is taking that summer away from his younger self and has to go back, so he ends up back in his own time and heads back to the service station to get his car.

Again, the episode is well-written and well-performed, which is why it’s not boring, and it does itself a great service by tying the man’s main conflict to a feeling that many feel, which is a desire to return to the happier and more innocent days of childhood.  But we never really get any sense of who the man is, why he wants to do that, and why he wants to do that now, which results in it being a more shallow examination of that concept than it might have been otherwise.  Again, though, the writing and performances are such that we don’t really notice how little actually happens until the episode is already over.

The sixth episode is “Escape Clause, where a man who is a hypochondriac living with his long-suffering wife and constantly being called on by a long-suffering doctor ends up being offered effective immortality by the Devil in exchange for his soul for as long as he doesn’t ask to die.  He accepts, and tests out his immortality … but then almost immediately gets bored as there’s “no risk” and tries to find interesting ways to, well, not die and goes onto the roof to throw himself off of it but his wife tries to stop him and falls herself.  He then decides that he wants to see what getting the electric chair feels like and so calls the police to report that he murdered his wife in the hopes of getting the chair.  Instead, his lawyer gets him life in prison instead which then causes him to ask to die, which the Devil grants.

This is a very weak episode.  The man is not at all sympathetic and what he asks for and how he approaches things is not at all interesting.  He also becomes bored with life very quickly and there was no indication before that point that he had any kind of a personality that would lead to the extended risk-taking, and even with all of that there is no real reason for him to want to try getting executed in the electric chair, and even there he doesn’t think, for example, about trying to steal the guard’s gun to kill him to get executed or to come up with a plan to escape — which should be exciting — and instead just gives up.  The idea is interesting but it really needed more development to work.

The seventh and final episode on the disk is “The Lonely”, featuring a man who has been exiled to live alone on an asteroid for a murder that he didn’t commit, and is struggling with the loneliness.  One captain of a supply ship is sympathetic to his cause and brings him things to relieve the boredom and loneliness — including an antique car that the man assembled — and eventually he brings him a robot woman to be his companion.  After rejecting her for just being a robot, her reactions that seem identical to what a woman would do — if a bit stilted as per a robot — win him over.  It’s then that the captain returns and says that he has been pardoned and so can return to Earth, but she’s considered baggage and is overweight (ahem) and so can’t go back with him.  He doesn’t want to leave, so the captain shoots her revealing her robotic nature and she is left behind to “die” with the man being upset at her loss.

This is another weaker episode, mostly because the robot woman herself is, well, treated as a simple thing or prop rather than as an important part of the story.  If she hadn’t been a robot but instead had been another inmate as they were trying to place some of them together because they found the extreme loneliness too much of a penalty then it would have made his having to leave her behind more poignant, or if they had made it so that when she learned that he was going to stay only for her she killed herself it would have raised an interesting idea about her being a fake, with the captain thinking she was just a fake person and the man wondering if acting that much like a real person, even if it was just programming, doesn’t make her real.  As it is, the ending is a bit anti-climactic and there’s nothing else really good about the episode to anchor us, even though it again was well-written and performed and so isn’t boring.

That, ultimately, is indeed a clear difference between “The Twilight Zone” and “Tales From the Darkside”:  the writing.  Even in the weaker episodes, the writing is strong enough that it allows for the good performances to do their job and keep us from getting bored or tired of the episode or having the flaws spoil the episode for us.  It really seems to me that episodes with similar flaws in “Tales From the Darkside” would be far less entertaining and I’d be waiting for the episodes to end rather than being drawn along with them and only really noticing the flaws after the fact.

I also do think that the narration really does help these episodes, as they provide the overall framework so that we know what’s going on so that we aren’t really confused and can instead simply focus on the performances and the mysteries if they have one.  It’s also merely a few sentences and so it doesn’t take a lot of time, but it provides important exposition which avoids the episode having to take more time to provide that.  “Tales From the Darkside” really could have benefited from that idea as it often had episodes where a short narration before and after the episode would have provided a framework to interpret the episode in and explained what the outcome was so that we would be less confused.  And it helps here that the narration is suitably flowery and dramatic to not seem like a simple exposition dump.

Anyway, those are the first seven episodes and the first disk.  So far, I’m enjoying the series, and already enjoying it a lot more than “Tales From the Darkside”, so it doesn’t seem like the format was the biggest problem with that show.  Let’s see if that continues.

