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Saturday, April 22, 2006

80's Flashback - Twilight Zone - The Movie

ROD SERLING'S phenomenally successful television series, ''The Twilight Zone,'' which had a five-year network run beginning in 1959 and which seems to have been in reruns ever since, has now passed through its own twilight zone and become a flabby, mini-minded behemoth called ''Twilight Zone - the Movie.''

Twilight Zone - The Movie
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The film is composed of a prologue, written for the movie, plus four separate stories, each of them either based directly on a script from the television series or suggested by one. A lot of money and several lives might have been saved if the producers had just rereleased the original programs.

Of the four stories, the last, directed by George Miller, is tops, meaning that it's pretty good. This tale, based on ''Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,'' is about a tense airplane passenger who, during a night flight in a thunderstorm, looks out his window and becomes convinced that some sort of creature is dismantling the outboard engine.

Mr. Miller, the Australian director who demonstrated his talent for spectacular action with ''The Road Warrior,'' does what he can with this limited material, and John Lithgow is both legitimate and comic as the hysterical passenger.

The film's third segment, based on a tale called ''It's a Good Life,'' contains a number of wildly eerie possibilities that are never satisfactorily developed. Kathleen Quinlan plays an innocent young woman who finds herself drawn into a macabre household whose inhabitants behave like Tom, Jerry, Bugs Bunny and other cartoon characters that are forever playing on the screens of the house's dozens of television sets. The master of the house is a sweetlooking, arbitrarily vicious little boy, Anthony, played by Jeremy Licht.

Joe Dante, the director, never finds a style for the piece, which should somehow combine the comic, the scary and the satirical. Trivia experts might note that Billy Mumy, who played Anthony in the original teleplay, has a small role as an adult in this film version.

Twilight Zone - The Movie
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Except for the central performance by Scatman Crothers, the film's second segment, based on the episode called ''Kick the Can,'' is inept in every way. Of all unlikely people, Steven Spielberg directed this rather ugly, sentimental comedy set in an old-people's home.

John Landis, currently represented by the stylish ''Trading Places,'' is responsible for the film's first segment, a muddled antibigotry lesson about a fellow who hates blacks, Jews and Orientals. Through a series of ''Twilight Zone'' twists of fate, the fellow finds himself being persecuted as a Jew in Nazi-occupied France, lynched as a black by Ku Klux Klansmen in the South and shot at as a Vietnamese by American soldiers in Vietnam.

It was while making this segment that Vic Morrow, who gives a good performance as the bigot, and two Vietnamese children were killed in a production accident.

Mr. Landis also directed the film's prologue, which features Dan Aykroyd and Albert Brooks. It's funny and extremely short.

''Twilight Zone - the Movie,'' which has been rated PG (''parental guidance suggested''), contains some unrefined language.

Twilight Zone - The Movie
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Beyond Twilight
TWILIGHT ZONE - THE MOVIE, created by Rod Serling; music by Jerry Goldsmith; produced by Steven Spielberg and John Landis; released by Warner Bros. At RKO Twin, Broadway and 45th Street; Sutton, Third Avenue and 57th Street; 34th Street Showplace, near Second Avenue; New York Twin, Second Avenue and 66th Street and other theaters. Running time: 102 minutes. This film is rated PG.

Written and directed by John Landis; director of photography, Stevan Larner; film editor, Malcolm Campbell.
Passenger . . . . . Dan Aykroyd
Driver . . . . . Albert Brooks
Bill . . . . . Vic Morrow
Larry . . . . . Doug McGrath
Ray . . . . . Charles Hallahan
Bar Patron . . . . . Steven Williams
French Mother . . . . . Annette Claudier
Vietnamese . . . . . Joseph Hieu, Albert Leong
Charming G.I. . . . . . Stephen Bishop

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by George Clayton Johnson, Richard Matheson and Josh Rogan; story by Mr. Johnson; director of photography, Allen Daviau; film editor, Michael Kahn.
Mr. Bloom . . . . . Scatman Crothers
Mr. Conroy . . . . . Bill Quinn
Mr. Weinstein . . . . . Martin Garner
Mrs. Weinstein . . . . . Selma Diamond
Mrs. Dempsey . . . . . Helen Shaw
Mr. Agee . . . . . Murray Matheson
Mr. Mute . . . . . Peter Brocco
Miss Cox . . . . . Priscilla Pointer

Directed by Joe Dante; screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on a story by Jerome Bixby; director of photography, John Hora; film editor, Tina Hirsch.
Helen Foley . . . . . Kathleen Quinlan
Anthony . . . . . Jeremy Licht
Uncle Walt . . . . . Kevin McCarthy
Mother . . . . . Patricia Barry
Father . . . . . William Schallert
Ethel . . . . . Nancy Cartwright

Directed by George Miller; screenplay by Richard Matheson, based on a story by Richard Matheson; director of photography, Allen Daviau; film editor, Howard Smith.
Valentine . . . . . John Lithgow
Sr. Stewardess . . . . . Abbe Lane
Jr. Stewardess . . . . . Donna Dixon
Co-Pilot . . . . . John Dennis Johnston
Creature . . . . . Larry Cedar
Sky Marshal . . . . . Charles Knapp
Little Girl . . . . . Christina Nigra
Mother . . . . . Lonna Schwab

* By VINCENT CANBY, N.Y. TIMES REVIEW, Published: Friday, June 24, 1983


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