Thoughts on “Silent Night”

November 29, 2022

This isn’t a movie that I picked up to start watching to get into the holiday spirit.  No, I actually watched this movie many months ago when I watched “The Fifth Element” and had a rough plan to watch that stack of Sci-Fi movies that I have (and never got around to doing that).  As I’ve wound down watching TV shows, it’s a good time to clear the stacks of things that I want to talk about and so finish off the two Sci-Fi movies that I had watched and never written about in preparation to watch some more Sci-Fi movies and write about them.  Maybe.

As it turns out, I wasn’t really sure how to classify this movie anyway.  The basic premise is that it’s Christmas and a strange storm has been brewing around the world that causes people to be infected with some kind of disease that kills them rather quickly.  It’s just about it hit the U.K., and the citizens have been given suicide pills so that they can kill themselves before it hits and they die horribly.  So they are spending their one last Christmas trying to get in one last gasp of frivolity and togetherness before the end.

Now, this could easily be a horror plot, except that the actual plague isn’t shown much at all (there are a couple of scenes with it).  It could be a straight drama, but the premise seems to be at least slightly futuristic given that it tracks events that might follow from what we’ve been doing to the world but that no one expects to actually happen, at least not that way, right now.  So I think it works better as a science fiction movie.  One thing that is clear, though, is that it’s meant to be a black comedy, with the plague hovering over them and the somewhat goofy events that happen as they try to ignore it for their own last gasp of happiness.

Which makes it a shame, then, that it’s not all that funny.  They did try, however, by contriving all sorts of situations where the preparations for the holiday and for the suicide go wrong in somewhat slapstick ways.  The best part is at the end when one family is preparing to down their pills and the kids are complaining that they were promised a full can of soda apiece and that it’s warm and the father has to run around trying to put all of this together.  But scenes like this are few and far between, which means that for the most part the humour is them sniping at each other which isn’t followed up on or them acting like idiots and dancing around which in a movie like this is more drama than it is comedy.  There’s just not enough humour in the movie for this to work as a great black comedy.

The movie does take the time to add some political commentary, with one girl talking about how this was caused by Russia when it wasn’t and with a couple of other characters talking about how the government didn’t get the pills to illegal immigrants and things like that.  This isn’t actually a bad thing in a movie like this, but what it is supposed to do is get a bunch of people together with radically different political views to spend their time together trying desperately to ignore that in light of the fact that they’re all going to be dead by New Year’s.  But outside of the dinner scene with the comment on the Russians that doesn’t happen, and it seems like we’re supposed to accept that the things they say are correct (except for the Russian thing), which means that it can’t be used as simply a thing they disagree on that they are trying to suppress but instead comes across as more like the writer winking at the audience about the things we obviously all know and agree on, right?

So without the comedy, we have to evaluate the dramatic moments, and the movie flubs that by making the drama nonsensical and yet correct anyway.  The big drama is that the one boy thinks that they could survive the plague, and in the one couple the woman is pregnant and starts to think that maybe she should stay alive to have the baby.  The boy ends up invented and seems to die, which then settles it for everyone and they all decide to take the pill and die, but then the boy wakes up later proving that in theory some people can live through it.  This should be triumphant on his part and cause us to feel that the deaths of everyone else was a tragedy … except that the way the story is structured even with that we know that in-universe the boy got luck and out-of-universe the writers contrived the story to produce that outcome.  As the movie establishes, the storm hit other parts of the world first, such as Africa if I recall correctly, and they would therefore have had lots of time to study it and see if there was any kind of reasonable survival rate, and since they decided to go with the suicide pill option they had to conclude that there wasn’t.  Also, we know that in any kind of plague like this some people will have natural immunity or fight it off so that he manages to survive doesn’t mean that he was right that there’s any reasonable chance of surviving.  And if the pregnant woman had tried to live, perhaps the baby would have lived but she wouldn’t have and then it would die anyway since no one would take care of it.  Even their own political statements work against them here since while they say that the Queen and some others are hiding in a bunker until it passes by the fact that the kills are being given to citizens and not immigrants means that the sort of government that would deny that to immigrants clearly thinks that the better option is to die peacefully from the pills than from the storm, and that they don’t expect anyone to survive the storm since they’d want their citizens to survive and not the immigrants.  And, again, they had lots of time to study its effect in other areas so that they could put this plan into place and decided that the suicide option was the better one.

So the boy surviving isn’t triumphant and isn’t proof that he was right.  He was still wrong but in-universe got lucky and out-of-universe benefited from writer fiat and contrivance.  So the ending is stupid and meaningless, but is trying to seem meaningful and important.  Any work where that happens leaves a bad taste in the mouths of the audience, and yeah, for me one of my main takeaways is that it had a really, really stupid ending.

Given all of that, this isn’t a movie that I want to watch again.  It had its moments, but not enough of them to redeem its ridiculous ending that contradicts its own story.  So, yeah, it goes in the box to possibly sell if I get a chance.

Thoughts on “The Fifth Element”

November 22, 2022

It’s been a while since I said I’d talk about this movie.  About five months, to be exact.  I had lots of other things to talk about and so this fell out of the schedule, but with my catching up with all of my other movies and video games and TV shows it really seems like it’s time to finally talk about it.

The basic plot of this is that an alien race has set up a defense against another alien race in ancient times and then left, leaving behind an order to preserve it.  In the future, the enemy aliens finally arrive and one female alien from the defending race (played by Milla Jovovich) arrives on Earth to activate the device, with the one remaining member of the order seeking her out.  Meanwhile, a former special forces agent (played by Bruce Willis) who now drives a cab ends up getting caught up in all of this when she tries to escape from the government agents that revived her and ends up in his cab, which spawns a long adventure to save the day.

Now, from what I understand this movie wasn’t that well-received when it launched but has become a cult classic to some.  The reason for this, I think, is that this movie doesn’t at all do what you’d expect from this movie.  I don’t mean that it deliberately tries to subvert expectations, because it doesn’t seem like it’s actually trying to subvert expectations.  Or, at least, if it is it’s not setting these things up to be things that we expect and then subverting them.  Instead, it really seems like it just isn’t doing what you’d expect not only from such a movie but also from what the movie itself sets up.   For example, when the alien shows up in Willis’ cab, what we’d expect from such a situation is that he’d join her then and just go along with her on her mission.  However, he ends up making a pass at her which ticks her off, and so he ends up having to leave.  And so you’d think that he’d be convinced by her mission — and his attraction to her — and so push his way back into her mission.  Except he seems content to leave things as is until he is recruited by the government to check this all out, which is the first time that we really understand what his role was with the government, who then arrange for him to win a contest to get onto the exclusive resort that they need to get to to get what they need, at which point the alien and her keeper push their way into his win so that they can all do that together.

You would have expected that the first part where he meets her would have been skipped entirely and he would have met her on the resort and joined her then, or that as noted above that he would meet her in his cab and then use his government influence to get them both there.  Instead, both plots are used as the first one is started, dropped, and then the second plot picks up the slack.  It’s not a problem, per se, but it does come across as a bit convoluted, and again because it goes against what we’d expect given how the plot was structured it can be a bit disconcerting.

More minor and yet amazingly more of a problem is a comment that Willis’ character needs to be careful with the alien because she’s not as strong as she seems.  Given that he was attracted to her and wanted some kind of relationship with her, and that she had up until that point shown incredibly strong physical prowess, this would seem to imply that she is weaker mentally and that his pushing her for the relationship might cause problems or that she’ll need emotional support on this mission, but soon after she gets shot and ends up being physically weak.  That’s the only weakness she shows and what forces him to do the action heavy-lifting in the rest of the movie, and there is no hint of any mental or emotional weakness that belied her physical powers.  It’s more minor because it’s not a main element of the plot and we can easily ignore it, but it’s more of a problem because it sets something up that it either tries to pay off against expectations or else simply drops.

I also found Chris Rock’s character quite annoying.  Well, he’s supposed to be since he’s a bit of comedy relief in the typical Chris Rock style, but that’s not why I found him annoying.  No, I found him annoying because he’s pointlessly annoying.  He doesn’t do anything except let Chris Rock be a motormouth and act annoying in some of the big action scenes.  He’s not a real sidekick.  He’s not someone who was supporting the enemy unwittingly who converts.  He doesn’t do anything of any importance.  He, well, doesn’t do anything.  So he’s just there to hopefully make us laugh a bit, and since he’s doing that in the serious action scenes or in the tense lead up to the big mission he’s actually doing that at the worst possible time.  If he was more prominent in the movie or had less time when he does appear, he would have been better, but the movie focuses too much on him when he arrives on the scene for us to ignore him but then we also can’t ignore that for all the time spent on his character the character, ultimately, plays no important role in the plot at all.  Essentially, he’s a “Please laugh!” character and is only the more annoying because of that.

So, ultimately, what did I think of the movie?  I think that how it doesn’t do what either the genre or what its own plot would have us expect does hurt the plot since it leads to things being more convoluted and we can’t help but think that it would have been easier if it had just stuck to what it had outlined originally or to the standard plot, and Chris Rock’s character’s annoyances can’t be ignored.  Beyond that, it’s a fairly serviceable sci-fi movie with some good moments, but not enough to redeem the rest of it.  I don’t hate it and didn’t hate watching it, but I can’t imagine myself rewatching it on a regular basis, although I can indeed see myself rewatching it at some point, as it’s definitely entertaining enough for me to give it another shot at some point.  So it goes into the box of things to maybe rewatch at some point.  It’s not a bad movie, but has just enough flaws that I would generally rather watch lots of other things than it.

Thoughts on “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets”

June 28, 2022

This is the last movie in the 5-pack of science fiction movies that I picked up and watched a while back and am now trying to finish writing about so that I can move on to other things.   I’ll comment a bit on the pack itself at the end of this post.

The basic premise here is that after a nearby battle destroyed a planet an interstellar spy named Valerian and his companion/love interest Lauraline are sent to retrieve some stones that are key to a ritual that the natives of that planet have.  They, of course, meet a lot of interference in that mission, but eventually do manage to get it back to their superiors … only to have it stolen again by the aliens, setting off a mission to retrieve them.  Along the way, they discover that their superior was responsible for that disaster and should never have fired when he did, and so have to fight against his robotic soldiers to bring that alien race back to the galaxy.

The sad thing about this movie is that it could have made for an excellent light sci-fi spy romp.  The action is pretty good and it definitely puts a priority on making the action fun and using the plot as an excuse to get into the action.  The only downside to that is that the movie sometimes takes detours into exploring the world of the future when it really should be getting to the action parts.  This isn’t a problem at the beginning of the movie, but towards the end after Lauraline is captured by brutal thug-like aliens the movie detours into sending Valerian to some kind of entertainment broker which involves a lot of talking and discussion and a musical number, all so that he can get his hands on some kind of disguise device — and an alien to use it — for his plan.  For something so minor, it goes on for far too long when he had no idea what they were going to do with Lauraline and when the clock was ticking on the mission.  But while that sequence hurts the ending there, that’s a relatively minor — but noticeable — offense for a space spy romp.

So what, then, really hurts the movie?  The fact that neither of the main characters look like spies in the James Bond mold and yet the movie treats them as if they are supposed to be thought of that way.  Valerian is not at all any kind of suave, debonair, exceptionally sexy spy, and Lauraline — played by model Cara Delevigne — isn’t that sort of sexy spy either.  And that’s okay, because it’s been noted that what you want for a spy are people that are more nondescript and aren’t memorable and don’t stand out, and so if the movie was playing with that it would be interesting.  However, Valerian is noted for having a lot of women on his record, which is the reason that Lauraline doesn’t want to marry him, and the movie constantly has people talk about how beautiful Lauraline is, which she uses to get her way at times.  Except they aren’t attractive enough to pull that off, and so the movie treating them as if they are really takes me out of the movie.  If they had either picked leads that better fit the sexy spy model or else had run with plainer spies subverting the expected tropes the movie would have worked so much better.

As it is, the movie is kinda fun, and so fits into the category of movies that I might want to watch again at some point but won’t rewatch any time soon.  There’s just not enough in the movie to make it interesting to watch again, and it doesn’t quite work as a simple, light, space spy action movie.

So, out of the five movies, I think the best one is Dredd, for whatever that’s worth.  Then probably comes Looper, Valerian, Snowpiercer and Hotel Artemis.  For the most part, what I’d say is that unlike some of the other packs all of these movies have good production values, and yet all of them are sufficiently flawed to get me to not want to rewatch them any time soon.  Thus, the whole pack goes into my box of movies to maybe rewatch at some point in the future.

I step outside of packs for my next sci-fi movie, which is “The Fifth Element”.  Whenever I get around to writing about it, of course.